Pianists and organists
Several New Zealand keyboard players have had distinguished international careers.
Pianist Richard Farrell (1926–58) grew up in Wellington, though he left for intensive studies in Sydney at an early age. His playing was admired by such international luminaries as Arthur Rubenstein, Eugene Ormandy and Aaron Copland. A burgeoning career in the USA and Britain was cut short by a fatal car accident.
Colin Horsley (1920–2012) grew up in Whanganui. During his career in the United Kingdom he played in virtually every BBC Proms season between 1948 and 1964, and was described in an obituary as ‘one of Britain’s leading pianists after the second world war’.1
Gillian Weir, brought up in Whanganui, won a scholarship to study the organ at the Royal College of Music in London in 1963. She became renowned as an interpreter of the works of French composer Olivier Messiaen and, after an international performing career of nearly 50 years, gave a farewell recital at Westminster Cathedral in December 2012.
There have been several eminent New Zealand conductors.
Making a stand
Returning to New Zealand after studies in Leipzig, Alfred Hill began his conducting career in 1892 with the Wellington Orchestral Society. After a promising start, controversy erupted when Hill refused to conduct the orchestra with a visiting pianist, Antoine de Kontski. Hill accused the 80-year-old virtuoso of charlatanism – de Kontski often played works with his hands under a folded blanket – and resigned his post.
Although best known as a composer, Alfred Hill (1870–1960) was prominent as a conductor in New Zealand and later Australia. He was responsible for forming and conducting New Zealand’s first fully professional orchestra, which played at the 1906–7 International Exhibition in Christchurch.
Dunedin-born Warwick Braithwaite (1896–1971) conducted at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden in London, and was music director of the Welsh National Opera from 1956 to 1960. Braithwaite was principal conductor of the New Zealand National Orchestra from 1954 to 1956.
John Matheson (1928–2009), of Ngāi Tahu descent, studied at Otago University and then at the Royal College of Music in London, before becoming a repetiteur (accompanist and vocal coach) at Sadler’s Wells. (Repetiteuring is a time-honoured route to a conducting career.) Matheson held conducting posts at both Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden and, from the 1970s on, was a frequent guest conductor at opera houses and festivals in Europe. He became music director of the Queensland Lyric Opera in 1988.
Ashley Lawrence (1934–1990), born in Hamilton, had a career that followed a similar trajectory to Matheson’s. Educated at Auckland University and the Royal College of Music, he joined the music staff at Covent Garden as a conductor for the Royal Ballet. He held the position of music director for the Royal Ballet from 1973 to 1987, and conducted other companies, including the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Stuttgart Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.