School of Music Highlights

A selection of exciting projects and recent happenings from staff and students.

Creative Community: What it takes to make Christmas in the Park happen

Dixon Nacey

Dixon Nacey had never been to Christmas in the Park before last year. A gigging musician, he always found himself working during the peak corporate party season and booked on the same night. As a result, his first introduction to the live event was being in the band on stage in 2015. "Of course, I'd seen the televised coverage in previous years, but you just don’t get a feel for how massive it is,” he says. “You think there’s a lot of people there, and then the sun goes down, and all the glow sticks come out, and it blows you away.”

Nothing in New Zealand entertainment compares to the sheer size of Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park. Now its 23rd year, with shows in both Auckland and Christchurch, the festive event draws crowds of over 250,000 around the country. Following his first foray as a player last year, Dixon, a jazz guitar teacher at the School of Music, took the plunge and stepped up to be the Musical Director for this year's shows. "Last year, I had a great experience; it's so different from any other conert-type gig," Dixon tells of his decision to take on the role. "It's not an 'all about me' gig. It's about being involved in the community, playing for a whole lot of people who want to be there and share an experience with their families. And I really enjoyed the vibe from the show, so I wanted to be more deeply involved this year."

Having previously directed shows such as the New Zealand Film Awards and Lady Sings the Blues at the Auckland Arts Festival, Dixon has the required experience to apply to this grander scale. As Musical Director, on show night he conducts the band, but his work started months beforehand. "There's about a nine month timeline on the whole show – from when it starts to come together conceptually right through to post-show debrief," he says. "From April through to January, the show is moving in some sort of way." Open auditions to find local cast members – amateur singers, dancers and other acts – commenced in June, with each line up confirmed in September. "We get all sorts at those auditions - old, young, studentss, church groups – and there's some real talent there. The four local acts we had in Christchurch were fantastic, and we have a super strong local cast for Auckland. I love seeing them get out there and give it their best."

For the professional players, while the majority of the 2015 band returned, Dixon's extensive industry connections helped complete the sound. "We need musicians who can play the range of styles included in the show – traditional, classically-inspired carols, big band jazz, party tunes and Top 40 stuff – and I knew exactly who I wanted to be involved," he says. "I know a lot of great players in the industry who fit the brief, so we had the band settled quite early in the process."

Rehearsals with band and cast started around mid-October, and since then, all involved have been dedicated to polishing their performances. "It has been ridiculously busy," Dixon says. "It surely is a long process, but it’s definitely an experience, a bucket list type thing." He cites time management as his biggest challenge, trying to balance his outside projects with the demands of his roles. Roles, plural. Dixon is not only conductor and Musical Director, but he's also Artistic Director, having overseen the scheduling and logistics of auditions, rehearsals and aspects of the event management in the two cities. "I've been pulling long days, and not seeing my family enough," he says. It's clear the passion for the event drives Dixon through those challenges. "Everyone, from the players, to stage crew, the companies involved and management, is offering their time and services for very reasonable costs, just to make the event happen. It's a great show of community spirit, maybe even the Christmas spirit. They're all of industry standard, and focused on the occasion and festivity of the night."

With the Christchurch show ticked off, Dixon said Aucklanders can look forward to an exciting show this Saturday. "I've had the chance to review the footage from Christchurch and I am really proud of what the band and the cast produced,” he says. His favourite moment of the show? "We do a modified version of Take 6’s arrangement of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. It's a very complex six-part harmony, it's completely vocal driven, but I did decide to put some strings around it too. It's done with just those two timbres – strings and voice." He makes mention of the headline act, Stan Walker, and also the traditional fireworks display, promising a grand finale with a little extra surprise. "We have such a strong professional and local cast – it’s going to be one heck of a party!"

Youthline is the official charity partner of Christmas in the Park. Find out more here.
Visit Dixon’s YouTube channel


APO Young Composer residency orchestrates opportunity

Josiah Carr
Josiah Carr.

If you ever see Josiah Carr on the train, chances are he's creating some sonic magic. "Most days I'm writing music of some sort," says Josiah, an honours student in composition who has been named the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s (APO) Rising Star Young Composer-in-Residence. "I quite often work on a piece on the train, it's a great way to spend the commute!"

Josiah discovered the APO's Rising Star Young Composer-in-Residence opportunity through the APO website, submitting an original orchestral piece alongside a composition an APO ensemble had previously played at the annual composition workshop in Nelson. "I'm quite familiar with the APO," Josiah tells. "I've seen them perform many times, I am part of the Our Voice ensemble workshop happening towards the end of the semester and I know a few of the players, so I know a little bit about what to expect from the orchestral world."

Over the next six months or so, Josiah will be producing three scores as part of his residency, each with its own specific brief. During the APO Summer School programme, advanced young music students will work through Josiah's first composition alongside professional orchestral mentors. "It will be interesting in terms of ability," Josiah predicts. "I want to produce something that will be suitable, but still stand on its own musically. There's a lot of simple music which for me isn't musically satisfying, so that will be a good challenge." The second piece is for an APOPS (APO Partnership Schools) ensemble who will perform this work at schools across Auckland, so while the players are professional, the music still needs to be accessible for a school-aged audience. "This one has an interesting orchestration of violin, viola, cello and oboe, so it will be interesting to put together," Josiah says.

He is hoping to lift the profile of composition within high schools, and is enjoying having the odd opportunity to teach both composition and conducting in that environment. "I think composition is almost a foreign concept in most high schools. I really like teaching, and can see myself having this as part of my working career. There have been people and teachers in my life who have been really influential, and I'd like to be that person for others." With his third composition being aimed at a secondary school audience, he will have the opportunity to inspire in another way. Before April next year, Josiah will be completing a piece to be played by the APO before secondary school audiences. The APO's Discovery Concert is designed to educate students about orchestral music, and it is this piece which excites Josiah the most. "It's the full force APO, where I don’t have the restrictions of the other works. There will be limitless opportunities for this piece in terms of what I can write."

Having played percussion, bass, drums, guitar and dabbled in keyboard and piano, Josiah doesn't have first-hand experience in the majority of orchestral instruments he will be writing for. What he does have, however, is significant knowledge of how each instrument works. "I spent a lot of time reading about instruments in high school; understanding their ranges, the sounds they made and their extended techniques," he says. This has given him an advantage when composing, with very few incidents of players coming to him saying they're unable to do what he's asked of them. "At the end of the day, they're the professional players and know what's best for their instrument. It's like a working relationship – I go in with an open mind in terms of adapting the piece, as their experience is only going to make the piece better."

During his residency, Josiah will be working closely with Karlo Margetić, the APO's current Composer-in-Residence who was himself a Rising Star in 2007-2008. Karlo will act as a mentor for Josiah, who expects to be able to contact him freely for advice. "I've not met him yet - he's based in Wellington - but I identify with his music quite a lot, which is cool. I'm about to ask him about working with school audiences, and once I have things written down, I'll send him off some scores for review," he says.

With a masters degree on the cards for 2017, Josiah is considering his options for his future. "If I had my way, I'd love to have a show on Broadway or the West End," he says. Musical theatre offered him an early opportunity to have his scores played, with a high school teacher giving him the chance to produce two musicals for his high school. "Theatre is a completely different hat to the one I'm currently wearing, but having that opportunity was how I decided composition was for me. There's no saying where this opportunity with the APO will take me, but I'd like to tackle another musical at some stage in my career."

One of his lecturers, Associate Professor Eve de Castro-Robinson, describes Josiah as innately musical, with an impressive fluency in colourful instrumental and orchestral writing, as well as the ability to turn his hand to lighter styles. "Josiah has always been zealous and driven about his music-making, whether composition or performance, and I've no doubt he’ll make a success of any venture."

Works Josiah has produced during the academic year will be featuring in the upcoming Douglas Lillburn Trust Composition and Llewelyn Jones Piano Composition prize concerts. For more information on these events, visit the Creative Arts and Industries website.

You can find out more about Josiah and his work via his Facebook page.



Introduction to Afro-Cuban Music for Jazz Musicians

Denholm Orr seated at a computer with transcribed music on the screen.
Denholm Orr in the music research lab.

Hitting a snag playing Latin Jazz inspired Denholm Orr to produce a 'how to' guide for other students.

Having just finished his Bachelor of Music / Bachelor of Science conjoint degree, Denholm Orr wanted to know if postgraduate study was his next step. When the Summer Research Scholarship applications opened, he thought back to an issue he had struck during his studies. "At the School of Music, our main focus is the jazz of about the 1940s, so we don't explore Latin jazz as much as swing or bebop. So when I was having a jam with some friends, playing a Latin piece, Sabor, we struck a bit of trouble. All three of us were playing something which was 'correct', but the piano, bass and drums just weren’t fitting together," Denholm says of his inspiration for his project. "Each played a rhythm which worked on its own, but when put together, they weren’t matching up."

Intrigued, Denholm, who plays upright and electric bass, decided ten weeks over the summer break would be the perfect opportunity to further investigate this roadblock. Beginning December 1, Denholm set out to explore the roots and patterns of Latin Jazz with the goal of producing a quick-reference guide book for his fellow jazz majors. "As jazz musicians, we will be expected to have at least a working knowledge of Latin jazz, so I decided a resource offering ten or so pages of quick solutions when you're wanting to play Brazilian or Afro-Cuban music would be very beneficial," he says.  He quickly discovered those were the two main strands of Latin jazz music, each having its own distinct nature. "From what I’ve read, Afro-Cuban music seems harmonically simple when compared to jazz harmony, whereas Brazilian music has harmony just as complex. However, both are quite rigid in terms of requiring certain rhythms to be present at all times, where the improvisational approach to jazz allows the player to switch rhythms at will."

Following his extensive written and aural research, the next step was to explore the underlying differences in the music. "Afro-Cuban music is based on the clave for rhythmical foundation whereas Brazilian is more about specific roles for instruments,” Denholm says of his findings so far. "I suspect in our jam session, we had too much happening, and the more you have going on, the more cluttered it can start to feel." Denholm spent two weeks trialling arrangements of jazz standards, matching melodies to certain claves. "As I wanted to apply the songs to a jazz ensemble, I found I had to make modifications such as condensing the percussion section into a drum pattern." This process involved some trial and error, with Denholm's supervisor Oliver Holland providing some key guidance. "He cautioned me not to over-simplify things, or leave important sections out when I was transcribing, which I would discover when I listened back to it through the Sibelius software."

Denholm had varying success with his arrangements initially, taking them to jam sessions with fellow students for a fortnight to experiment and further hone the details. "I had a nice array of styles in those sessions; a 6/8 piece with parallel harmony, a 4/4 jazz standard, a Cha-cha-cha over a ii V chord progression, and a Son-Montuno with a simple I IV V IV," he says. The sessions allowed him to discover more about the styles and the potential issues jazz musicians may face when playing these styles. "The next part of my research is about formalising this - educating myself and introducing other people in the jazz programme to this style."

Upon completion of his summer research project, Denholm will begin his Honours year. "This project has got me thinking, and I'll try to employ what I'm learning here into my papers this year." With a physics degree under his belt, he's keeping his options open, but the lure of travelling overseas as a musician is quite tempting. "To be involved in physics I would need to do further study. This year will be my first opportunity to focus solely on music. My enjoyment of that may win over physics entirely," he laughs.

Graham Allen Musical Theatre Prize

Winner Manase Latu rehearses in the music theatre.
Winner Manase Latu rehearses in the music theatre.

Second annual concert to celebrate love for musical theatre.

In memory of an amateur classical singer with a great passion for musical theatre, School of Music vocal students have competed in the finals of the Graham Allen Musical Theatre Prize.

Now in its second year, the prize was initiated by Graham's wife Margaret and daughter Laura to honour his life and great love of the genre. Dr Te Oti Rakena, Head of the School of Music voice programme, was thrilled to have the opportunity to broaden the experience and training of the students. "We are a classically-positioned department, however we have reshaped the programme to create successful musical entrepreneurs," Te Oti says of the way the School of Music aims to produce performers who can thrive in different genres. "As we do not teach musical theatre within the programme, it was important to bring in the best people to provide education outcomes for the students alongside the prize."

This led to him contacting Richard Marrett, Head of the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA), based in Christchurch. Richard, who was involved in judging the heats a fortnight prior to the final concert, then spent two days mentoring and coaching the finalists before the concert held on Saturday 10 October. Richard says the experience acquired throughout the process will transfer to the classical realm. "A lot of people aren't aware of the accepted practices and parameters of musical theatre. In classical performance, you can't perform Bach as if it was Chopin. Similarly with musical theatre, you can't sing Rogers and Hammerstein as if it were Verdi." Te Oti adds "It's about understanding that just because you can claim all the notes perfectly, that doesn’t mean you're observing the performance conventions associated with the song. This is why it is such an interesting exercise for the students."

Students prepared two songs, one of their own choice and the other adhering to the judges' choice component of shows prior to 1960s. With key criteria including character-led storytelling and wide, expressive vocal quality, the prize was hotly contested. Manase Latu was awarded the top prize of $1000, performing South Pacific's Younger Than Springtime and Bring Him Home from Les Misérables. Callum Blackmore placed second with Cleopatra and I Am What I Am, and Samson Setu was awarded third place following his performance of both This Nearly Was Mine and Young Man Despair.

To hear the winning performances, visit the Soundcloud account.



Exciting growth of interest in Early Music programme

A collection of clavichords at the symposium.
Photo: James Tibbles.

James Tibbles’ attendance at the recent International Clavichord Symposium demonstrates how the early keyboard programme has grown at the School of Music.

The donation of a clavichord to the School of Music has been the catalyst of exciting advances within the School of Music's early keyboard programme. Anna Nathan's generous support enabled the School to commission the building of a clavichord by one of the finest historic instrument makers in Europe, and since its arrival in 2014, students have been fascinated by the extraordinary expressive qualities of this beautiful if delicate-sounding instrument. James Tibbles, Senior Lecturer within the Early Music programme, has witnessed the enthusiasm and desire of students to learn more about the instrument and add to their skillset. "The donated clavichord has totally transformed my teaching approach, captivated the students and probably done more to boost the profile of the early music programme than any other one thing in the past 15 years," James says.

Evidence of this is James' recent trip to Magnano, Italy, to attend the International Clavichord Symposium, held in early September. The theme of the conference was Clavichord as a Pedagogical Instrument, and James, now with two years of teaching the instrument to piano students, was able to offer some valuable insights to his colleagues in attendance. "In European countries, it is mainly organists or clavichord specialists who are teaching, learning and playing the instrument," James says. "Here at our University, all piano students must do at least two semesters of early keyboard study, exploring harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. We're not creating specialists, we’re developing a new genre of pianists who can play modern piano as well as an early keyboard, which is not a widespread practice internationally."

This novel approach informed the conference paper James presented in Italy, which was well received by his peers, generating lots of questions and interest in the transition of learning between modern piano and clavichord. "We have a very large student body studying clavichord, larger than any other I've come across. It is not immediately logical that someone with good piano technique will be able to approach a clavichord as the setup is completely different, and I was able to share my experience of doing that with our students," says James. This was immediately followed by an hour-long performance, featuring J.S Bach, C.P.E Bach, Wolf and Türk. James says it was an interesting experience going from presenter to performer. "Reading a conference paper is one style of presentation, then transforming into musician and playing a full recital programme was definitely putting me in the hot seat!"

Returning with invigorated research concepts, James also feels his experience at the conference will flow through to the students. "I have returned with the affirmation that what we do here at the School of Music is at the very top end of the field. I also witnessed some very fine players with different technical understandings of how the instrument works, which has me continuing to reconsider the relationships between artistry and technique in the playing and teaching of clavichord," he adds.

With students enquiring into further study at both honours and masters level, James is excited about the future of the programme. "Our keyboard collection is well on its way to becoming first class. As student interest grows, we can look to support doctoral study in the area," he says. "With the addition of at least one, possibly two, more clavichords, the collection would become something which would seriously entice students from the other side of the world."




School of Music Staff Releases

Picture of a NICAI branded music stand.

2015 has been a busy year for researchers and academics at Creative Arts and Industries, for the School of Music, the second half of the year has seen the release of a significant amount of work.

Staff across all programmes within the School have recent or pending releases which reflect their involvement in the industry or research output.

These releases include:

  • Eve de Castro-Robinson - I stayed a minute
  • Kevin Field - The A List
  • Ron Samsom - Acetone
  • Roger Manis - Two Out

To find out more about the projects of our music academics, click here


Associate Professor Rae de Lisle awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit

Image of Rae de Lisle sitting at a piano.

Prestigious honour for School of Music Associate Professor. 

July 2015

A musician, researcher and teacher at the University of Auckland has received a Queen's Birthday Honour. In June, Associate Professor Rae de Lisle, from the School of Music, was named as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to music.

In a career spanning more than four decades Associate Professor de Lisle has been among a handful of individuals in this country who have achieved international distinction in the field of classical music.

As a gifted young pianist she travelled to the United Kingdom to undertake further studies and quickly established a reputation as a pianist of unusual intellectual power and artistic refinement.

On her return to New Zealand she became one of the country's busiest professional musicians, appearing in numerous solo recitals and chamber music performances as well as featuring regularly as a national recording artist for Radio New Zealand.

Due to injury Associate Professor de Lisle shifted her focus to teaching. Her students have gone on to become New Zealand's top pianists, winning every major local and national competition as well as enjoying success in many important international competitions.

Associate Professor de Lisle's own experience of performance-related injury made her particularly sensitive to the danger of injury in others. She developed an interest in focal dystonia, a debilitating and generally career-ending injury that is prevalent among musicians.

Her pioneering work in this area, carried out jointly with a number of New Zealand's leading medical researchers, demonstrated that recovery was possible for individuals suffering from this previously untreatable condition.

Her doctoral thesis and a series of papers published in leading scientific journals are regarded internationally as the benchmark literature in the field.

"Throughout her varied and distinguished career Rae has been a high achiever whose work has enriched the lives of others and done much to strengthen the training and standard of New Zealand's classical pianists," says Associate Professor Allan Badley, Head of the School of Music.

"Perhaps of even greater importance, is the enormous energy Rae has devoted over many years to giving workshops for teachers and young pianists throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand," he says.

Associate Professor de Lisle's international reputation as a pianist and teacher is evidenced by regular invitations to adjudicate at major competitions and her status as the leading authority on the treatment of focal dystonia in musicians, means that she is consulted on a regular basis by musicians from all over the world.

She was instrumental in establishing in 2013 and 2014 respectively the Wallace National Piano Competition and the Wallace International Piano Festival, initiatives designed both to lift the standard of piano playing in New Zealand.



Talented violinist appointed Concertmaster of National Youth Orchestra

Joella Pinto playing the violin on stage next to a piano.
Image: Simon Darby.

Joella Pinto to lead the NYO for two special concerts in 2015.

July 2015

The position of Concertmaster in any orchestra is one of great responsibility and the violinist who holds it must possess a combination of talent, experience and leadership  that commands the respect of all the musicians. Current classical performance major, Joella Pinto, received the honour of being appointed to lead the National Youth Orchestra's 2015 season following on from her previous experience as of Associate Concertmaster in 2013.

Joella, who first auditioned for the NYO in 2011, led the orchestra during their two recent concerts in Wellington and Christchurch, which followed an intensive week of rehearsals upon finishing her exams. After scheduling issues meant she didn't audition in 2014, Joella was thrilled to have been accepted into orchestra again, especially in such a prestigious position. "It's something young violinists aspiring to professional orchestral musicians dream of," she says. "It is a respected position, one that comes with a lot of responsibility, and I am absolutely honoured to hold it." She was also able to work closely with José Luis Gomez, Principal Conductor of the Teatro Sociale di Como in Spain, who held the NYO guest conductor position this season.

Joella began playing the violin aged eight. "I love the sound, the design of the instrument and feel it really has become my voice in so many ways," she says of her passion for the violin. Previous career highlights include being part of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Fellowship scheme in 2014, appearing as a soloist with the Auckland Symphony Orchestra, and winning competitions on both violin and piano in Auckland, Tauranga and Te Awamutu.

Upon finishing her bachelors degree at the end of this year, Joella wishes to continue her studies overseas, gaining orchestral experience internationally, before returning home with ambitions to play in the NZSO. 



School of Music hosts prize concerts

Image of a piano and harp on stage.

Semester Two brings a series of performances highlighting the talent of 2015. 

July 2015

Each year, the School of Music hosts a series of prize concerts, showcasing the outstanding talent within the School as well as wider music public.

In early July, the Wallace National Piano competition culminated in a Grand Final at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber. The competition, taking place for the second time this year, is generously sponsored by Sir James Wallace and offers an overall prize pool of $20,000. After two grueling preliminary rounds, the four chosen finalists performed demanding programmes to a large and knowledgeable audience with the coveted first prize being awarded by British adjudicator Andrew Ball to 16 year old Delvan Lin, a pupil of Associate Professor Rae de Lisle.

Throughout the second semester, four more prize concerts will be held, highlighting the range and depth of musicianship in the School of Music:

  • Llewelyn Jones Piano Competition Prize - fostering the composition and performance of new music for the piano.
  • Graham Allen Musical Theatre Prize - supporting vocal students performing in musical theatre.
  • Lilburn Composition Prize - the culmination of the year's work by current students majoring in composition.
  • Auckland Chamber Music Society Prize - chamber groups perform following a week of extensive examinations.

These concerts provide a strong incentive for students at the end of the year, many coming with substantial financial prizes, as well as increased exposure for their work. "The range of these events as well as their quality demonstrates very well the strength and vitality of the School of Music," says Head of School, Associate Professor Allan Badley. "It is particularly pleasing to see the introduction of a new prize concert this year devoted to Early Music performance which I am sure will be keenly contested. Not only does it provide an opportunity for many of our students to perform some really unusual repertory, but also for audiences to see and hear some of the instruments in our spectacular early keyboard collection."

All prize concerts are open to the public, with the majority having free admission. Please visit the relevant event page or see for more School of Music and Creative Arts and Industries events. 


String summit in Beijing
Three students on stage performing in Beijing.

String trio take part in Asia-Pacific summit

May 2015

Over the April inter-semester break, the second Pacific Alliance of Music Schools Summit took place in Beijing hosted by the Central Conservatory of Music, one of China's top two music schools. PAMS, as the group is known, is an alliance of the twelve leading music schools in the Asia-Pacific region and includes such famous institutions as the San Francisco Conservatory and the Sydney Conservatorium. The University of Auckland School of Music is a charter member of the alliance and the only New Zealand representative.

The 2015 Summit, devoted to "Pedagogy and Performance of String Instruments", brought together Deans, Principals, Heads of School, string teachers and students in four days of activities that included lectures and masterclasses with each day culminating in an evening concert.

Shauno Isomura (violin), Julie Park (viola) and Sally Kim (cello) were selected for the trip as outstanding members of University chamber music ensembles. With little time to rehearse for the before the trip the students gained a real insight into what professional musicians experience on a regular basis. As Sally observed, "We got off the plane in the afternoon and had to play the following evening. This was something entirely new for us".

The standard of performance was extremely high with the University of Auckland students enjoying this both as part of the audience and on stage. "Observing the variety and quality of chamber performances was really inspiring," says Shauno. "The musicality, flair and professionalism we observed in the musicians was incredible." The trio were celebrated with a standing ovation for their own performance and were praised for presenting the most original programme of the Summit. "We were all very satisfied with our performance and feel the experience has helped us reach the next level of playing," says Julie, who described performing in the Beijing Conservatory of Music concert hall as "a truly amazing feeling".

Associate Professor Allan Badley, Head of the School of Music and one of the twelve members of the PAMS board, says that the success of the Summit reinforces the value in developing closer ties between the leading music schools in region: "It was not only the students who found the experience very stimulating. A lot of the talk between the representatives of the twelve schools concerned exciting possibilities for collaboration in research, teaching and performance and we all left feeling that the future for our students is an exciting one. Having the good fortune to be accompanied on the trip by Michelle Wong, our fabulous interpreter from the Creative Arts and Industries Student Centre, also allowed the School of Music to learn a great deal more about the Central Conservatory than any of the other visiting schools. I am confident that this will lead in time to some very exciting musical initiatives".

While in Beijing the students were also able to immerse themselves in Chinese culture with highlights including a visit to the Great Wall of China, an opera performed at the famed Giant Egg and lots of traditional Chinese cuisine. 


Gifted pianist takes out the competition

Bradley Wood performing on the piano at Graduation Gala

Graduation Gala Concerto Competition 2015

May 2015

Graduation is one of the most celebrated occasions on the University calendar, and a highlight for staff and students, within the faculty and the wider community, is the annual Graduation Gala Concerto Competition held at the Auckland Town Hall. The event, hosted by the Vice Chancellor, is free and open to the public, and is the showcase classical music event for the School of Music.

This year’s graduation week was extra special for Christchurch-born pianist Bradley Wood. The BMus student took to the stage on the Thursday night, knowing he would be donning a cape and gown the following morning for the Creative Arts and Industries graduation ceremony. Perhaps it was this mood of celebration and reflection on his studies which helped him perform a lively rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.1 in F Sharp Minor. Bradley wowed the crowd and the judges with his technically difficult performance and energetic stage presence.

He received $5000 for his win, which adds to his impressive list of achievements. After beginning to play at age six, he has performed with the Christchurch Symphony, Nelson Symphony and Auckland Philharmonia orchestras, has been a semi-finalist at the Wallace National Piano Competition and Kerikeri International Piano Competition. Bradley was also the Auckland Philharmonia’s Piano Scholar in 2014.

He has studied under Rae de Lisle during his time in the School of Music, and has since enrolled in the Bachelor of Music (Honours) programme. Looking ahead, Bradley wants to further develop his musicianship overseas, looking to grow in solo performance, accompanying and teaching.


30 years under the Grylls

School of Music prepares to celebrate the significant contribution of Associate Professor Karen Grylls.

April 2015

Associate Professor Karen Grylls has spent 30 years involved with the University of Auckland’s School of Music, with a strong influence on the Chamber Choir during that time. Over the three decades Karen has overseen national and international student tours, many commissions from New Zealand composers and had the opportunity to work with international conductors.

Karen is looking forward to the upcoming 30 Years under the Grylls concert as "a wonderful opportunity to engage with young singers in the world of choral music at the University. It is a celebration to acknowledge the singers, past and present, and wonderful colleagues who have helped make our University choral life such a success."

The University invites alumni of both the School of Music and the Chamber Choir to join in the celebration of this milestone in a special concert at St Mary’s in Holy Trinity. Click here to find out more about the event, including performers featuring on the night. 


Graduation Gala finalists announced

A collated image of the three performers.
Jane Sohn, Lauren Bennett and Bradley Wood.

Meet the three students headlining the showcase event of Autumn Graduation week.

April 2015

Autumn Graduation Week commences May 4th, and the School of Music has recently announced the finalists for the Graduation Gala Concert on Thursday 7 May. 

Bradley Wood is an Honours student originally from Christchurch. As a pianist he is majoring in classical performance under the guidance of Associate Professor Rae de Lisle, and will play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.1 in F Sharp Minor.

Lauren Bennett, violin, is from the North Shore and currently in her third year of the Bachelor of Music. She is studying with performance teacher Dimitri Atanassov, and her piece for the evening will be Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Minor (1st Movement) by Jean Sibelius.

Jane (Ji Hyun) Sohn, a pianist under the tutelage of Senior Lecturer Stephen De Pledge, will be performing Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1 in E Minor.

Each finalist will perform a piece with the University of Auckland Symphony Orchestra. School of Music staff will also feature throughout the night. 

For more on the Graduation Gala, visit  


The Juilliard Experience hits the School of Music

Ara Guzelimian profile image

Provost and Dean of the Juilliard School, one of the most prestigious music, dance and drama schools in the world, recently spent time with School of Music students and staff.

April 2015

Ara Guzelimian was in the country as a trustee of the Kia Ora Foundation, which supports New Zealand music students to study overseas. Ara spent a day touring the School of Music facilities, discussing pedagogies with staff and taking part in a jazz workshop. Highlights for staff and students were two lectures in which he gave insights into the teaching philosophies and audition processes of Juilliard. He also spoke on the importance of musicians connecting with the community.

"It is absolutely essential to use music as a tool of communication, to make contact with one another. You have a profoundly meaningful role as a musician to interact and connect with people through music," Ara said, citing orchestral concerts in New York after 9/11 and Christchurch following the earthquakes as ways to reach out to the community. He believes all music education institutions need to foster this part of the 'artist citizen', as well as encouraging the 'performer', as the combination makes for a complete musician. The Juilliard School works in several ways to connect with the community through outreach, and Ara commended initiatives he has seen in New Zealand along similar lines.

The changing career paths for musicians due to technological advancements was also discussed. He cited a recent graduate who rallied a local classical radio station to develop an online station, which she now runs. "There are so many career options that just weren’t available ten years ago."

Ara left School of Music students in no doubt that their location does not limit their potential for global music education. There are currently three New Zealanders as part of Juilliard's 850 students. "The standard in this country is on an international level."

To find out more about the Kia Ora Foundation, visit