The Hunter Gathering – Unashamedly Romantic
Margaret Medlyn, Diedre Irons, Heidi Thomson, David O’Donnell
Thursday 12 May 2016, Hunter Council Chamber,
Victoria University Wellington
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
The second Hunter Gathering was modelled on the first: some lectures, some poems interspersed by music items. It is a winning format – the creative performance of diverse staff members (and former staff members) of Victoria University. The programme was instigated by Euan Murdoch, director of Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music and the Event Coordinator Sarah Smythe. This time the musicians were Margaret Medlyn – mezzo-soprano and Head of Classical Voice at NZSM, and Diedre Irons – piano, and the former Head of Classical Piano at NZSM. They were joined by Dr Heidi Thomson, Lecturer in Romantic Literature and David O’Donnell, Head of the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at at Victoria University .
The theme of the performances was Unashamedly Romantic – songs, biographies and inside knowledge of the protagonists and the poetry from the Romantic Period. [Actually, it stretched the point. Some of the songs were composed in the 20th century, but there were Romantic in style.]
Margaret Medlyn and Diedre Irons were consummate performers. They had four brackets of songs from four different composers: Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Samuel Barber. The Brahms was delightful – full of verve and emotion but also subtle. I particularly liked Meine Liebe ist grun – a jubliant, playful piece, and Von ewiger Liebe – a dramatic, strong work, and example of Sturm und Strang! The Tchaikovsky was beautiful and heartfelt. In the Rachmaninoff Margaret had a moment or two of vociferation in her upper registers but that was an aberration. The Samuel Barber was perfect.
Diedre was the superb. She was supportive, sensitive and concomitant with her accompanying and judicious, forceful and perceptive with her duet work as appropriate for the pieces in hand.
After the concert, Euan Murdoch said that: “Margaret and Deidre get to the very heart of the music.” That is an assessment that I can vouch for.
David O’Donnell began with a speech about The Concept of Voice. His lecturing style was proving his own point – declaiming, oratorical, and forceful. He went on to perform some favourite Romantic poems by John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron. I have to say that I struggled to accept his antipodean accent – maybe I was snobbish, but “…When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils…” was not quite ‘right’ in a New Zealand drawl. On the other hand, the Lord Byron poem, So We’ll Go No More a Roving, was quite acceptable – after all, it has been ‘translated’ in to songs by Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez.
I appreciated that Heidi Thomson varied her style of presentation for each of the fore mentioned poets. She dwelled on the biography of John Keats and the illness that claimed him. It the second bracket, she was more philosophical about the Romantic period poetry and the concept of ‘memory’. As an example, she held up William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and considered the remembered image of the daffodils in the last stanza. In the last section, she exposed the dissolute and amoral [immoral] of Lord Byron’s lifestyle as an example of the excesses of the Romantic Age.
Again, the evening was a successful venture juxtaposing and combining the creative – and re-creative – talents of the diverse schools at Victoria University. I look forward to the next two Hunter Gatherings: Thursday 21 July and Thursday 22 September.