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Sounds of the Sanctuary

3 & 10 March, 2024

Rātā Cafe, Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

Performed as part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Fetstival of the Arts

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Gareth Farr Te Kōanga

Gareth Farr's string quartet, 'Te Kōanga', is a joyous celebration of nature, renewal and springtime in Aotearoa. The piece was commissioned by the family of the late Ian Lyons, a musician and luthier with a deep love for the outdoors. Farr writes that the work is, “not a lament for Ian – rather, it is a joyous celebration of the things that were important to him.” Meaning ‘spring’ or ‘planting season’ in Te Reo Māori, 'Te Kōanga' was heavily influenced by tui calls heard by Farr in the Marlborough Sounds. The hymn-like atmosphere of the piece, dotted with transcriptions of tui calls, is juxtaposed with percussion as the players pluck and snap the strings on their instruments. Spacious sections filled with birdsong reflect Lyons' love for the outdoors, while a quiet ending brings the work to a gentle resolution. As you listen to 'Te Kōanga', let yourself be transported to the natural landscapes of New Zealand, experiencing the joy and wonder of springtime through Farr's evocative musical storytelling. Tūī can produce a range of sounds and can even mimic human speech, thanks to their superior control over their voicebox. They are one of the loudest and most common bird songs you are likely to hear at Zealandia. You can spot tūī all throughout the sanctuary valley. In spring when the flax is in bloom, watch for them hopping from flower to flower all along Lake Road.

Joseph Haydn String Quartet, Op. 64, No. 5, 'The Lark'

I. Allegro moderato

II. Adagio cantabile

III. Menuetto Allegretto

IV. Finale: Vivace

Haydn’s string quartet The Lark, composed in 1790, celebrates the beauty and vitality of nature, particularly inspired by the skylark, a bird renowned for its soaring melodies and graceful flight. The opening movement, Allegro Moderato, begins with a jubilant and lively theme, akin to the chirping of birds greeting the dawn. The music evokes a sense of freedom and exuberance characteristic of the skylark. In the second movement, Adagio cantabile, Haydn crafts a lyrical melody, with the quartet’s tender expression and graceful phrasing capturing the serenity of the natural world, inviting contemplation and reflection. Conversely, the minuet movement exudes a rustic charm, evoking images of playful woodland creatures frolicking before being interrupted by one of Haydn’s earthy trios. The final movement, Vivace, bursts forth with effervescence, mirroring the exuberant song of the lark. Haydn’s masterful counterpoint and virtuosity paint a vivid picture of nature’s vitality, and the enduring power of music to evoke the wonders of nature.

Dame Gillian Whitehead Poroporoaki

Gillian Whitehead's 'Poroporoaki', which roughly translates from Te Reo Māori as 'calls of farewell,' is a poignant and evocative work for string quartet. Dedicated to Richard Nunns, a champion of taonga pūoro (traditional Māori instruments), the composition transcends cultural boundaries, offering a tribute to the natural world and the sounds that evoke it. 'Poroporoaki' is a masterful transcription of the sounds of taonga puoro as played by Richard Nunns. The quartet imitates the pūtātara (shell trumpet), karanga manu (bird caller), nguru (flute), tumutumu (percussive), poi awhiowhio (whirled gourd — bird caller), and pūtōrino (bugle flute). These instruments, each with its unique timbre and character, create a rich tapestry of sound that resonates with the landscapes and traditions of Aotearoa. The piece is characterized by its atmospheric and beautifully shaped phrases, which hold the audience's rapt attention. From the midpoint, the transcribed instrumental phrases become motivic, weaving together in a tapestry of sound that is both captivating and deeply moving. 'Poroporoaki' is a testament to the universal language of music and its power to connect us to the natural world. Through its evocative sounds and rich textures, the composition invites listeners on a journey of reflection and introspection. The Pōpokotea, or Whitehead, is a small insect-eating bird from the family, Mohouidae, which is only found in New Zealand. It is a busy and gregarious bird that has a loud ‘chirruping’ song, often chattering together in large groups. Males have a white head and belly while their wings and tails are light brown. Females and juveniles have a brown crown and nape. They are very small, about half the size of a sparrow. These birds can be seen throughout Zealandia, in small groups high in trees. They are usually spotted looking for spiders and insects on tree trunks and leaves, often hanging upside down as they search for food.

Antonín Dvořák String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96, the American Quartet

I. Allegro ma non troppo

II. Lento

III. Molto vivace

IV. Finale: vivace ma non troppo

Nicknamed the ‘American Quartet’, Dvořák’s 12th string quartet was written in 1893, during the composer’s time in the United States. Living in New York City, where he was director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, he missed the natural world and suffered homesickness for his native Bohemia, making his summer holiday in the small Czeck community of Spillville, Iowa all the more magical. Inspired by African-American spirituals and the performances of a travelling troupe of Native American entertainers, feeling refreshed and enchanted by his rural surroundings, he produced this beloved work in record time. In the opening movement, ‘Allegro ma non troppo’, Dvořák’s pentatonic melodies evoke the openness of the American prairies, while in the second movement, ‘Lento’, the composer turns his gaze skyward with a tranquil and contemplative melody. The third movement, ‘Molto vivace’ bursts with the vitality of a lively folk dance with infectious rhythms and playful melodies. It is in this movement that Dvořák incorporates the song of a scarlet tanager, a bird he often encountered on his walks around Spillville, Iowa. The final movement brings the ‘American Quartet’ to a triumphant conclusion with Dvořák weaving together themes from earlier movements towards a stirring climax which leaves listeners uplifted and inspired by the natural world around them.

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