Mentioned in Despatches:
When I first arrived in Hamilton, arts events could be covered, and largely were, by a single reviewer. Geoff Fairburn was a legend in his own right, and each event he covered was an event to be cherished for its scarcity as much as its quality. This year, 2018, is rather different. It is simply impossible for a single reviewer to cover all that is happening. We have a wonderful collection of lunchtime concerts. In April, on the 11th, at the Gallagher, the 12th at the Art Museum, and the 13th in the Creative Waikato performance space, there are lunchtime concerts, and all three would have been unmissable in the days of Geoff Fairburn’s supportively critical pen. And that’s only music. But don’t let the plethora of first class art lull you into thinking all is well. Word of mouth is becoming critical in publicising events. Attending is becoming crucial.
The arts are still under attack by the uncivilised thuggery of the dollar, and undermined by a Muldoonian preoccupation with the covert suppression of information. Who would have expected the latest attack on Music at Auckland University… Did you even know?
No wonder the St Paul’s Collegiate spies were out, getting a real feel for top musical theatre from their own peers prior to their version of Legally Blonde later in the year. I was still savouring a wonderful moment in the overture where the strings offered a sequence containing one of those resonant, plangent, lower register passages which lie at the heart of the most memorable music when the first voice of the evening simply floated in, quietly, beautifully, uniquely. It was a stunning opening, and the show had only been going a couple of minutes. My first reaction was a ‘‘Where did they find her!’’ Surely this was too confident, too full, to be someone still at school. I was wrong. It was Celia Griffiths, singing the part of Ariel. Griffiths has been on the music scene for a while, but tonight turns up as a senior student with a voice which has developed such a purity of tone, such accuracy, and such power that it lifted the whole performance. And that is not to play down the rest of the cast. This version of one of the great fables of the dangers of miscegenated love was a milestone. The dark brooding atmospherics of Scandinavian were delivered with gripping dynamics and nightmarish imagery by Shona Shin as the evil Ursula, the King’s sister, and aunt of our heroine Ariel. The Disney film interpretation is sanitised beyond belief, but the Hillcrest High School variation is not. It edits cruelly memorable moments of the original, like the newly limbed Ariel feeling as if she is dancing barefoot on broken glass, but Aunty Ursula conveys the dark side with equal power – and no blood. Costume designers Joy Wright and Ashleigh Wells need their names in lights. Their costumes provided characters with qualities which had depth and originality, from Yulia Korduke’s Scuttle, the most hilarious gull you will ever meet, to the wonderful energy and stage sense of Hakaia Daly’s Sebastian the crab. ‘‘Well done, Mr Hall. Great pace. Terrific music. Quality performances from a stage-educated cast.’’
What: From Hamilton To New York Who: Hamilton Civic Choir When: March 24
Where: Te Awamutu Theatre
Works by: Douglas Mews, James Erb, Morten Lauridsen and others.
Musical Director: Timothy Carpenter
In a fortnight’s time, Hamilton Civic Choir flies to to New York to sing, by invitation, in Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie was an international philanthropist and supporter of the arts. That doesn’t mean the choir goes expenses paid. They do not – and they will gratefully accept donations in support of the choir, but Carnegie’s architectural legacy is one of those wonderful gifts which helps display, and share, musical brilliance to the world. This choir is brilliant, and on Saturday performed works from their New York programme.
It was an eclectic, essentially modern list, and began with Purcell’s supplicatory anthem, Hear My Prayer. It was an interesting choice of title, and perhaps had something to do with the improvements which followed.
This concert came at a time when the choir is in full preparation.
Not all works are yet at an equal level, but one has to smile at other titles which which included the beautiful Douglas Mews work, A Sound Came From Heaven – and there were moments when that seemed true – and then doubled down to the Shakespeare poem set by Jaakko Mantyjarvi, Double Double Toil and Trouble, as an iconic cry for perfection – or funding – or the perfect entry.
It is notable that the entire concert of twelve works and an encore stylishly arranged by choir tenor John Heritage, ranged across very different genres, engaged with music of more than usual complexity, and was sung entirely a capella.
The engagement at the Carnegie has such promise, and, (in a quiet aside to our city financiers,) will bring a new and valuable perspective to the way Hamilton is perceived from outside. Ad bene, choristarum. Ut maneat vobiscum in musica – which my muse tells me means ‘Go well, choristers. May the music be with you.’