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Kiwi Conductor Makes NZSO Debut With Epic Psychedelic Symphony

Conductor Holly Mathieson. Picture credit: Martin Stewart

Award-winning New Zealand conductor Holly Mathieson will lead the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra next month for the first time, including performances of Hector Berlioz’s groundbreaking psychedelic Symphonie Fantastique.

A frequent conductor of top orchestras, ballet and opera companies in Europe, North America and Australasia, Mathieson’s many achievements include reaching No. 1 in the British classical music charts in a collaboration with pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mathieson’s NZSO debut in May begins with Fantastique in association with Ryman Healthcare in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch.

“Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique is a psychedelic re-telling of an opium-laced dream,” says Mathieson, who also conducts two other exciting works in the concert: Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s Dreamtime (Yume no toki) and New Zealander Dorothy Ker’s The Third Dream.

“Dreams and the dream-state have always been really fertile material for artists. All three of the beautiful works in this concert have dreams woven through them, but in really different ways,” she says.

“Toru Takemitsu’s Dreamtime references the indigenous Australian concept of Dreamtime in its title; but at an even more fundamental level, his music mirrors the altered sense of time and logic that we have in a dream.

“Dorothy Ker has often drawn from ideas about memory and dreams in her pieces. Her epic The Third Dream imagines the dreams of the Earth itself, recalling its own history starting from the first primordial heartbeat and shifting through an array of intense colours and energies.”

Symphonie Fantastique, first performed in 1830, changed the course of classical music and is considered a landmark in how music can also tell a richly detailed story. More than 130 years later, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein said the symphony’s hallucinatory and dream-like nature was the first musical exploration of what today is called psychedelic music.

In the five-movement symphony, a young artist falls is love, believes he’s rejected and turns to opium. The drug plunges him into dreams and hallucinations where he murders his lover, is executed, and awakes in hell at a witches’ sabbath.

Fantastique is part of the NZSO’s new Immerse 2021 festival. The national festival of 24 concerts is presented in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier, Palmerston North, and Christchurch in April, May, and July.

Mathieson will also conduct Stronger Together, a collaboration with acclaimed teo reo metal band Alien Weaponry, in Hamilton 22 May and Christchurch 29 May; and Pick-a-Path, a family-friendly concert in Hamilton 23 May and Christchurch 30 May, where during the performance the audience picks some of the music played.

Tickets to Fantastique in Wellington and Auckland are available from and in Hamilton and Christchurch from

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