Manukau Symphony celebrates 30 years of community music with anniversary concert

Manukau Symphony celebrates 30 years of community music with anniversary concert

The Manukau Symphony Orchestra is celebrating 30 years of community music this year with a commission to honour the Manukau region.

Music director and founder Uwe Grodd said the orchestra succeeds because the players – most of them volunteers – are passionate about their music.

“It’s hard to describe it, but there is nothing more rewarding than making music with people who only come for the love of music,” he said.

“It sounds a bit like a cliché, but it is really true.”

Some are so passionate they’ve been performing with the orchestra over its entire lifetime, alongside newer members who come and go.

The youngest player is 12, and the oldest is 80. Some are professional musicians, others play for fun and some are still in school, but together they can tackle even the most challenging orchestral numbers.

“It really fills me with an incredible amount of joy and pride and gives me a massive buzz to be on stage conducting a group of really enthusiastic musicians who love this with a passion and want to do their very best,” Grodd said.

“And they do and that’s what catches on with our audiences, that’s why our audiences come back. They feel that energy and that passion, that love for the music and for presenting it to our audiences.”



Andrea McCraken (centre) performed in the Manukau Symphony Orchestra’s first concert at the Papatoetoe Town Hall in 1993. - ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

The Manukau Symphony Orchestra’s three different kinds of players have one major thing in common: they don’t get auditioned to play.

Skipping the audition process works because players can decide for themselves if they can “keep up,” he said.

“The idea is that if you feel like you want to come and contribute and play orchestral music, come and join us and find out whether you can keep up or not.

People sort themselves out, you know, they know what they can do and what they can’t, so there’s no need to actually regulate that.”

Director Uwe Grodd and composer David Hamilton. ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

For their 30th anniversary, the orchestra is taking on a mammoth task: performing a special commission by acclaimed local composer David Hamilton.

He’s composed hundreds of works but this is his first symphony, written for the MSO and accompanied by Auckland Choral, – which Hamilton sings in – the Puhinui School Choir, a 45-strong group of children, and concert pianist Michael Houston.

When commissioning the work, Grodd wanted something unique to the Manukau region and its people – and Hamilton delivered, with ‘Manukau Songs: A Choral Symphony’.

Worked into the text of the choral music is an 1850s lament in te reo Māori for Ihumātao chief Ēpiha Pūtini (also known by his baptismal name Jabez Bunting, formerly Te Rangitāhua Ngāmuka of Ngāti Tamaoho) by his wife Te Paea, and poetry by self-published local poet Yvonne Amery (Ngā Puhi).

The Manukau Sypmhony Orchestra when it launched in 1993 with Uwe Grodd (centre) as music director and conductor.

”Yvonne has written 30 short poems around the Manukau Harbour talking about the wind, the sea, the nature and what it signals and what it might mean to you as you experience going through life,” Grodd said.

”David’s managed to combine this old te reo text which is sung by the soloist with these lovely modern poems pertaining very strongly to the harbour and that’s really special for us.”

The MSO performs four times a year, and members rehearse for four weeks leading up to each concert.

It’s too much to expect musicians – particularly the volunteers – to rehearse year round, Grodd said.

David Hamilton’s first symphony, written for orchestra and two choirs, honours the Manukau Harbour. ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

“We want to keep it fresh and exciting and fun, so we rehearse in more intensive run up periods.”

The professional musicians act as orchestra leaders and mentors, so they are paid for their time.

Grodd himself is a full-time musician. As well as MSO director he is a flautist, music director of the Auckland Choral Society, a freelance conductor and a recording artist for Naxos Records, a specialist record label focused on classical music.

The orchestra has expanded so much in 30 years they’ve launched their own outreach programme, performing in smaller ensembles for high school students.

Starting in September, the MSO will perform to 1200 students, and Grodd hopes to do even more work like this, within what’s possible with volunteer hours.

“The idea is that if you feel like you want to come and contribute and play orchestral music, come and join us and find out whether you can keep up or not. ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

MSO General Manager Shelley Robertson, also a flautist, said when professionals and amateurs play together, everyone’s abilities are elevated.

For the youngest members – including a 17-year-old Glendowie College student whose started his own school orchestra – to the oldest, having opportunities to perform to large audiences is a thrill like no other.

“Studies show how live music is so beneficial to everyone, not just the players but the audience as well having that group experience.

“And feedback from the audience really affects the quality of the performance. A good audience really lifts the orchestra.”

The MSO performs on Sunday, August 13, 5.00pm at the Due Drop Events Centre. There is a pre-show talk at 4pm.

Sapeer Mayron – Reporter