News - 04 Jul 2024

ODT Article - DSO brings Matariki strands together

To celebrate Matariki, as part of the Puaka Matariki Festival, the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra is performing a special concert featuring Michael Norris’ 'Rerenga', bass Jonathan Lemalu and principal guest conductor James Judd. Rebecca Fox of the ODT asks them how they will remember, celebrate and look to the future this Matariki.


Q. What does Matariki mean for you and your whānau — being a Kiwi living so far from home?

Matariki is an important observation of the indigenous and spiritual beliefs of Aotearoa and its rich and diverse culture, heritage and inhabitants. As someone who doesn’t live in Aotearoa it carries a welcome reminder of what makes this country special, unique and inclusive and a moment for reflection and appreciation.


My family first and foremost. My parents still live in Dunedin (my dad turns 90 in late July) and I still feel very much a part of the city and its pillars of community, arts, culture and education. Anything I sing in this city and on this stage reminds me of my formative performing opportunities and in particular my first singing teacher, Honor McKellar, who passed away earlier this year. She will be with me on stage in spirit as always and I dedicate my performance to her.

Celebrating the present:

These Mahler songs, from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, are wonderfully cinematic and atmospheric. I first performed them orchestrally with maestro Judd and the NZSO and am excited to collaborate with the mighty Dunedin Symphony Orchestra to bring these stories to life. One song, Der Tamoursg’sell (The Drummer Boy), always reminds me of the Anzac memorials and poignant memorial services and the effects of war on all of us. There are also lighthearted and jaunty songs to enjoy.

Looking to the future:

Back to the northern hemisphere where our family life is a logistical maze with new school years beginning in September, Sandra’s psychotherapy work taking an exciting new position, and my freelance singing and conservatoire teaching with new and current students (including a few from from New Zealand and one from Dunedin). Hopefully, some summer sun in Europe in August first.


Q. What does Matariki mean for you?

My feeling relating to Matariki is one of profound gratitude for my growing whānau in Aotearoa. Musicians, friends and audience have become a warm family to me especially when my own is far away. Matariki seems to me to embrace the power of music of all sorts to unite us all from the past through the present. The celebration of remembrance, respecting and learning from the past is especially important to all of us in a world of increasing challenges.

Celebrating the present:

Performing my first concert as DSO principal guest conductor will be a true joy. Working with the marvellous musicians of the DSO, and making music to such a devoted audience in such a great acoustic — how fortunate I am.
Our opening work by Michael Norris looks from the past to the future, whilst Mozart’s music testifies to an ageless eternal spirit. Mahler embraced and respected the past, his works infused with the everyday life around him and the eternal innocence of nature. Sibelius celebrates the noble and awe-inspiring spirit of nature, and seems to me to reflect on our place in the natural world and beyond.

The future:

After this programme I look forward to returning to Dunedin for a beautiful DSO chamber orchestral programme of Telemann, Bach, Haydn and a magical set of songs by Rod Biss. In the meantime, I will join Hamish McKeich and the NZSO mentoring talented young New Zealand conductors in the NZSO’s fellowship conducting programme. In August, I will have the pleasure of starting rehearsals for Verdi’s Rigoletto with New Zealand Opera; with performances in Auckland later in September. After that, it will be the US, followed by Europe, and one more time to New Zealand before we greet 2025.
My wife and daughter will be joining me for some time in New Zealand later in July and August. Of course I have to admit missing our dog and two cats, who I won’t see until the end of September. Seeing them on the computer screen each just isn’t the same. As a family we love it here and the future involves a move; but these things seem to take time.



I will be thinking about a number of friends and colleagues who have left us this year, or had people in their whānau who have passed.

Celebrating the present:

Rerenga is about the transformation of the world from te kore (the void/nothingness) and te po (form/dark/night), through te whai-ao (the glimmer of dawn), to the coming of te ao rama (the world of light). In many ways, it shares Matariki’s kaupapa of "looking forward" and the start of the journey into the new year and into light.

This piece is very special, in that there is a tight integration between the orchestra and the taoka pūoro: the orchestra sustains, transforms and echoes the exact pitches and sounds of Alistair Fraser’s instruments, with the live electronics providing a kind of glue. As no two taonga pūoro are made the same, this means it is unlikely to be able to be performed by another soloist. Because of the uniqueness of sound, we took extra care in choosing the instruments that Al would play. I was particularly drawn to the instruments that have a provenance in the flora and fauna of Aotearoa. In the end, I settled on three kōauau, one made from toroa (albatross) bones, one from tutu wood and one from a hue (gourd); a pūtōrino made from kōwhai; a porotiti made from the vertebra of an ūpokohue (pilot whale); a pūmotomoto made from native timber; and a pūkāea made from kauri.

Looking to the future:

We have planned a camping trip to Pōhara in Golden Bay, and a tramp on the Old Ghost Rd, which we are all very much looking forward to.


The celebration of Matariki is guided by three major principles:

Remembrance — honouring those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki.

Celebrating the present — gathering together to give thanks for what we have.

Looking to the future — looking forward to the promise of a new year.


Journeys. Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin Town Hall, Saturday, July 6, 7.30pm

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