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Opera talent wins prestigious award

14 August 2013

Opera talent wins prestigious award

Phillip ‘Akau

Years ago, University of Waikato student Phillip ‘Akau was considering two career paths. Architecture or music.

Having just won the Norah Howell Premier Award in the Adult Vocal Competition section at the 2013 Hamilton Competitions, the young tenor is certain he made the right choice. Previous winners of the award are Dame Malvina Major, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Patrick Power.

Phillip is a Sir Edmund Hillary scholar in his first year of a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in classical performance.

As well as winning the Norah Howell Premier Award, Phillip also took away the Wakefield Enterprises Cup, awarded for the best song in the competition overall.

Phillips says the award prize of $2500 will go a long way towards financing a trip to the United States and Canada later in the year with the New Zealand Youth Choir.

His passion for classical performance began during his years at Dilworth School in Auckland.

“I was always in the school choir, and when classical voice lessons were offered in year 10, I thought I’d give that a crack.”

Phillip has performed with the Auckland Opera Factory, including concerts with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. He is also among a select group of singers who will feature on Dame Kiri’s Album of Māori songs CD to be released later this year.
Born in Australia, Phillip moved to Tonga with his family for several years before finally settling in New Zealand at the age of six. The youngest of four boys and the only singer in the family, Phillip says his mum was a big influence in his decision to study music.

“She was always so supportive of my singing, so I decided to follow that path rather than architecture.”

Phillip says he chose to study Waikato because of its “growing music department, the Hillary Scholarship and because of the awesome teachers - David Griffiths and Dame Malvina Major”.

David Giffiths is a Senior Lecturer in Voice and Head of Vocal Studies, and Dame Malvina is the Senior Music Fellow at the University’s Conservatorium of Music.

“And also Hamilton’s not too far from my family in Auckland. Being here gives me the space I need to focus on what I’m doing without distractions.”
Hard work, determination and commitment are the keys to his continuing success in the field that he loves.

“When I’m singing, I forget about everything except for that moment itself. Nothing else exists, just music.”

Some of Phillip’s classical music heroes include the Pati brothers, Amitai and Pene. Through the Auckland Opera Studio, he performed with them in Last Sonnambula in 2011.

“I was just soaking it all in. I look up to them so much. Performing with them was both daunting and inspiring at the same time.”

In the meantime Phillip has a busy schedule of study, performances and rehearsals. He’s in The Flying Dutchman in Auckland in October, and in Waikato University’s annual opera, Mozart’s The Magic Flute on 16-17 August at which Dame Malvina Major will be narrating.

Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarships are the University of Waikato’s most prestigious scholarships and are awarded to students who are high academic achievers who are also achieving in the arts or sport. Scholars have their course fees covered, receive specialist coaching and mentoring and take part in personal development and leadership programmes.


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