Helen Brinkman caught up with NZ Barok’s Co-Artistic Director and violinist Miranda Hutton to talk about the upcoming Hark, Sweet Music concerts and working as a professional musician in Aotearoa NZ.
Miranda , you’ve been preparing Hark, Sweet Music since 2020. How has your concept of this concert evolved since you first decided on this programme?
Hark, Sweet Music was initially envisaged as an instrumental programme, showcasing the different colours of the baroque strings, woodwind and brass. However, as I delved deeper into Purcell’s Fairy Queen Orchestral Suite I couldn’t resist wanting to tell the storyline of Purcell’s semi-opera through the use of spoken word and song. I approached Jayne Tankersley, who often works with NZ Barok, and she immediately said yes and the scene was set for a more dramatic rendition than instrumental alone. By weaving soprano arias into the orchestral suite along with texts of other arias spoken by Erin Atchison, the audience will experience the flavour of the semi-opera genre in a concert setting. The semi-opera was a Restoration spectacular, interspersing Shakespeare’s spoken text with instrumental masques; themed music, songs and dances by Purcell.
What makes Handel’s “Water Music” and Purcell’s “Fairy Queen” so special?
Handel’s Water Music is an iconic work but surprisingly rarely performed in today’s concert halls, let-alone on historic instruments. It was composed by Handel at King George I’s request as music to accompany the king’s boat ride up the river Thames from Whitehall Palace to Chelsea on the evening of 17th July 1717. The musicians sat on a barge and played while floating alongside the royal barge. The king was so pleased with the music he ordered it performed at least three times, both on the way up the river at 8pm and again on the return journey at 11pm. Many other vessels took to the river and enjoyed the spectacle. This historic performance has captured the imagination of musicians and audience members through the generations. NZ Barok will perform a selection of varied dances and instrumental pieces from the Water Music; magnificent, beautiful, catchy and appealing. Having performed it literally “on the water” myself in The Hague, The Netherlands, I wanted to bring this famous work to NZ audiences here in Aotearoa. Purcell’s Fairy Queen is another iconic work. I first performed it as part of a children’s opera in Germany with a handful of musicians, two actors and three singers. I was captivated by the special English flavour of Purcell’s writing, the references to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the ridiculous musical masques incorporating characters such as the drunken poet, playful fairies, lovers, haymakers, the four seasons, gods, mourning and triumphal love. The music is full of fun, contrast and foot-tapping rhythms.
What is it like to be based in NZ as a professional baroque violinist?
The baroque music scene in NZ is small which brings both benefits and challenges. On one hand, it’s possible to be involved in lots of exciting projects, but on the other hand you need to be multi-talented and able to conceptualise, organise, plan, fund and promote your own concerts in order to make more music happen. Returning to NZ from Europe had definitely helped me grow as a musician and a person. In a country with a busy Early Music scene like The Netherlands it was possible to ride along on other’s hard work, whereas in NZ you need to take the initiative and make things happen yourself.
What do you enjoy about being Co-Artistic Director of NZ Barok?
Being Co-Artistic Director of NZ Barok is a great joy and privilege. I get to work alongside talented musicians who are absolutely committed to their artform, and with an advisory board and executive who are dedicated to bringing baroque music to Aotearoa. It is an honour to have free-reign to imagine and design a programme, follow it through from initial concept, rehearse every note and create a complete musical package together. My colleagues within NZ Barok are the magic which makes the music come alive. We’ve all dedicated decades of our life in the study and performance of baroque music. As we have no conductor, we work like a large chamber music group, watching, breathing, listening, sensing each other and making music together. After years of working together we can really rely on each other, and that’s an amazing feeling! Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Graham McPhail and I are able to bounce musical ideas off one another and Co-Founder Helen Brinkman brings her expertise in management to ensure every concert is both a musical and organisational success.