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Gillian Whitehead breathes new music into taonga puoro

Lilburn Lecture 2019: Gillian Whitehead breathes new music into taonga puoro

The revival of traditional Māori musical instruments, taonga puoro, is celebrated at the National Library this week on Friday 1 November.

Esteemed composer Dame Gillian Whitehead (Ngāi te Rangi) will give the annual Lilburn Lecture for 2019 at the National Library of New Zealand.

In Breath of the Birds: The Revival of Taonga Puoro, Whitehead will consider these ancient musical instruments as they are understood today, and how they have influenced and been used in her compositions. The lecture will include a live performance by NZSO principal flautist Bridget Douglas and taonga puoro exponent Alistair Fraser.

Whitehead is an honoured composer whose work has been recognised internationally for many decades. The 2018 recipient of the Arts Foundation Arts Icon Award, she has won the SOUNZ Contemporary Award three times. She has frequently incorporated taonga puoro and Māori themes into her work.

“I’m honoured and delighted to be asked to give this year’s Lilburn Lecture. The series is building a remarkable picture of aspects of music in Aotearoa today,” says Whitehead.

The Lilburn Lecture is an annual collaboration that started in 2013 between the Lilburn Trust, established by composer Douglas Lilburn, and the Alexander Turnbull Library. The lectures provide a platform for speakers to present new ideas about and perspectives on New Zealand music.

“The theme of this year’s lecture is especially resonant as our current exhibition, Pūkana: Moments in Māori Performance, part of the Library’s ATL100 celebrations, features a section on taonga puoro” says Dr Michael Brown, Curator of Music at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Whitehead’s own personal collection, including manuscript scores, papers and recordings, is preserved in the Archive of New Zealand Music, at the Turnbull Library.



Dame Gillian Whitehead: Dame Gillian Whitehead, DMus, DNZM, MNZM (Ngāi te Rangi) is a prolific composer of vocal and instrumental music. Based in the United Kingdom and Europe during her early career, from 1981 she taught for 15 years at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and also increasingly turned to Māori themes in her compositions. In 2000, she was made an inaugural Laureate for the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. Whitehead held the position of composer-in-residence with the Auckland Philharmonia (2000-2001) and was also Jack C. Richards Composer-in-Residence at the Victoria University School of Music (2005-2006).

The Lilburn Trust: The late composer Douglas Lilburn helped establish the Archive of New Zealand Music, which is part of the Library’s collections, in 1974. He donated his own collection of scores, papers and recordings, and served as an honorary curator. Lilburn also established the Lilburn Trust in 1984, which is administered by Alexander Turnbull Library. The Lilburn Trust supports many New Zealand music projects including the annual Lilburn Lecture. The Lecture has been held since 2013: previous speakers have been Eve de Castro-Robinson, Charles Royal, Jenny McLeod, Chris Bourke, William Dart, and Philip Norman.

Event details:

Lilburn Lecture 2019 Gillian Whitehead – Breath of the Birds: The Revival of Taonga Puoro

When: Friday 1 November 6-7pm

Where: National Library Auditorium (lower ground floor), Aitken Street entrance, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington

RSVP: This is a free event but space is limited, please book by email:

Note to editors:

Alexander Turnbull Library is part of the National Library of New Zealand. New Zealand's national documentary heritage collections, including both published and unpublished items, are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library.


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