Old church begins new life

02:35, Feb 07 2013
Antonia Prebble
SOLO SOUNDS: French pianist Claire Rouault in concert at the Nelson School of Music last year.

St John's Methodist Church has a new chapter ahead of it and its first concert under new ownership will be performed by someone who is also starting afresh.

Ali and Eelco Boswijk bought the church in Hardy St, Nelson, last year, with plans to turn it into a performance venue.

Tickets are $15 for Old St John's "inauguration" on February 14, with a classical piano recital by French pianist Claire Rouault.

The 25-year-old and her partner, J F Robert, moved to Nelson from Paris a year ago.

Rouault's first contact with music was at the age of 4, and piano has been an essential part of her life. She performed her first solo concert with an orchestra when she was 11, and was selected to study at the National Superior Music Conservatory of Paris, France's top music school, at the age of 15.

Ten years later, she wanted something new.


Rouault and her partner had already visited New Zealand four times, on holiday, and Nelson seemed like the place to settle.

"It's a new adventure. We like the beauty of the region, the sunny weather, and the people who are living here," she said.

The couple share their time between Nelson and Marahau, and Rouault plans to tour the country later this year. Robert, who has been organising concerts in Paris for many years, acts as her agent.

"I'm very lucky," Rouault says, "because if he was not promoting me, I think I would play only for myself. I really enjoy performing in concerts, sharing the magic of these special moments with the audience."

One of the couple's long-term goals is to put a grand piano on a trailer and take music to regions where people don't often get exposed to classical concerts.

Rouault's "discovery" in Nelson was during last year's concert to mark the 370th commemoration of the visit to Golden Bay in 1642 by Dutch explorer and navigator Abel Tasman.

She played a Douglas Lilburn piano sonata and performed a sold-out concert at the Chanel Arts Centre in Motueka in December.

She teaches piano privately and is starting a job as a piano teacher at Clifton Terrace School soon.

St John's Methodist Church was owned by the Nelson Methodist community for about 150 years, and the Boswijks are now living there. Mr Boswijk said it was the second-largest venue in Nelson after the Trafalgar Centre, with a capacity of 400 seats.

"It's bigger than the Theatre Royal and bigger than the Nelson School of Music. It was built with acoustics in mind," he said.

The Nelson Arts Festival and Adam Chamber Music Festival have used the venue for performances in the past.

The family's aim was to preserve the church for the community to use, rather than "another tilt-slab wonder go up in its place", Mr Boswijk said.

Rouault said the church was beautiful, and she was thrilled to be invited to play there.

"The idea for the concert happened very spontaneously. We talked about it and we realised it was a special adventure for all of us," she said.