Monday 9th July

Review - CSO Presents: The Music of Moana, performed by Te Vaka

Reviewed by Christopher Moore. First published on on 9th July 2018.

David Kay Conductor

Saturday's Christchurch Symphony Orchestra partnership with the contemporary Polynesian band, Te Vaka, quickly became an evening of Pasifika culture at its free-spirited, and beguiling best.

The combined concert might have been a new experience for both parties but for nearly two hours, they held an enthusiastic audience in the palm of their hands.

Initially it appeared as an unlikely partnership – the CSO in full formal concert attire, Te Vaka in informal Polynesia.

The programme focused on the group's founder and leader Opetaia Foa'i's musical score for the 2016 Disney computer-animated film Moana, a collaboration that won him a Grammy nomination.

It also raised the thorny question as to whether commissioned film music can stand independently on the concert platform or whether it loses impact by being divorced from the screen.

In the case of Moana, the music's sheer musicality and character carries it safely through to the other side, especially when it is performed with high spirited verve by a group which has established itself as one of today's leading musical voices of the Pacific.

It possibly helped if you had already seen the film (as most younger members of the audience obviously had) but this was an evening where you were encouraged to simply go with the flow. Audience participation was not only expected but demanded and you do not experience that during an evening of Mahler. 

The CSO, conducted by David Kay, ably underpinned Te Vaka's engaging fusion of music and dance.

The film may have been a Hollywood's version of Polynesia starring a feisty young woman and a self-absorbed demi-god but Foa'i managed to insert the authentic spirit of Pasifika into a score which, in other hands, might have slid into obscurity on a wave of its own glossiness. 

The remainder of the programme was given over to Te Vaka's distinctive sounds and musical textures.

As a bridge between traditional and 21st century Polynesia, it continues to be a groundbreaking cultural presence, one that warmed the cold of a South Island winter with some much-needed Pacific sun.