A lot of what’s happened at the Wellington Town Hall for me has been to do with live performance. I’ve premiered a fair few of my composition pieces at the Town Hall, with both the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and with Orchestra Wellington.
One special premiere was in 2002 with the Orpheus Choir. The choir commissioned a big, 50-minute oratorio piece called Orpheus in Rarohenga for the choir, NZSO and soloists, to mark their 50th anniversary. It was massive, the NZSO took up the whole stage, and the choir stall was completely full with the singers, and at the front were the soloists. It was very exciting to see my work performed on such a grand scale.
The acoustics are amazing in the Wellington Town Hall. Dunedin and Auckland have similar kinds of structures and I’ve had the same piece of music performed in all three spaces. They’ve all been different in different ways. For example, the Auckland Town Hall has a different bass sound in the natural acoustic.
The Wellington Town Hall though, is exceptional. It seems to accommodate and sweeten the performances, and performers really respond to that.
But I think there’s more to it than the acoustics. Traditionally there are three parts to the story—there’s the audience, the performers and the space that it’s happening in. You know, you go to a concert at a venue and you sit in your seat and people come out on stage and perform while you watch and listen. But there’s a dimension here that isn’t talked about very much.
This is where the stories of our lives intersect. Our paths are going to meet for the next hour and a half. And, if you think about it, in that moment there are many more stories connecting, the story of the architect, builders, the people who preserve the space, and the past performers.
I think that the people who created these spaces, and the people who use the space, even the people right now who are about to make changes to the space, they somehow become embedded in all future experiences in that space.
This is a very special thing about any venue. But there’s something about the way our Town Hall has absorbed and retained some aspect of its history, that’s there all the time. I believe this is what gives the Town Hall that exceptional and unique quality that is admired by professionals from all over the world.
John Psathas is a freelance composer and Professor of Composition at Victoria University’s New Zealand School of Music. Originally of Greek heritage, John is also now widely considered one of the three most important living composers of the Greek Diaspora. Since writing much of the ceremonial music for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, John’s music has been on the radar screen of a wider public than that normally associated with contemporary classical music. His most recent work is No Man’s Land, a ground-breaking new cinematic performance in commemoration of the First World War.
Image: John Psathas recording in the Wellington Town Hall.