Friday 21st February

Compassion for People and Land

The sound of the wind buffeting her from all sides at Packhorse Hut on the Port Hills played a big part in Christchurch composer Pieta Hextall’s new work, He Ngākau Aroha.

A collaboration between Hextall, Savanah Tukariri, Kerepeti Paraone and Christchurch Kapa Haka ensemble Te Ahikaaroa, He Ngākau Aroha, which roughly translates to “gratitude for the land and for each other”, was commissioned by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra for the Lamb & Hayward Masterworks concert Compassion, which celebrates the diversity of our community.

He Ngākau Aroha explores the journey that water makes from the mountaintops of Aotearoa, to the rivers, down into the catchments and then finally to the Pā, exploring “our place and our connection to nature and each other”.

“In Māori culture, there’s no ‘This is the people and this is the land’. It’s all intertwined,” Hextall explained. “The compassion that you show people is the same as the compassion that you show to the land.”

The collaborators came up with the concept together and kept in touch regularly to make sure the piece was going in the right direction.  “I kept the waiata intact and didn’t touch anything that Te Ahikaaroa were doing,” said Hextall. “I just put the orchestration around it.”

Writing for orchestra and kapa haka was not too different from writing just for orchestra, but the performance aspect was very different. “Kapa haka performers are not used to having conductors and having fixed notes on a page,” she said. “The first movement Te Waipounamu was also more challenging because it was atonal and waiata are very tonal by nature.” It was in this first movement that she added the sounds of the Port Hills winds with the wind and brass section blowing very loudly into their instruments.

She also took inspiration from hiking on the Routeburn Track in Fiordland last year. “Sadly there aren’t that many bird sounds down there any more so it was just really quiet and windy and there were the insects, and it was quite eerie.”

Hextall became interested in music when she was 7 after hearing the New Zealand Army Band perform at the Christchurch Town Hall.  “My school offered music lessons. The piano lessons were full, so I chose the clarinet.” Her teacher was CSO Associate Principal Clarinet Jonathan Prior and she said it’s really nice to see her old teacher performing her work.

The first movement of He Ngākau Aroha was performed at YES Sparks in Hagley Park this year and it was really exciting to see the work come to life on stage, particularly with the live visual elements of dancing and poi combined with the music. “Seeing all the choreography, the dancing; it just gives it an extra level. All the movements tie in with the words of the waiata and give them a visual representation.” Having her work performed at Sparks was particularly exciting because she had been attending the concert every year since she was 8 years old. “Eight-year-old me would never have imagined I’d ever get a piece played there,” she said.

He Ngākau Aroha will open the Lamb & Hayward Masterworks concert Compassion on 14th March. The performance will also feature Nigel Westlake’s song cycle Compassion, performed by Australian tenor Lior Attar with the CSO.

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