Musician keen to see arts in rebuild

00:08, Jul 06 2012
Hugo Zanker
HUGO ZANKER: "Music is a basic human right. It's everyone's right to play - and to hear - it."

Hugo Zanker is a musician determined to see the arts playing a role in Christchurch's rebuild. Christopher Moore reports.

This was a composition scored for solo cello, bulldozer and falling masonry - but there were not many in the audience for Hugo Zanker's recent impromptu concert on the fringes of Christchurch's red zone.

Unfazed by his spartan surroundings, Zanker still dispatched a series of rich melodic chords across a largely deserted inner city, emphasising a message that however bad the situation, the music goes on. This might have been a photo shoot, but it became almost symbolic of Christchurch's cultural rebirth.

Zanker is a native son returned to a familiar place made unfamiliar by natural disaster. Born in Christchurch, he is now focused on carving out a niche in New Zealand music, and perhaps beyond, as a cellist and teacher.

After graduating from the University of Canterbury School of Music, Zanker completed a master's degree in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, before working as a freelance and contract musician in Germany and New Zealand with organisations including the Magdeburg Theatre Orchestra, Chamber Music New Zealand, the University of Canterbury and the Pettman Junior Academy.

In September last year, Zanker arrived in Leeds as the Pettman Dare International Performance Scholar. In April, he returned to New Zealand for the next leg of his residency at New Zealand Opera, before taking up the final leg at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.


His home city is pre-occupying him these days. After a year's absence, and with a certain impatience, he wants to get involved in the city's rebuild, using his skills to help place Christchurch on the road to recovery. The arts, especially music, will be a central building block in the physical and mental reconstruction of a community.

"Music is a basic human right. It's everyone's right to play - and to hear - it, " he says.

He's already involved in a project, a grassroots musical theatre production called Match by the South American-European composer Kagel. The work is based on boxing and scored for two cellos and percussion.

It will be a low-budget production but one he thinks will be challenging and interesting.

"I'm also interested in music education and the role that it could play in Christchurch. I see this as a major tool in the rebuild but one of the major challenges is getting people to work and talk together. There have been a lot of battling schisms in this city but now there's potential for everyone to get together.

"It'll be a challenge especially with so few performing venues, especially the smaller spaces.

"But that's not simply because of the earthquakes. There's always been a steady loss of venues here."

Now Christchurch should improvise with music, he suggests. "What's stopping us going out on to the streets to play and perform and using music education to build up audiences and an awareness of events like this?"

Experiencing music can involve going to a film of a live Wagner opera or attending a recital or a concert.

For Zanker it is all about accessibility, "and at the moment there's quite a gap for that".

It is here that music education plays its role. His own experience with Opera North in Leeds opened up different attitudes towards its role.

"They considered it to be a core competency of the organisation alongside productions and concert programme.

"Opera North had an educational wing which received 700 calls annually which connected it with schools, the handicapped, prisons and the homeless. Admittedly, it received more funding."

In Christchurch, Zanker has noted a rise in optimism and the determination to rebuild . . . and again he suggests that music in all its variety should play a major role.

"In New Zealand, it often seems to be limited to something you do on Saturday mornings with the kids. That's good but it's really the primary section of music education. Education can be something else. It can develop audiences and individuals. It can demystify music and engage those people who might not consider that music is relevant to them."

Zanker's own generation, the 25 to 40-year-olds, "is older and ugly enough" to manage itself. It's those not in that demographic who should be exposed to the arts - "and not necessarily on the basis of age", he adds.

Art should be accessible across the board.

"We should not focus exclusively on targeting groups somehow deemed as needing to be bettered culturally.'

Presented with a wish list, Zanker cautiously picks his preferred choices.

"I'd certainly rejuvenate the Christchurch Symphony by increasing funding and encouraging the city council to show more interest in the orchestra. I'd like to see a strong network of organisations and individuals talking to each other. There's been a lot of competition - and isolation - between organisations in the past but people must now recognise that they have to work together.

"I'd get the university to build a music conservatorium in the central city and I'd certainly like to see the Town Hall and the Theatre Royal up and running."

Zanker also supports the establishment of a cultural community hub similar to the former, and now vanished, Creation centre in Worcester St.

"The arts should get down from its pedestal as something inaccessible and exclusive and become something relevant," he says.

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