Christchurch sings review

by Jonathan Le Cocq / 13 October, 2011
Three Christchurch concerts remember tragedies.
In Earthquake Year, the Christchurch Arts Festival was never going to be business as usual. At the very least – and worst – it had to adjust to ruined venues and disrupted lives. At best, it was a chance for the arts to say those things and reach those places politicians can only dream of.

We saw the best in the Christchurch Memorial concert at Wigram Air Force Museum, where the top-class Woolston Brass joined forces with the ever-impressive Strike Percussion for a concert of music mainly by Wellington-based composer Gareth Farr, but also featuring a segment of Elena Kats-Chemin’s Symphonia Eluvium commemorating the Brisbane floods earlier in the year.

The choice of venue was inspired: the cavernous hangar at the back of the museum where band and audience were surrounded by hovering Dakotas, Lockheed Hudsons and other winged ghosts of the 40s and 50s. It also meant the inevitable trickle of latecomers caught out by the daylight saving clock change, a shamefaced reviewer amongst them, could sidle in unnoticed. At the heart (and the end) of the concert was Farr’s Nor’West Arch, a commission memorialising the February quake and its aftermath. Farr is economical with his materials, and an evocative falling four-note ur-thema (think the great trombone theme that runs through Sibelius’s Seventh) just managed to carry the musical weight of the whole work, alternating with readings against drones and bells. The readings were text messages sent during the quake: “Building collapsed, it is dark, goodbye Mum, goodbye Dad …” “My legs hurt, I cannot move, it is dark, I love you.” Farr knew when to step back and let words like these speak. It was accessibility and judgment well-paired – not something to be taken for granted. The work received a standing ovation but the audience didn’t get the encore it wanted. The real closer was Farr’s energising, pounding Gallipoli, which preceded Arch, but what could you do? It was as good an example as you could wish of the impossibility of programming concerts laden with meaning as this one was.

A new work by Farr also appeared as an opener in the NZSO’s Odes to Joy touring the country, but the less said about it the better. Farr’s brand of accessible, home-grown post-minimalism is a language more amenable to expressing joy than most modern classical styles, but this was thin stuff to put beside a work like Beethoven’s Ninth. As for the symphony, one 20th-century composer once said of another: “I like his mind. I just don’t like what it thinks.” Despite its iconic status, I feel something like this towards the Ninth. If this was the performance to win doubters over it had little chance to succeed in the veiled, excitement-draining acoustic of the CBS Arena, designed for sports events and rock concerts.

But the voices were in fine form, and it was something to experience world-class New Zealand singers like Madeleine Pierard, Sarah Castle, Simon O’Neill and Jonathan Lemalu together in a concert like this.

The arena also hosted the free concert, Christchurch Sings, earlier in the month. Here were all the practical compromises coming from the quake: difficult venue and amplification; no Rieger organ (trapped in the wounded town hall) but a pipeless substitute (the Allen organ generously loaned by Auckland), and an uncomfortable mixture of mainstream concert (Fauré Requiem), community concert (massed and Secondary Students’ choir), and Last Night of the Proms (Hallelujah Chorus; Jerusalem). Andrew Withington conducted with enthusiasm, but his real triumph was what he achieved with the New Zealand Secondary Students’ Choir, whose invigorating set included two fine arrangements of traditional songs by local composer Richard Oswin. Like the other concerts it was close to being a full house, and in its way it was the most honest metaphor for the damaged city: facing problems, determined to see them through and to get something good from them.

CHRISTCHURCH SINGS, September 4; CHRISTCHURCH MEMORIAL, September 25; NZSO ODES TO JOY, September 27. All as part of the Christchurch Arts Festival, August 12-October 2.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap
71457 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Economy

The blue zone: Kiwi workers' wage gap trap

by Virginia Larson

For blue-collar workers, the gap between the haves and the have-littles is widening.

Read more
Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uniform
71366 2017-04-23 00:00:00Z Psychology

Suitably predictable: Why we're attracted to a uni…

by Marc Wilson

Why firefighters get the girl more often than the average bloke does.

Read more
Empty nest: Can you be a parent and a minimalist?
71468 2017-04-22 00:00:00Z Social issues

Empty nest: Can you be a parent and a minimalist?

by Michelle Duff

The mind of a parent is in danger of becoming a cluttered wasteland, strewn with the skeletons of high chairs, baby slings and disused toys.

Read more
Jane Millton captures the plight of the Kaikoura cows in a kids' book
71343 2017-04-22 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jane Millton captures the plight of the Kaikoura c…

by Clare de Lore

Two cows and a calf grabbed international headlines after the Kaikoura earthquake, and the story of their rescue is now the subject of a new book.

Read more
Pollution in a Piha paradise
71451 2017-04-22 00:00:00Z Environment

Pollution in a Piha paradise

by Anusha Bradley

Piha is famous for its rugged black-sand beaches, but locals say Auckland Council needs to do more to fix the polluted lagoon.

Read more
Film review: Ghost in the Shell
71490 2017-04-21 12:05:59Z Movies

Film review: Ghost in the Shell

by Russell Baillie

Nothing dates faster than a past idea of the future.

Read more
The 9th Floor: Jim Bolger on his time as Prime Minister
71476 2017-04-21 11:29:57Z Currently

The 9th Floor: Jim Bolger on his time as Prime Min…

by Guyon Espiner

There is so much to the Bolger years. The first MMP government with Winston Peters, the economic growth of the mid-90s, and the birth of Te Papa.

Read more
Immigration: The battle lines are drawn
71454 2017-04-21 09:38:47Z Economy

Immigration: The battle lines are drawn

by Graham Adams

Bill English needs to win Auckland to win the election, but his latest immigration changes seem to ignore one of its citizens’ biggest concerns.

Read more