Tuning up for festival time in 'Salzburg of the South'

20:48, Jan 20 2013
Bob Bickerton and Colleen Marshall
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Bob Bickerton holds the programme as Colleen Marshall unties a ribbon to launch the 2013 Adam Chamber Music Festival.

If I were to ask you which New Zealand town is associated with carrots, you'd probably say Ohakune, if I mentioned gumboots, you may say Taihape, but would you guess Nelson if I said chamber music?

About now, and all around the world, people are packing their bags to travel to the "Salzburg of the South" for New Zealand's leading chamber music event, right here in Nelson.

In fact, the Adam Chamber Music Festival has been described as New Zealand's only truly international music festival and it happens here every two years featuring top musicians from around the planet and pulling audiences from such diverse places as Denmark, America, England and Australia.

About 65 per cent of the 3000 or so people attending concerts travel to Nelson from out of town.

So how did all this come about?

It started in 1992 when I was director of the Nelson School of Music. I was approached by a handful of musicians who wanted to perform five concerts of chamber music across five days.


We decided to support the concept and from that seed has grown a festival which is an integral and significant part of New Zealand's cultural landscape.

Having been associated with the festival since its inception, I've seen it grow and mature into the exciting event it is today with 30 events over 10 days. The festival now has an estimated impact of $2.3 million on the Nelson economy and it is for this reason that the Nelson City Council is supporting the event.

You may be interested to know that the festival generates a significantly better return on council investment per dollar than the Rugby World Cup did.

Why Nelson? Well we all know it's a wonderful holiday destination, with cafes, wineries and summer sun to match, but I'm going to blame one Michael Balling who came to these shores in 1893.

He was the driving force behind establishing the Nelson School of Music and it was his enthusiasm which led to the building of the school's auditorium which is considered to be the finest in the southern hemisphere for chamber music.

Add to that Nelson cathedral's expansive acoustics plus our reputation for being a cultural centre and you have the ingredients to create a festival whose reputation is known around the globe.

Now I would be the first to admit that chamber music is not everyone's cup of Earl Grey or Darjeeling.

It has a small following relative to other music genres and is often regarded as specialist or elitist in nature, but that is exactly why the festival is so successful and attracts the international following that it enjoys.

Other locally produced festivals such as the Nelson Arts Festival, Woollaston Jazz and Blues Festival and Nelson School of Music Winter Festival, have broader appeal and provide wonderful opportunities for Nelsonians to enjoy music and the arts but it is the specialist nature of the Adam Chamber Music Festival which brings in audiences from far afield.

What's more, this festival isn't just about musicians coming here, performing their repertoire and then going home. It's far more dynamic, with different artists coming together and collaborating to perform new or rarely heard works. Performers work to torturous rehearsal schedules to explore and present works in concerts which are utterly electric.

Here's something I'd like to share with you: I've been fortunate to have spent the last 30 years working fulltime in the performing arts sector, either through management, education, performance or providing technical services, and if there's one thing I've learnt, it is that music at this level is wonderful, regardless of genre.

So whether you're listening to Neil Finn, James Morrison, the NZSO, Dave Dobbyn, Hayley Westenra or musicians from this festival it's all a fabulous sonic journey and food for the soul. Regardless of your musical persuasion, I invite you to celebrate Nelson hosting this important event, one that places it firmly on an international cultural map.

Like carrots and gummies, chamber music might not be your thing, but it's arguably better to have your place known for its cultural sophistication than an obsession with vegetables or wet weather gear!