Presented by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by: Gemma New
Michael Fowler Centre, 9th Jul 2021
Reviewed by: Tamsin Evans
A world premiere for the Māori new year, Gareth Farr’s Ngā Hihi o Matariki was an exhilarating experience, not just breathtaking but spine-tingling as well. Neither symphony nor concerto, and with the addition of kaikaranga and taonga pūoro, Ngā Hihi o Matariki had its own musical form. Matariki is a time for remembrance, for celebrating the present and for looking to the future and Farr and his collaborators brought all these perspectives brilliantly to life.
Lyrics were written and performed by Mere Boynton and Ariana Tikao, and Tikao also composed and played the parts for taonga pūoro. Both women moved amongst the musicians in the orchestra, creating visual interest while their positioning helped to form the sound of their singing and playing. The orchestra revelled in the intensity of the work and Boynton and Tikao were magnificent. Holding this multiplicity of musicians together magnificently, for over an hour, was conductor Gemma New. Her striking and dynamic style was a perfect match for the music.
Opening with a glittering scene built on melodic percussion and piccolo, it was apparent early on this was going to be music that easily evoked images and ideas. And it did, right through to the end. With little knowledge of the astronomy and which segment related to which star, it was still possible to feel the differences as much as hear them. Farr has always given a strong voice to percussion and the rhythms were as important throughout as the melodies. Boynton’s voice is fabulously rich, and accompanied by Tikao’s putorino, her heart-rending lament to those who have departed rose easily and soared through the auditorium.
I might have missed the Matariki fireworks over the harbour on Saturday night but the final section of Ngā Hihi o Matariki was a sonic firework display of its own. Drawing on the power of hope, the finale brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation.