The universities, which introduced advanced performance teaching in the 1960s, have provided a stable home base for a number of distinguished pianists who have held teaching positions.
Janetta McStay (1917–2012), born in Invercargill, was sought after in Australia and New Zealand as an accompanist and solo artist, performing concerti with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and other orchestras. She taught at the University of Auckland from 1963 until retirement.
Maurice Till (1927–2011) was regarded as one of the leading New Zealand pianists and accompanists of his generation. He taught at both Canterbury and Otago universities.
Margaret Nielsen, who championed the piano works of Douglas Lilburn from the 1950s, was on the staff at Victoria University of Wellington for many years.
Terence Dennis, who taught piano at the University of Otago from 1981, was active on the concert stage, primarily as an accompanist.
Diedre Irons emigrated to New Zealand from Canada in 1977 and was immediately recognised as an outstanding piano soloist and accompanist. Irons held teaching positions at the University of Canterbury and the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington.
Stephen de Pledge
Pianist Stephen de Pledge returned from Europe in 2010 to teach piano at the University of Auckland and became sought after as a concerto soloist by New Zealand’s professional orchestras.
Orchestras have provided a similarly secure base for a number of distinguished instrumentalists.
Vincent Aspey (1909–87), was a miner’s son who grew up in Huntly. He rose from playing in cinema orchestras to become the founding leader (concertmaster) of the New Zealand National Orchestra, and was much admired as a violin soloist.
Another accomplished violinist was Aspey’s stand partner and then successor Alex Lindsay (1919–74). Lindsay also formed the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra in 1948, and was leader of an early chamber music ensemble called the New Zealand String Quartet in the 1950s.
Alan Loveday from Palmerston North held the position of concertmaster and co-concertmaster with various orchestras in the United Kingdom, including the Royal Philharmonic and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. He frequently appeared as a concerto violin soloist, performing at the BBC Proms from the mid-1940s until the early 1970s. He was also a pioneer in period instrument performance.
Wilma Smith, who was born in Fiji but grew up in Auckland, came back from study in the United States in 1987 to become the first violinist of the newly formed New Zealand String Quartet. She left the quartet in 1993 to take the position of concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), and 10 years later took up the equivalent position with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Smith maintained a strong profile as soloist and chamber musician in Australasia.
A helping hand
One of the important roles of the New Zealand String Quartet is to teach and mentor up-and-coming performers. As well as being artists in residence at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington, the players tutor young musicians at the annual Adam Summer School in Nelson.
The New Zealand String Quartet (whose members in 2014 were Helene Pohl and Douglas Beilman, violins; Gillian Ansell, viola; and Rolf Gjelsten, cello) was established in 1987 by the Music Federation of New Zealand (later Chamber Music New Zealand). Its purpose was to encourage and promote the work of New Zealand composers and to undertake extended projects (such as Bartók or Beethoven quartet cycles) that would be difficult for touring groups.
From 2002 the NZTrio (in 2014 comprising Justine Cormack, violin; Ashley Brown, cello; and Sarah Watkins, piano) assumed a similar role in relation to piano trio repertoire.
There have also been chamber ensembles dedicated to the exploration of new music. Music Players 70, founded by pianist Barry Margan, was prominent in the New Zealand music scene in the 1970s. The percussion ensemble Strike, established in 1993, was the brainchild of composer Gareth Farr, himself an excellent percussionist. Wellington-based Stroma, an ensemble of around 20 NZSO musicians, was formed by conductor Hamish McKeich in the late 1990s, while 175 East, established in 1996, traversed similar ground for Auckland audiences.