Welcome to the new Head of Performance in the School of Music

Professor Mark Menzies has recently joined UC as the new Head of Performance in the School of Music, so we thought we would find out a little bit more about one of our latest recruits. 

Q: As a former alumnus of UC, are you a native Cantabrian or do you hark from elsewhere in New Zealand?
A: I was born and raised in Hawkes Bay until I began my studies at Canterbury at 15 years upon being granted special permission to commence a BMus at that early stage.

Q: Which aspects about this new position at UC interested you most?
A: The potential for growth with new artistic ventures and partnerships in a city whose recent tragic experiences have at the same time generated a very obvious climate of opportunity and need for the contributions from artists; the University of Canterbury, with its richest of cultural and intellectual history, along with its inspired move of the performance music, along with the classics department, to the centre of town at the Arts Centre, has given us – the rich community of musicians and artists in Christchurch – a unique platform to make a ‘whole lot of noise’. If we do it right, we will be seeking to become a become a major hub of culture in Australasia.

Q: What has been the highlight of your performing career and why?
A: I know I have been extraordinarily blessed in how my life and career have gone, and the wonderful and ongoing inspiration I am given at seemingly very moment. The first time I stood and played on Carnegie Hall’s stage is one such unforgettable moment; likewise the stage of Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

One that would easily qualify would be the last time I played a recital with Maurice Till at Canterbury University. By then in a sprightly form of old age, through various circumstances, most of the programme was completely new to him. Of course he learned it with impeccable grace and style; his influence on my musical thinking, practice and generosity will never dim, and this recital was a superb moment to remember this by.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching young musicians and what benefits do you get from teaching?
A: You’ll never imagine the extent to which the questions, and insights, of young(er) minds can bring you what you might be looking for, or simply inspire you. Also, I teach employing a healthy dose of collaboration which means the student(s) play alongside myself, and other colleagues (as long as they will also enjoy the process!): even at the incipient moments of their developing careers, the energy and inspiration that students can bring to these moments is often a precious contribution to the culture and impossible to gain via other means.

Q: Are there particular performance initiatives you will be implementing that will be open to the public in the year ahead?
A: Yes! I have just arrived, so we are still developing the exact form of how to proceed. I also need to listen to the community – at the University, and in Christchurch – to ascertain what it might be that people want.

I can say initially I will perform some as a solo player, particularly of new music, particularly of composers living in Christchurch and New Zealand. It’s a way of saying ‘hello’ to the most essential of lifebloods in the moving-forward part of our (musical) culture. As is appropriate, I will collaborate with current UC students in their developing (chamber music) repertoires. The UC music department will continue presenting its lunchtime concerts, both at Ilam and in the city – I hope to energise that tradition as would help it; likewise the ensembles associated with the school – UC Christchurch Youth Orchestra, and the choir Consortia. And so on.

By October, we are planning to commence with a format of presenting music from and through the university that we expect to become a focal point of our mission as a performance programme. Expect it to be very collaborative and, over time, transformative of how its formed, but not of its quality – so we aim!