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Remembering Richard Nunns

E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i rangiātea I will never be lost for I am a seed sown from rangiātea.

Educator, mentor, cherished friend and gifted taonga pūoro musician - Aotearoa recently lost Richard Nunns, a man of generous and pioneering spirit. Richard has gifted to our musical community a legacy that lives on through the next generation of taonga pūoro musicians, makers and composers.

Over the years the NZSQ collaborated with Richard on many fruitful and inspiring projects, exploring and sharing the musical relationship between string instruments and taonga pūoro throughout Aotearoa, North America and Europe.

Rolf, Gillian and Helene reflect on their memories of Richard, and the profound impact he had on their lives and so many others.

Rolf reflects on friendship:

We have been blessed to have known and worked with Richard for several decades. His extraordinary musicianship sprung from an extraordinary human being. He was one of the most powerful communicators and sincere friends one could ever meet in one’s life. His vibrancy of spirit, profound embrace of all cultures, and gift of communication will forever inspire me personally and is revealed so potently in his musicianship. His legacy has made an indelible mark on New Zealand’s culture.

Gillian remembers the special moments on tour:

I first met Richard in 2002 when the New Zealand International Arts Festival commissioned a new work from Gillian Whitehead for string quartet and taonga puoro, “Hine-pu-the-hue” (the Maori goddess of peace). The opening of the piece was magical, both sonically and visually with the poi awhiowhio: the string at a certain length to create the right pitch and an unearthly sound, creating a hard-to-describe mixture of whoosh, whirl and hum. What a great introduction to taonga puoro for me! The haunting, spine-chilling sounds Richard created from the diverse array of instruments, some so tiny, was revelatory and thrilling to interact with. I have so many fond memories of touring with Richard in New Zealand and far-flung places around the globe, playing Hine-pu-the-hue and also Gillian Whitehead’s other beautiful quintet celebrating whales, Puhake ki te Rangi. No matter where in the world, whether in Aotearoa, on tour in Scotland, or at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, Richard’s arresting playing - spontaneous and yet perfectly timed - captured complete audience attention.. At his table of instruments, he (in his trademark concert attire of black leather jacket and jeans) was always the centre of a fascinated crowd at the end of the concert. Full of expertise, knowled stories, Richard was an icon everyone revered.

Helene reflects on Richard's contributions and legacy:

Playing music with Richard over the decades has enriched our lives immeasurably. Since premiering Gillian Whitehead’s first quintet with him over 20 years ago we made music together all over Aotearoa as well as in Europe and America. His expressive powers, combined with an ever-questing search for the historical and cultural roots of the instruments he loved, broadened our approach to our own instruments and to music-making. We have missed his voice for several years already, but are incredibly grateful for his willingness, while he still could, to pass on his experience to the next generation of taonga pūoro artists who will carry the torch into the future, and continue evolving the richness of the music of our land.

The NZSQ are proud and honoured to have worked with Richard over his long career, having performed and recorded two albums of music for European and Māori instruments on Atoll Records: Puhake ki te rangi featuring music by Gillian Whitehead, and Gareth Farr’s He Poroporoaki – A Farewell on Notes from a Journey.

Our thoughts are with Richard's family, friends and loved ones.

E moe e te rangatira. E kore koe e warewaretia.

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