The classical blokes saluting unsung women composers

by The Listener / 21 September, 2018
Ashley Brown.

Ashley Brown.

RelatedArticlesModule - NZTrio composer women

The suffrage celebrations get a soundtrack from all-male ensemble NZTrio.

NZTrio is celebrating the 125th suffrage anniversary with a series of concerts in which the currently all-male ensemble play the works of female composers.

Founding member and cellist Ashley Brown is joined by violinist Benjamin Baker and pianist Stephen De Pledge for Braid, a performance of five classical and contemporary works – including one, Sono, by Victoria Kelly, the Auckland composer-arranger best known for her soundtracks and her work with Neil Finn, and who is married to Brown.

There are family connections, too, in the oldest pieces on the programme which include Allegretto from Piano Trio in G minor by Clara Schumann (wife of Robert) and Allegro molto vivace from Piano Trio in D minor by Fanny Mendelssohn (sister of Felix).

Here’s Brown on the thinking behind the concerts.

How did the idea for a suffrage anniversary-commemorating show come about? 

Being the first self-governing country in the world to have given all women the right to vote is something totally worth celebrating –- every New Zealander can be proud of leading the charge in this realm. One way for NZTrio to mark this anniversary is to share a whole concert of music by female composers. It’s a great way to shine a light on the subject because, while there’s a huge number of amazing works by female composers from the last few decades to choose from, if you look back in history it’s a very different story: supremely talented women told to leave the composing to their brothers or husbands, or forced to publish under male pseudonyms.

Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann are two examples of prodigious talent, overwhelmed in history by the more famous (but not necessarily more talented) men in their lives: Fanny’s brother Felix Mendelssohn and Clara’s husband Robert Schumann, not to mention her close friend Johannes Brahms. These women both managed to leave a few works in their own names and among them are two piano trios which form the crux of this concert called Braid. Paired with them are some outstanding, more modern works, by Kiwis Rachel Clement and Victoria Kelly and Aussie Elena Kats-Chernin.

Victoria Kelly.

Clement’s Sabbia opens the concert with a sound-illustration of glass-making, all delicacy, fragility, light and colour. It’s part of a larger work called Shifting States that was one of NZTrio’s first ever commission back in 2005. Featuring glass at the top of the programme is a wee nod of recognition to the “glass ceiling”.

Kelly’s Sono was the first commission I was ever involved with, way back in 2000 when I was in the Turnovsky Trio, and when Victoria was a mere friend and colleague. (Years later we fell in love, got married, had three kids…) The work is a sincere and intimate expression of tension and release, of restful breath and restless dreaming.

How did the all-male line-up of the current trio influence that idea?

Our founding violinist [Sarah Watkins] left over a year ago. A patient recruitment process ensued. Just as we were about to appoint, our founding pianist [Justine Cormack] announced her departure. She left in June. Since then we’ve had a steady stream of incredible musicians coming in as guests.

The fact that three males are performing this suffrage celebration was not manufactured at all. But I think it’s great – the empowerment of women is something men should celebrate too. It’s all great music!

What’s the significance of the title, Braid?

I wanted NZTrio's 2018 series to be all about pulling strands together and forming a cohesive single entity – it points, for instance, to the Kiwi musicians coming together from around the globe to make a single tight musical unit, and to the eclectic repertoire coming together into a cohesive concert, a singular journey. So the three concerts are called Weave, Braid and Twine. As cliche as it might be, it made sense for Braid to be on the suffrage celebration, especially with the image being such a visceral grungy signifier of womanhood. It sends the imagination off on a tangent evoking pioneering farming women..

Why not a totally NZ programme?

We always programme NZ music in all of our concerts. We’re enormously proud of all our composing compatriots. Having other works from other lands and other times forms a fascinating juxtaposition, putting all the works into context, sometimes in intense, vivid relief beside each other, sometimes highlighting the differences as well as the similarities.

Braid is at Q Theatre, Auckland, Sept 23 (5pm) and Sept 25 (7pm); City Gallery Wellington, Sept 26 (7pm); St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin Arts Festival, Sept 28 (1pm).  


The key to long-term success after weight-loss surgery
107438 2019-06-26 00:00:00Z Health

The key to long-term success after weight-loss sur…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Weight-loss surgery is becoming more common, but lifestyle and attitude changes are needed for long-term success.

Read more
Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family recipes
107605 2019-06-25 11:39:22Z Food

Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family rec…

by Lauraine Jacobs

Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki.

Read more
Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's going to make a better world
107579 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's g…

by Emma Clifton

The MP made world headlines when she cycled to hospital to give birth. She talks about how this put her and what she stands for in the spotlight.

Read more
Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky in the road
107472 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky…

by Russell Baillie

The fourth Toy Story instalment is clever, enjoyable and refreshingly weird.

Read more
Mitre 10 living wage ruling sets precedent for retail staff - union
Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebook and Google
107596 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebo…

by Peter Griffin

In the wake of data-privacy scandals, Apple is beefing up protection for owners of its devices.

Read more
Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying tax
107563 2019-06-24 16:28:59Z Business

Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying…

by Nikki Mandow

We are pretty good about paying our taxes here, so why would we willingly go along with avoiding GST?

Read more
Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs crackdown?
107530 2019-06-24 10:19:12Z Business

Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs…

by Nikki Mandow

New Zealand retailers hit by a GST rort that has been going on for at least two years hope officials, Trade Me, ministers and even customers will...

Read more