I am writing this blog at a cruising altitude of 12,000 feet, as we fly from Nelson to Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Below us, I can see the majestic mountains of New Zealand’s interior, and Som, Edward, and I (the three members of the Dolmen Ensemble) are all thinking how lucky we are that music has taken us to such a spectacular place.
In Christchurch, we’ll be playing a concert at the newly built concert hall, aptly called ‘The Piano’. We’ll then be adjudicating the Pettman ROSL Arts Scholarship auditions at the same venue, where we will have the difficult job of choosing one out of fifteen chamber groups from across New Zealand to come to the UK to have masterclasses, perform concerts, and attend concerts in the summer of 2017.
At this point, we have played five of the ten concerts that we are scheduled to play on this side of the world. We started in Sydney, Australia, and then flew over to Auckland, where we played on the nearby Waiheke Island, and at the Pah Homestead, a gorgeous nineteenth century manor house close to central Auckland that now operates as an arts centre. The venue at Waiheke was completely different: it was a small, locally run museum called ‘Whittaker’s Museum of Musical Instruments’. The museum is run by Lloyd and Joan Whittaker, both in their 80s, which has existed on Waiheke Island for some twenty years. It is a remarkable place: they have keyboard instruments of all shapes and sizes, including a hybrid piano/harmonium, a few player pianos, a transposing piano, and the piano that Ignaz Paderewski toured New Zealand with in the first decade of the 20th century.
After Auckland, we played at the newly built Blyth Centre for the Performing Arts in Havelock North, which we all agreed was one of the most perfect acoustics for chamber music that we’d ever played in. In Nelson, we played at Old. St. John’s, a converted church, which also had a wonderful acoustic. At every venue, we have had a big and enthusiastic audience. Of course, our time in New Zealand has not all been spent on the stage: we have experienced a variety of wonderful restaurants and hotels, and spent a day hiking and swimming in Abel Tasman National Park (near Nelson) that gave us a taste of the otherworldly natural beauty that New Zealand is famous for. It is a real tribute to the creativity, dedication, and organizational skills of Geoff Parkin, Lyn Milne, and Keith Milne that this tour has been without question the most dynamic and enjoyable tour any of us has ever experienced.