Associate Professor John Anthony Elmsly

BMus (VUW), BSc (VUW), 1st Prize Composition (Brussels Muziekcon.), Spec. Cert. (Liège), LTCL


John Elmsly was born in Auckland on 1 July 1952. His early musical experiences included piano training from James Noice and encouragement in composition at secondary school from Laughton Pattrick. A graduate in mathematics and music from Victoria University of Wellington, he studied piano with Barry Margan, composition with David Farquhar, and began electronic music with Douglas Lilburn.

From 1975 to 1978 he held a post-graduate scholarship from the Belgian Ministry of Culture. In 1977 he was awarded a First Prize in Composition by the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where he studied with Victor Legley, and in 1978 continued study in Liège with Henri Pousseur, Philippe Boesmans and Frederic Rzewski. Also in Belgium he worked regularly in the electronic music studios at IPEM in Gent with Lucien Goethals, and several pieces produced there were broadcast by BRT3.

He was a full-time member of the School of Music staff from 1984 to 2014 when he retired as  Head of Composition studies in Music and director of the ‘Karlheinz Company’ contemporary music ensemble which frequently broadcasts on Radio NZ Concert, and often features music from the Asia-Pacific region.  He was involved in supervision of  many MMus and DMus graduates of the University of Auckland including Dr Eve de Castro-Robinson, Dr Leonie Holmes, Dr Weerachat Premananda, Dr  Cheryl Camm, Dr Thorsten Wollmann and Dr Chen-Feng Lin. He was also academic supervisor for the recent DMA exegesis of Melody Lin.

His compositions include works for symphony orchestra (many recorded and/or performed by the Auckland Philharmonia and the New Zealand Symphony orchestra), vocal and choral music, chamber and solo music commissioned by many leading performers, and electroacoustic music. In the latter domain he has specialized in works for acoustic instruments and electronic sound. In recent years his works have been performed in Austria, Australia, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany Holland, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Spain, Thailand, UK, and the USA. “Gestauqua” (for brass quintet and tape) represented NZ at the 1990 Paris Rostrum, and in 1992 his choral settings of poems by James K Baxter, 'Songs from the Treehouse'  won the Philip Neill Memorial Prize from the University of Otago.

“Gestauqua” (for brass quintet and tape) represented NZ at the 1990 Paris Rostrum, and in 1992 Elmsly won the Philip Neill Memorial Prize from the University of Otago. He was President of the Composers’ Association of New Zealand from 1996 to 1999; Committee member from 1995 to present; and elected to the Executive Committee of Asian Composers’ League from 1997 to 2002.  He also edited a number of editions of Canzona and has been a frequent contributor to 'Music New Zealand' and 'Canzona.'

Recent premieres included works for flautist Abigail Sperling, the Jade String Quartet, NZ Trio, Magic Flute ensemble, and recorder player Kevin Kim. In July 2015 he takes up a one year composing residency at Victoria University of Wellington.

Research | Current

  • Composition
  • Electronic and computer-assisted composition
  • NZ music

Teaching | Current

University teaching from 1984 to 2014 covered courses in Composition (both acoustic and electroacoustic) and Orchestration at all levels, as well as participation in Chamber Music coaching, Musicianship, and modular courses linking composition with performance.

Occasional supervision work has continued since retiring from full-time teaching.

Postgraduate supervision

MMus and DMus students


  • Mozart Fellowship, University of Otago, 1981
  • Philip Neill Memorial Prize, University of Otago, 1992
  • Selected NZ work for the 1990 Paris Rostrum: 'Gestauqua' for brass quintet and tape


Past responsibilities have included: Acting Dean, Faculty of Music; Acting HOD, Music, Associate-Dean PG, NICAI, Associate-Head Postgraduate, Head of Composition Studies.

Areas of expertise

Musical Composition, Orchestration, Electro-acoustic Music, Performance of contemporary music

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Elmsly, J. A.'Tungwhorl' for tenor recorder and electronic sounds. (2014). Committee Series: New music for old instruments. Sounz (score); Radio NZ (recorded for broadcast).
  • Elmsly, J. A.'White Feathers' for narrator and orchestra. (2010). Auckland Philharmonia Composers Workshop.
  • Elmsly, J. A.Four Echoes for solo violoncello. (2001). SouNZ. Related URL.
  • Elmsly, J. A.Dialogue V 'Three Evocations' for violin and piano (12'). (1997). Related URL.

Contact details

Primary office location

Level 2, Room 214
New Zealand

Web links