The Violin Channel recently discussed the upcoming Whakatipu Music Festival with Anne Rodda, it's Executive Director. The Festival is presented by the Hill Family Foundation for Art and Music and will be available to watch here LIVE on The Violin Channel.
Tell us about the Whakatipu Festival. When was it founded, where did the name come from, and what would you say is its core mission?
Born from a place of change, the festival is a COVID-19 adaptation. It is a response from the Michael Hill International Violin Competition to the new environment in which we now work. At the onset of the pandemic, when New Zealand’s international borders were snapped shut, our board and the Hill family decided we had a responsibility to give back and to help, so instead of hibernating, we created new initiatives to serve our beneficiaries that were suffering as a result of the virus. One such initiative was to mount a domestic music festival in Queenstown (“Whakatipu” is its Māori name) in 2021. Instead of presenting a series of concerts to a passive audience, this festival is authentically by, with, and for the community. It is, at its heart, a celebration of music.
Can you tell us about the lineup of fantastic New Zealand talent you have been able to assemble this year?
The Whakatipu Music Festival is built on three pillars, each as essential and dependent on the other: high-performance musicians, the burgeoning community music scene, and capability-building for the local workforce. So when we think of fantastic New Zealand talent, it includes sopranos returned from the UK, early-career workers getting their first jobs as ticketing managers and event photographers, local singer-songwriters, piano competition winners, and much more.
Are there any standouts for you personally? Any concerts you are particularly looking forward to?
I’ll be the kid in the candy store for all of the concerts, but I am hugely looking forward to Opening Night: Tararua is a contemporary New Zealand art music ensemble whose evocative music combines taonga pūoro (Māori treasured instruments,) waiata (songs,) karakia (prayer,) and pūrākau (story) with western elements.
The second half is an outstanding local jazz ensemble led by the retired principal double bassist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Dale Gold, who says the festival has given him a good excuse to get a band together. Since he intends for it to be ongoing, it means we’re meeting our mission — a festival should be a catalyst and an inspiration.
You are also offering a mentorship program this year for 12 young NZ musicians? What will the musicians be taking part in during the festival and what do you hope they’ll be able to gain from the experience?
Through auditions, we selected a dozen Kiwi emerging talents — some who came home during the pandemic and others whose overseas studies were delayed or interrupted — to spend a week learning and performing together. Over the festival week, they are coached by leading New Zealand artists on solo and chamber repertoire, and undertake targeted career development workshops to extend their knowledge of how to navigate the demands and expectations of today’s environment. Amplifying the ‘give back’ philosophy, they will be generously participating in and presenting their own community engagement.
You will also offer a workforce career development and management program this year. Can you tell us about this unique initiative?
With the loss of international tourism when borders were closed, the economy in Queenstown took a huge hit. The Festival’s career development program not only provides work to a number of suppliers and individuals, but also addresses the skills shortage in the area for artistically savvy staff.
Early-career practitioners will deliver the festival with the support and mentorship of seasoned experts. It helps to develop competencies in the local workforce to develop sustainable careers that in turn meet the market demand as the district continues to artistically mature. It’s quite similar to the young artist program — a bunch of hot shots on the cusp of their careers, nurtured and guided by professionals that have carved their path already.
Interestingly, you’re also hosting a special large-scale production, as part of the festival, and inviting local musicians and singers in the area to also take part. Tell us about this?
It’s either going to be chaos or magic. Probably both! Given the weaving together of community and professional musicians, it is fitting to close the festival with a kia kōpuni (all together or enmasse) performance that invites musicians of all ages, stages, instruments, and voice types to rehearse and perform together.
We commissioned NZ composer Lucy Mulgan to write a work with hard, medium, and easy parts and for high, medium, and low instruments and voices.
You will hold the concerts live in-person with an audience, and stream them internationally online via The Violin Channel. Why do you feel live music is so important right now, not only for the musicians but for the community — particularly given the past few years we’ve just lived through?
New Zealand is still in the throes of Omicron. And in Queenstown and other smaller centers in the country, the peak has not yet crested. Despite this, the human need to experience beauty and joy in person prevails, and everywhere the festival turns, we are met with gratitude — from the musicians, the teachers, the businesses, and the audience members weary of experiencing life through a two-dimensional screen.
Radio NZ and The Violin Channel compliment and extend the live audience experience and provide our musicians with an unparalleled international audience that has been shut off for them for the last two years. It gives us a chance to feel connected to a global audience again. We don’t know who is tuning in, but the stakes are much higher on the stage, and as we know, when things are put under pressure, diamonds are the result.
What are your hopes for the future of the Whakatipu Festival?
It certainly feels that we have created something that will be enduring. We must continually look past our own perceptions to ensure we are complementing an eco-system, so I hope this festival or its next incarnation is attuned to the needs of young artists, to a local community coming of age culturally, to a young country that is still finding its own identity — especially one that honors the centuries of music that came before and will follow us.