Arts Festival Shows Pandemic-Defying Optimism

Brave or foolhardy? Either way, the organisers of this October’s Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival are showing true mettle, reports RICHARD BETTS.

Bic Runga

In the age of Covid it’s either extremely brave or ferociously optimistic to schedule an arts performance. Organisers in Hawke’s Bay have thrown doubt and caution to the wind by announcing an entire festival.

The sixth Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival comprises 65 shows across two weeks in October and, with international travel restrictions still in place, it features entirely home-grown talent.

Tami Neilson

“When programming this year’s festival, it felt important to reflect the year and the times that we live in,” says festival director Pitsch Leiser. “The line-up allows us to be a little more reflective, thoughtful and above all celebrate stories and talent of our country and region.”

The festival has drawn some major names, including Bic Runga, Witi Ihimaera and Tami Neilson, who presents a fascinating-looking show entitled ‘The F Word: Songs of Feminism in Country Music’.

There’s a good range of dance, theatre and literary events, but Witchdoctor’s attention was particularly drawn to the calibre of classical music at the festival. NZTrio will perform its cross-cultural InterFusions programme, which includes a new work by New Zealand’s brightest young composer, Salina Fisher, alongside pieces by Beethoven, Ravel and others.

NZ Trio

Transfigured Night sets Schoenberg’s early string work Verklarte Nacht to poetry and dance, with well-known Bay musician Jose Aparicio conducting a local orchestra. (Incidentally, Aparicio and his wife, soprano Anna Pierard, were collectively named Hawke’s Bay Today’s Person of the Year in 2018.) Those put off by Schoenberg’s unfair reputation as a writer of tuneless racket should note that Verklarte Nacht is in the composer’s youthful late-Romantic style, and sounds more like Wagner or Mahler than his austere 12-tone works.

Rectangle Human Voice

However, Witchdoctor is most excited by NZ Opera’s production of Poulenc’s intense psychodrama The Human Voice (aka Le voix humaine). The 40-minute work, with words by Jean Cocteau, features just one singer making a final telephone call to the lover who has spurned her. Drama ensues. This production is notable in that it eschews Poulenc’s orchestration for a simple piano reduction, and it will be performed in a hotel room with limited seating. Be sure to book early to get a ticket for this mid-20th-century masterpiece.


One Comment

  1. Thanks Richard for a thoughtful article in troubled times. We are optimistic, bold and courageous because these times demand nothing less. If you are down for the festival please come and introduce yourself.
    Many thanks
    Pitsch Leiser
    Director HBAF

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