Musicians flee cathedral fire

00:00, Feb 04 2013

A fire forced the evacuation of Nelson's Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, where a group of Adam Chamber Music Festival musicians were rehearsing for an evening performance, but the show went on.

The electrical fault happened during an afternoon rehearsal for Saturday evening's performance of Mahler's Symphony No 4, forcing the 12 musicians to flee with their instruments.

Fire Service Nelson station officer Craig Davies said there was a meltdown in the cathedral's meter board fuses. "It overheated, caught on fire, and smoked out the cathedral," he said.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the Very Rev Nick Kirk, said they were still unsure exactly what happened. "Electricians have repaired the wiring but [we] will be wanting to know why it occurred. We are still trying to work out what it was," he said. The fire was "small", he said.

However, it destroyed the cathedral's lighting circuit, which meant the music festival was not able to hold Saturday evening's Mahler concert in the cathedral.

Luckily, the Nelson School of Music was free, and festival director Bob Bickerton said at 4.30pm they made the call to shift the concert for the 7.30pm showing.


The school, with its greater seating capacity, saw the audience of 300 comfortably seated, and the show began just 15 minutes late to accommodate audience members walking down from the cathedral.

However, the shift was not without its moments of panic.

"It was quite challenging because it happened to be technically the most difficult concert in the festival," Mr Bickerton said. "The other complication was that it was being recorded for broadcast for Radio New Zealand, and they have to set up all their gear."

Upon arriving at the school of music, they also discovered the organ and the piano weren't in tune with each other.

"It was right down to the wire," Mr Bickerton said. "We found an electronic keyboard and it was very interesting there for a while."

However, he said the mishaps lent "a wonderful energy" to the concert. "The musicians were just fabulously cool and composed."

The cathedral was able to hold its normal Sunday service yesterday, and the festival's Sunday afternoon performance of the Bach Suites went ahead in the cathedral as it did not require lights.

Mr Bickerton expected to make a decision today on the location of tonight's Bach by Candlelight concert - which requires more lighting than just candles.

"We're doing extra checks [to] make sure the cathedral is entirely safe when using lighting."

Mr Bickerton said other than the cathedral hiccup, the festival was going well. "We've got very good houses; many of the cathedral concerts are sold out."

The grand opening concert on Friday was a full house with "not a single seat available".

"We had a wonderful night of music and celebration. The vibe, if you like, was in the clouds. It was a wonderful night musically, with people coming together from all over the world.

"The musicians are really enjoying themselves and they really feel welcome in Nelson as well. The energy is good, the music good, it's really feeling like a festival.

"The audience has this buzz but also within the festival you get this wonderful energy. People get tired but they're working hard and making great music."