Just before Easter, we lost our dear friend, long-time supporter and arts patron extraordinaire, Christopher Marshall. Hailing from the north of England he settled with his New Zealand artist wife, Jilly, outside Christchurch.
One of the many achievements of the music-adoring Chris was to start his own concert series. Initially held in “Bridgewater", the beautiful house in Ohoka which Chris and Jilly helped design, with musicians playing in the centre of the L-shaped living room, there was a special atmosphere with afternoon tea to round off the proceedings. Eventually the series grew so popular that it was moved to the Great Hall with its wonderful acoustics, wood panelling, high ceiling, and a crackling fire in the huge hearth in winter. Now known as Christopher’s Classics, it takes place in The Piano, the classy new Christchurch venue built after the 2011 earthquake. Chris began the series to support musicians and to increase the audience’s love of chamber music and classical music in general, and largely funded it himself. He even undertook all the administrative tasks, with the help of a committee, until a few years ago, after his tumour was diagnosed. It is now an integral part of the Christchurch music scene, featuring many NZ musicians and a wide repertoire, reflecting Chris’ open-minded and adventurous tastes in music. We in the NZSQ have been fortunate to be included in it every year since its inception and to see it grow and touch so many lives.
But that was just one of many of Chris’ contributions to music and musicians in NZ. He also personally commissioned new works and we owe to him the birth of Ross Harris’ Violin Concerto, premiered by UK violinist Anthony Marwood, with whom Chris had a special relationship, having met sitting next to him on a plane ride to or from the UK. Anthony Ritchie’s Clarinet Quintet was another such piece, premiered by the NZSQ and Gretchen La Roche on clarinet.
Inspired by Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music“, a novel about a string quartet living and working in London, in which a benefactor bought and loaned superior instruments to the struggling musicians, Chris followed suit, buying a beautiful Italian violin, 2 fine cellos, a viola and a whole new string quartet of instruments by a NZ maker, all to lend out to specific players, enabling them to work with top quality instruments. He was a very generous patron of the NZSQ for many years and also helped to fund the overseas studies of young NZ musicians who sparked his interest.
He told us once that he had loved playing the piano in his youth, even though he was “no good at it” - engaging with the voices of the composers gave him a sense of communication he sometimes struggled for in daily interactions. His response to music was visceral and direct. We loved playing for him because he listened deeply, allowing himself to be affected by music of all styles, and openly shared his reactions with us.
As well as all this, Chris was great company, a lively, independent-minded and unique being, wholly benevolent and good fun with a very memorable voice and laugh. He insisted on taking us out to supper after the concert each time we performed in Christchurch and many a great time was had by us all. Chris’s championship of NZ music and musicians has been phenomenal and changed many lives – it will be remembered for years to come. And indeed, as the NZSQ we are forever appreciative of his support and generosity of spirit towards the NZSQ. We extend our huge sympathies to Chris’ widow Jilly and son Mikee and we will miss his presence at all our future Christopher’s Classics concerts. We will dedicate our next performance there, Thursday 2 June, to his beloved memory.
Helene, Monique, Gillian and Rolf