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Composing with taonga puoro (Otago Daily Times)

This article was originally published by Otago Daily Times on 17 March 2022. Click here to view the original article.


Rebecca Fox, Otago Daily Times | 17 March 2022


Gillian Whitehead featuring taonga puoro and Western string instruments, a new performance will feature as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Art. Dame Gillian talks to Rebecca Fox about the milestone.


Dame Gillian Whitehead is a master of the understatement when you talk to her about her seminal composition Hine-pu-te-hue.


"It was quite, I suppose, experimental in its way."


The piece brought together taonga puoro (Maori musical instruments) and Western string instruments for the first time.


It is part of a chamber music series curated by the artistic directors of the Adam Chamber Music Festival and members of the New Zealand String Quartet, Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell, for the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts being held online from tomorrow.


Ansell says it seemed fitting to include the piece given the first performance was at the Adam festival on March 14, 2002. The string quartet went on to play the work around the world.


"It’s very special to us, it’s a beautiful piece. It is like coming back to an old friend."

However, its recording for the festival was not without dramas after taonga puoro player Horomona Horo tested positive for Covid on the morning of travelling to Wellington for the rehearsal and recording. So, on very short notice, Bob Bickerton stepped in, saving the recording.


"It was a big ask on such short notice but he did a brilliant job at getting his head around it. We were very fortunate."