Standing Ovation for ‘Such A Fine, Sunny Day’
Stunning Concert & brilliant Radio New Zealand interview with Alan Griffiths & Paul Whelan
Paul performed the World Premiere of my latest song-cycle ‘Such A Fine, Sunny Day’ with a dramatic piano duet played by Australian virtuoso Nicholas Young and NZ concert pianist Anna Maksymova.
It was a huge honour to have the world’s largest audio/tech company TM Stagetec Systems and ANZCA Music Examinations (again) come onboard as concert sponsors.
ANZCA chose 15 of my solo piano pieces in total for the international piano syllabus conducted on Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. These 15 pieces are available as pdfs on my website shop.
Stagetec sells their manufactured tech & audio recording equipment to the world’s top opera houses and government procurement programs. They couriered over their latest recording gear from Germany and a technician Michael Blackburn, (very nice guy) from Sydney to set it up. The head of Australasian’s TM Stagetec Systems, Treva Head (very nice too) was also there. Sydney recording producer Craig Field recorded the song-cycle on Thursday 15th of Sept and my Saturday 17th Sept concert. Stategetec commissioned the making of a short doco about this project (see below).
No one was more surprised with the audience turn out on the Saturday night than I. We were competing against 3 other main shows, who popped up their heads after I had booked the September 17th at The Piano’s stunning concert hall.
The day after I arrived my parents Lois & Martin took me to see a delightful concert at Merivale’s All Souls Anglican Church. I later contacted the concert organiser Maria Light and her daughter violinist Rose Light, who stared in the event. They had lit up the whole space with candles creating an enchanting space.
On witnessing 17 year old Rose perform duets with a guitarist and learning that her chamber group had won the 1st prize at the Inaugural Queensland International Chamber 2019 Festival (under 18s) I knew she had to perform in my concert. Australian virtuoso and multi-international award recipient Nicholas Young, whose chamber group Ensemble Franxçaix competed in the same competition, won the overall top 1st prize. Imagine if I could have both of these accomplished musicians performing the New Zealand Premiere of my Etude for Violin and Piano on the stage together? It was too good an opportunity to miss.
Leaving it a bit fine, as I prefer a good 6 months lead up in concert preparation I arrived in early June. However, I hadn’t figured on getting Long COVID; what a trying ordeal that was.
Anyway, coming to NZ during winter had its positives. Sure it was cold but it was a different sought of discomfort with its charms. ChCh Smog quickly dissipates, the days are clearer and it even snowed. It makes for a spectacular sight seeing Canterbury buttressed by snow capped mountains all along its boundary with the start of the alps. Being here has made me realise how much my heart never left this beautiful land. Ohh how I wish I could live here.
My first few months were very difficult with Brain Fog, bad lungs and heart and my ongoing hand tremors. A few times I was very close to giving up. But my partner Jackie Clements was a strong crutch to lean on through these times.
Although I was lonely I did get to spend quality time and reconnect with my amazing parents, so am very grateful for having made the time to do this.
As I had a finite budget I had to be canny with my timing and have a great deal of luck. A delightful community campaigner in Merivale, Frankie Roake, at The Corner, offered to publish some of my publicity material in her community news letter The Chronicle. Taking up the full back A4 page in her news letter, it was letter boxed to 4,000 homes in the Merivale area, arguably the highest per capita of Christchurch’s concert going public. A week later I had an excellent piece published in The Press ‘What’s On’ about the concert.
As for posters I rang around various local printers and found the average price to be 3 times higher than in Melbourne. So I saved a lot on the concert programs and fliers which were designed by James Carrett and Jon Pike. These proved most useful in hand billing those exiting at the end of Verdi’s Requiem at the Christchurch Town Hall, as many who attended were fans of Paul Whelan.
My dear St Bede’s College friend Lambertus Doonerwind helped hand these out. He has such a charming way with people, some who came to my concert. One old lady he was chatting to introduced me as the composer of my concert, and she said to me ‘thank you for writing that beautiful music performed in the town hall’, she mistook me for Verdi, haha.
I also had huge concert posters up on 5 of Phantom’s bollards around the ChCh arts precinct for 2 weeks leading up to the concert.
These posters stayed up for 2 weeks after the concert, haha, which I was pretty chuffed about as it reminded those who hadn’t attend on what they had missed out on.
Regarding radio, which really is the gate way to a wider audience, I had 55 minutes on a live interview broadcast twice more on Plains FM’s Expanding Horizons show. Thanks to friend and muso insider Colin MacDairmid for getting me on. It was a hilarious interview with Col & Stu. We had such a good rapport. It was as if I new these guys all of my life: https://plainsfm.org.nz/Programmes/Details.aspx?PID=76fad43b-06d2-4000-9f6d-5ce0905bbc1b
I was then offered a slot on RNZ’s sought after show Standing Room Only interview with Lynn Freeman. Paul Whelan generously joined me. It is by far the best interview I have ever had: https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/standing-room-only/audio/2018858283/composer-alan-griffiths-is-inspired-by-a-21-year-old
(Correction – Sophie Scholl who the song cycle is dedicated to was not a resistance fighter but a Christian pacifist)
I was then offered a live 10 minute interview on Rdu’s Breakfast Show, which has the largest and most diverse audience in ChCh.
Thanks to Jon Pike’s classy design work and editing I had a knockout video for a Facebook campaign, so I had all bases covered.
Through Lambertus I met Jillian Woods. They both helped carry me with all the stress that goes in to organising something like this.
A big thank you to Anna Maksymova who organised alternative rehearsal space in one of The Piano’s studios. A huge help!
Springtime inflated my soul as ChCh’s nature re-blossomed the streets.
I love the unusual surprises this city has in store. Where else in the world can you feed 1.5 metre native blue eyed eels in the centre of town?
Or find a bull on a grand piano?
Anyway, as the venue The Piano was very happy to be associated with the Stagetec doco, they allowed us to record and film in their concert hall, a very rare honour indeed, we were able to utilise this magnificent space. Stagetec commissioned a short doco shot by Australian cinematographer James Carrett, replete with my music, about recording the song cycle and concert utilising their new recording gear. Stagetec will then promote this latest audio gear with this doco in their 37 offices around the world from October this year.
The Piano was very generous in accommodating the recording side. They even let us have access to the concert hall and their Steinway D full Concert grand Piano on Tuesday 13th of September for the whole day for free.
I had no idea ‘Such A Fine, Sunny Day’, recorded by Craig Field on the Thursday before the concert, would end up sounding this good. Opera star Paul Whelan, did a stunning job, teasing out the nuances within the corresponding narratives in my libretto, with such emotion and intensity. It is by far, the best recording of my music yet.
Paul’s dramatic accompaniment played by Nicholas and Anna is a tour-de-force to reckon with. His voice soaring above the Steinway pounding out the sound of war, did it absolute justice.
It was fully satisfying to reach people with this highly evocative anti-war, anti-fascist and anti-nuclear work. The recognition from the audience with a standing ovation, vindicated my efforts. I knew New Zealand was the right country to launch this song-cycle with its proud history of standing up for justice and especially in its continued Nuclear Free status.
Am most impressed with Anna too. She has the right temperament for my repertoire and I hope to work with her again, most probably in 2023. I also enjoyed meeting her parents, both very musical. Her Dad Valirey plays violin and viola in the esteemed CSO and he was a professional Baritone opera singer as well.
Nicholas did an excellent first half of the concert performing some of my ANZCA pieces from my debut album Introspection. He also performed the World Premiere of a piano piece ‘Finding New Home’ from my 2023 album Land No More? The way he spoke to the audience in-between the pieces helped the concert have a strong connection with listeners. Many said how touched they were with this rapport.
University of Canterbury’s School of Music’s top honours’ student in performance piano Megoe Chen played the World Premiere of my solo piano piece ‘1st Wave, In Memoriam’, also from Land No More? It was indeed a moving performance and well played. I look forward to hearing her play it again. Megoe has included this piece in her final end of year graduation concert, a huge honour.
Many also said how moved they were by Rose’s interpretation of Etude, some preferring it even over the song cycle. I was lucky to have her involvement, as I believe she is on the cusp of great things.
Thanks to Jillian and Lambertus for an unforgeable After Concert party. Trully a hilarious escapade in to the absurdity of the Across the Ditch rivalry between Michael Blackburn, Treva Head and Craig Field representing Oz, vs Lambertus defending us Kiwis. I passed out at around 2am, got my second wind at 3:30 then partied on till 5. Oh to be young again!!
I had the pleasure of having Paul’s Mum and Dad, Beris & Don Whelan at my concert and also with Paul at the After Concert party. Here I am with Don and Dad, both ex-St Bede’s teachers.
Don was my music teacher at St Bede’s and helped start me off down the path to becoming a composer. I also sang in his Basilica choir later on before migrating to Australia. It is a testament to his dedication and inspirational teaching career that I am the composer I am today.
Dear friend Jane Crawford travelled some distance to reach the concert too. So good to see her again and her friend Rochelle.
Christchurch is calling me, it’s going to be very hard to leave this time.
I shall be mixing the song cycle with Craig in Sydney in mid-October, Brian Fog permitting and I hope to release Paul’s recording as a single.
I hope to do further concerts in NZ with Anna, Rose, the Whēkua Trio and others.
The next recital with Nicholas Young is in the Christchurch Arts Centre Monday Lunchtime Series in their Great Hall at 1.10pm, September 26th.
Tickets for Nicholas’s recital: