Top New Zealand composer gives rare insight into work

Press Release – Victoria University of Wellington

Wellingtonians have a rare opportunity to hear from one of New Zealand’s most celebrated composers when he presents his inaugural professorial lecture at Victoria University. 10 October 2011

Top New Zealand composer gives rare insight into work

Wellingtonians have a rare opportunity to hear from one of New Zealand’s most celebrated composers when he presents his inaugural professorial lecture at Victoria University.

In the free public lecture on Tuesday 18 October, Professor John Psathas will give an insight into the creative process by tracing the genesis of one of his defining works, Kartsigar, written for the New Zealand String Quartet in 2004. The New Zealand String Quartet will play the work at the lecture in Victoria University’s Hunter Council Chamber.

Kartsigar reflects Psathas’ Greek upbringing and transcribes a work of Manos Achalinotopoulos, a Greek folk musician. Centred around East European and Middle Eastern improvisation, the work has a distinctly Mediterranean flavour.

After writing Kartsigar Psathas went on to the work he is most famous for—writing much of the ceremonial music for the 2004 Olympic Games, which was screened to over a billion people. Since that time his music has reached a large international audience in a way unusual for contemporary classical music.

Professor Psathas says Kartsigar was a huge launching pad for his creative work and career, as well as his relationships, identity, and teaching.

“It seemed to be a kind of nexus of things coming together. What was involved in the creation of it has had more far-reaching impact than anything else I’ve done.”

Professor Psathas says his lecture will illustrate how the translation of musical paradigms from a different culture and era into music for Western classical ensembles can result in unique 21st century works.

“To be a composer now means all the world’s music is at your fingertips. You can travel and meet musicians from any culture, and you can disseminate and share your work in a very different way.”

He says transforming Manos’ original piece into a work for the New Zealand String Quartet was no simple act of ‘musical tourism’—it required Psathas to deeply absorb a very different unique culture and approach to music.

“It’s like a poet who writes in English getting to know French so well that they can then write equivalent poems in French.”

Since creating the piece Professor Psathas has become good friends, and a frequent collaborator, with Manos Achalinotopoulos.

Professor Psathas says that there is huge freedom in forming one’s own identity when working creatively in New Zealand.

“New Zealand has something very unique about it. We are so young that no classical music tradition has really had the time to become established here. So we are not beholden to or obligated to any particular musical language, which is incredibly liberating. But it’s also challenging because you have to invent yourself.”

He says Kartsigar was his moment of self definition, and that the lecture will provide insight into the forces of work on the creation of new music today.

“I’m outlining and providing hard to access insights into the creative process of a composer. More than anything people will get a sense of the richness of the experience and the breadth of thinking and curiosity that is part of the creative process”

Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Pat Walsh says John Psathas is one of a few New Zealand composers who have made a mark on the international scene, particularly in Europe and North America.

“He is widely considered one of the three most important living composers of the Greek Diaspora. His music is commissioned and performed by many of the best musicians and orchestras around the world, and is also regularly broadcast to audiences of millions Victoria University is immensely proud of his achievements.”

Professor Walsh says Victoria’s Inaugural Lecture series is an opportunity for professors to provide the wider community with an insight into their specialist area of study.

“It is also an opportunity for the University to celebrate and acknowledge our valued professors,” says Professor Walsh.

Professor John Psathas’s inaugural lecture—The Road to Kartsigar—will be held on Tuesday 18 October at 6pm at Victoria University’s Hunter Council Chamber, Level 2, Hunter Building, Gate 1 or 2, Kelburn Parade, Wellington.

RSVP by Friday 14 October 2011 by phoning (04) 463 1000 or email: with ‘Psathas’ in the subject line.

For more information on John Psathas visit


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