The talented NZTrio Are returning with the Loft Series; Zoom this month, Glow in September and Flare in November. 

Consisting of Justine Cormack, Sarah Watkins and Ashley Brown, we had the chance to fire through some questions to Justine where we found out some more about the trio and the intriguing Loft Series. 

How did the NZTrio meet and form? 

Sarah and I actually go back a long way…to high school days in Christchurch, where we played together for 3 years, and also while we were both at Canterbury University together. Sarah and I then went off to different sides of the States for our post-grad studies - Sarah to The Juilliard School in New York, and me to the San Francisco Conservatory, but we kept performing with each other regularly through that time too.

Ashley and I first performed together in 2000, yet we had known of each other many years before that too (the NZ music scene is pretty small, so we all either know or know of most musicians)…and in 2002 the three of us thought it would be a great idea to try performing together, Sarah coming back from NY for concert. We felt a really strong synergy together and had an incredibly fun time together that we all agreed we should try to make a full-time go of it – and so we officially formed NZTrio, and as the saying goes - the rest is history…we have been playing together ever since (which makes 15 years so far).

Who were your influences? Both personally and for the Trio? 

Interesting question – one I haven’t actually been asked before now, amazingly. I think I would have to say that my family have been my biggest influence. Music was a natural part in my upbringing, and remains a big part in all our lives. My parents actually met when my Dad was singing in a choir that my mum was conducting, and although neither were professional musicians, they were both very keen for me and my two sisters to have music in our lives, learning musical instruments as we grew up. Both my sisters started playing instruments before me (as I am the youngest), and looking on I was clearly really keen to get stuck in myself. At the age of 4, I declared to my parents that I wanted to learn the violin after having fallen in love with one that our friends had at their home. I don’t actually remember this, but supposedly I would open the case and stroke it, fascinated with the instrument.

Any way, music was always something that was fun to do in our house, never a chore, but definitely something that required commitment and focus. It was also something that was just another ‘string to our bow’, within lives that were full of many different activities. So I think, as a result, I appreciate what music adds to my life, amongst all the life has to offer. As a professional musician, the challenge is ongoing to develop and always aim to be the best musician I can be, and it is remarkable how this is an ongoing and never-ending journey – there is always more to learn and something to improve. This makes for a dynamic and challenging life – but one that is full of rewards and riches as a result.

Valuing what I have in life is definitely something that comes from my parents – a real gift! I think my parents’ influence also carries over into the trio, in their example and encouragement of open-minded- ness. As a trio, this aspect of who we are and the decisions we make is hugely important. As a trio, as well as the familiar, we are always keen to explore the new, discover new ways, new music, keep things changing – aiming to be at the edge of discovery in all that we do. This certainly keeps things exciting and fresh, and all the experiences we has as a result inform everything that we play – both old and new. Never a dull moment for sure.

You recently played at the Darwin Festival and a performance in China. How were those experiences?

Travelling the world is definitely one of the great perks of our work together, and last year our two international tours (to Australia and China) could not have been more different. I was going to say that Darwin is much closer to home – but actually Darwin is pretty far away – right at the top of Australia. We certainly felt how close we were to Indonesia with an unmistakeable ‘tropical’ feel (as well as a lot of Indonesian food on offer), and there was a lovely gentle pace to the life there. We performed a programme of vibrant music from around the pacific rim (which we see as our natural neighbourhood here in NZ) and it felt very appropriate to be sharing that music with our Australian audience. We were in China just before Christmas and it was a very different experience from Darwin, for sure! This was our 8th tour to China and every time we go it contrasts with our previous visits. This time, it was just before Christmas, it was cold and unfortunately there was a lot of air pollution (Beijing was actually under Red Alert!), so it was a huge relief to get back to our gorgeous and lush NZ after that tour. That being said, we are always intrigued with the cultural differences when we travel to places that contrasts home…and in China, as well as the fabulous food, we are always struck with how welcome we are made to feel and how well taken care of we are. The audiences lap up what we have to offer, and to our delight, they are always receptive and excited by the New Zealand music that we play within our programmes. We are always so proud of that!

What’s been your stand out performance to date? 

I can honestly say that all our performances are memorable for different reasons…and rather than a particular performance standing out, it is a type of performance that remains strongly in my mind as the most memorable – and those performances are the ones that are the most intimate and ‘up-close- and-personal’. These are the ones that we feel a real connection with our audience – and hopefully the audience feels that connection with us.

We really love to play in intimate venues (as we do in the Loft at Q) as we know how powerful that ‘up close and personal’ experience can be with NZTrio. At one end of the spectrum, we can produce a huge orchestral type of sound, right the way through to the most delicate and gentle on the other end. When we are close to our audience we are all on that roller coaster ride together and the connection is palpable. The feeling of those rides that we have shared is what remains with me, and I sincerely hope that our audiences have been enriched by the experience, as we certainly have been.

You’ve got the Loft series approaching - Zoom, Glow and Flare. How is each show different?

Both ZOOM and GLOW feature gorgeous romantic, tuneful and rich music in the second half of the programme, but the first halves are very different. ZOOM is all about rhythm and perspective, with touches of jazz and blues influence, as well as some pithy short poetic pieces of music that are quirky and entertaining.

GLOW has a definite oriental twist in the first half, with two Chinese works surrounding a NZ work by Gareth Farr intriguingly named Forbidden Colours. The second Chinese work will be a world premiere from our good friend Gao Ping that involves a Guzheng performer from China joining us on stage – we can’t wait to share what will undoubtedly be exotic and lustrous soundscapes.

Finally, in FLARE, we share the stage for the whole concert with super-star NZ tenor Simon O’Neill, and will be performing a wide range of gorgeous music from through the centuries from Bach to Mahler, and of course with a touch of our own NZ music in the mix as well. Simon’s huge voice is likely to blow the roof off (with our help of course!), but I have no doubt that we will draw the audience in with some gorgeous subtleties too. That collaboration is extremely exciting!

How are the preparations for the shows going? 

So far we have just been concentrating on the first concert – ZOOM…and we are having a ball discovering these works which are fundamentally new for us. It is wonderful that even after 15 years playing together there are still fantastic works in the repertoire that we have still not performed and that we can introduce to our audience. So it has been a journey of discovery on the whole, and the music is just awesome. We can’t wait to share it!

What other projects are you working on? 

In July and August we are touring NZ for Chamber Music NZ playing with a young virtuoso Clarinetist from England, Julian Bliss. The main work on the programme is Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which Messiaen wrote as a prisoner within a German concentration camp during WWII. It is a hugely powerful work - emotional, dramatic and utterly absorbing as both a performer and audience member, and an extremely challenging work to perform – so we have been working on that recently too. This piece of music has been on our wish list to perform for a very long time, so we are extremely excited to be able to perform it 10 times on that tour around NZ. It’s going to be an incredible experience, I am certain!

NZTrio Loft Series

Loft Series 1 – Zoom plays Sun 12th 5pm & Tue 14th June 6:30pm / duration approx. 65 mins + interval

Loft Series 2 – Glow plays Sun 25th 5pm & Tue 27th September 6:30pm / duration approx. 1.5hr + interval

Loft Series 3 – Flare (with Simon O’Neill) plays Sun 13th 5pm & Tue 15th November 6:30pm / duration

approx. 1.5hr + interval.

Tickets via Q Theatre