Three Picks from the Wakatipu Music Festival

23 April 2021

The inaugural Wakatipu Music Festival is being held in Queenstown this Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 4-7 June.

Set to be a classical music event of epic proportions, festival audiences gain live access to the finest young talent gathered from across Aotearoa. Assembled artists offer recitals and performances alongside a series of community workshops and lively thought piece discussions. Marketing and Communications Apprentice Eleanor Denston shares her top picks for a festival that’s not to be missed.

Jonathan Cohen opening concert (Beethoven and Messiaen)

NZTrio with guest clarinetist Jonathan Cohen

Clarinetist Jonathan Cohen joins the celebrated NZTrio for a meditative journey through one of Messiaen’s earliest masterwork and the perennial Beethoven Gassenhauer Trio. Presented in partnership with Chamber Music NZ, get ready for a performance mash-up like you’ve never seen.

NZTrio is renowned for its eclectic repertoire, outstanding talent and warm kiwi presence. Respected as an industry driver for new NZ composition, NZTrio forges new paths across Aotearoa’s classical music landscape. With remarkable dynamism and plenty of hometown pride, celebrate the sounds of tomorrow with NZTrio.


To set the stage alight, Jonathan Cohen accompanies NZTrio as a third-generation clarinetist. A past student of Juilliard, Cohen is now Principal Clarinet with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Performing live solos around the world, Cohen sparks joy and creativity in the hearts of every audience. Where the soul cannot reach, music speaks; Cohen’s talents extend beyond the woodwind for a truly unforgettable experience:

Faith, certainty, transcendence, and nature help form connections between the three works: Beethoven’s ebullient Gassenhauer Trio, Ross Harris’s fragmentary and expectant There may be light, and Messiaen’s numinous Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

These pieces could scarcely have been composed in more different circumstances. Beethoven (1770–1827), as a young and confident virtuoso in his twenties, demonstrated Witz (humorous wit) and other-worldly sublimity with his Trio in B flat major. In so doing, he provided the musicians of Vienna with a work that would delight and challenge them in equal measure. At the outset of his career, Beethoven may have felt that all of Europe was his oyster, never anticipating the despair that he would experience a few years later.

Quatuor pour la fin du temps is a work composed in less congenial circumstances. Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992) was serving in the French military as a medical auxiliary near Verdun, where he connected with two exceptional musicians from Paris – cellist Etienne Pasquier and clarinetist Henri Akoka, both working in a military orchestra – and conceived of a work that expressed his profound faith and the unfathomable mysteries of Revelation. Captured by the German army in a French forest, the three very different men found themselves in a Silesian POW camp, where the Quartuor was completed and premiered in circumstances of material deprivation, and fears for the future of art and Europe.

The cataclysm of World War II changed Europe and the world, but music survived, and around 75 years later, Chamber Music New Zealand commissioned Ross Harris (1945–) to write a piece for the NZ Trio as a companion for Messiaen’s Quartuor. The result, There may be light, is a work as otherworldly as Messiaen’s, and likewise considers time. However, while Messiaen’s spirituality convinced him that – as promised in Revelation – time and waiting would cease to exist, the fragmentary melodies of Harris’s quartet explore the uncertainty of waiting for something undefined, unsought, and unexpected.

4 June, 7pm, Queenstown Memorial Centre

Conversations for the Curious: Can Science understand the Arts, and should it?

Presented by Professor Cathy Stinear and Neil Jacobstein

The Aspen Institute New Zealand presents an in-depth conversation with international experts exploring the intersection of the arts and sciences. Cathy Stinear is a professor at the University of Auckland and a clinical neuroscientist. Neil Jacobstein is a MediaX Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University with over 25 years of experience in artificial intelligence.

This cross-disciplinary discussion aims to spark lively interactions by exploring leading studies conducted alongside John Hopkins University into the emerging field of Neuroarts. Consider claims around science and the arts where creativity meets neuroscience, and engage your critical thinking to grapple with groundbreaking concepts.

5 June, 1pm, Queenstown Memorial Centre

young artist collage.jpg

Some of the young artists taking part in the Festival | Image: supplied.

Young Artist Recitals and Chamber Ensemble

Hear from New Zealand’s next generation of classical music talent

After a rigorous national audition process, the Wakatipu Music Festival showcases 13 young musical talents (ages 16-26) set to take the stage. The Young Artist Programme provides an opportunity for selected artists to perform on-stage at the festival, receive coaching by industry experts, and participate in career development workshops.

Recitals take place across the weekend in stunning afternoon solo performances given by the Young Artists, culminating in a final evening concert. Be amazed by the collective talents of our Young Artists in their final appearance at the festival, performing chamber music:

  • Brahms Clarinet Trio in A minor, op 114
    Stefenie Pickston clarinet, Hyein Kim cello, and Noelle Dannenbring piano
  • Barber Dover Beach
    Will King, baritone, KiHei Lee and Christine Lee, violin, Cecile McNeill, viola and Dominic Lee, cello
  • Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 6
    Isabella Gregory, flute, and Eli Holmes, bassoon
  • Schubert Quartettsatz in C minor, D 703
    Christine Lee and KiHei Lee, violin, Cecile McNeill, viola and Dominic Lee, cello
  • Bartók Contrasts
    Diane Huh, violin, Benedict van Leuven, clarinet and Tony Yan Tong Chen, piano

Recitals 5 June & 6 June, 2.30pm, Queenstown Memorial Centre
Chamber Ensemble 6 June, 7pm, Queenstown Memorial Centre

The Wakatipu Music Festival is held in Queenstown 4-7 June. Buy tickets here or via Eventfinda. Festival passes for the full experience are available.

Explore the full programme for the Wakatipu Music Festival here.