Kiwi composer David Grahame Taylor is internationally renowned - and he's only 26

David Grahame Taylor's Embiosis is be performed for the first time by the NZSO this weekend.

David Grahame Taylor's Embiosis is be performed for the first time by the NZSO this weekend.

At just 26 years of age, David Grahame Taylor is taking the classical world by storm.

The Auckland composer will watch his composition Embiosis be played for the first time by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington this weekend.

"It's great, I'm very excited. It's such an incredible thing for a young composer in New Zealand to have happened – to have our premier orchestra performing one of your compositions - it's great," Taylor said. 

Embiosis will feature as part of the Pathétique – Tchaikovsky and Dvořák concert tour,  led by Singaporean Darrell Ang, 37, who conducted the NZSO's recording of works by Chinese composer Zhou Long, which was nominated for a Grammy Award last year.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Pathetique - Tchaikovsky & Dvorak concert tour will be led by Singaporean Darrell Ang.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's Pathetique - Tchaikovsky & Dvorak concert tour will be led by Singaporean Darrell Ang.

NZSO at 70: Ten things you need to know about our symphony orchestra
NZSO says it needs more government funding to remain a world-class orchestra
Concert Review: NZSO 70th Anniversary Concert

Ang was the youngest person to be made Associate Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and has worked with many of the world's best orchestras and Asia's top ensembles.

It's a prestigious moment for Taylor, who was approached BY the NZSO organisers requesting to perform his piece.

Living in San Francisco, he has just completed his two-year Masters degree in musical composition at the at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and will return to Wellington in time to see his work being performed.

Taylor's musical career started on the piano at the age of seven, where he played pop music and jazz – classical music was never really his vibe until he reached high school.

It was the likes of Beethoven's Symphonies and Gustav Holst's The Planets that enticed him in.

"The Planets just really grabbed me...they're an incredible piece of music. They kind of go through all the ranges of emotion – from terror to peace to joviality. I had never heard that kind of expression in all the music that I had been exposed to before that," he said.

Ad Feedback

At high school, he began composing music – though he doesn't count his four early pieces in his current portfolio. 

A career in music never seemed quite plausible for the then 17-year old. While focusing on obtaining enough credits to get into medical or veterinary school, his Year 13 music teacher revealed to him that it was quite possible to work in the creative industry.

Taylor left  Macleans College to study at the University of Auckland. A year-and-a-half into his studies, he landed the opportunity of a lifetime – a full scholarship at Bachelor of Music in Composition from the acclaimed Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, before moving onto San Francisco.

In 2013, Taylor won the Orchestra Choice Award at the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Todd Young Composer Awards.

Just a week out from those awards, Taylor whipped up his six-minute piece – Embiosis.

​"I just thought of an idea and it organically grew very quickly," he said.

"I was imagining this embryonic tomb-like state of being," he described.

"In the orchestra, you have the four section leaders of the strings that play with the orchestra, sometimes alone, so I had this idea of a lifeform within another lifeform and I made up the word Embiosis.

"[It's about] a lifeform within a lifeform, being inside a safe cocoon, enveloped and safe, and I guess finding a personal journey within that – whatever the listener wants."

One of his most recent works, Within a Forest Dark, premiered in San Francisco last year. It won Taylor the Highsmith Award, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's top composition prize.

"Something I always strive for in my music is that it takes the listener on a journey – whether it be emotional, or just something that they can connect with, [I want them to] have some kind of emotional connection," he said.

For music that is usually more valued by older generations, Taylor stands out on his own – particularly in New Zealand.  He believes making the world of classical music more accessible to younger people might make it more attractive.

"It's something every arts organisation sort of struggles with," he said.

"I don't think there's one, clear answer. It does come down to outreach and programming by the orchestra or organisation; specifically designing concerts that are more accessible and something that can be easily engaged with by someone who is not necessary experienced with this world of music.

"There's a little bit of a stigma with classical music, hopefully it has been broken down. I mean, it's such a wonderful, enriching kind of art form."

The NZSO's Pathétique – Tchaikovsky and Dvořák concert tour opens in Wellington this Saturday at the Michael Fowler Centre from 7.30pm. You can also see the show in Napier on May 25 at the Municipal Theatre, Tauranga on May 26 at Baycourt Theatre and Auckland on May 27 at the Town Hall. For more information, see

 - Stuff


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback