2021 Music

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players), Works with taonga pūoro, Collaborations, Dance, Film and theatre

A cross-disciplinary collaboration using dance and film, with music for string quartet and taonga pūoro

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū was first presented during Matariki on 21 June 2022 in the North Quad of the Christchurch Arts Centre. The pre-recorded music is performed by the New Zealand String Quartet with Alistair Fraser (taonga pūoro).

About the work

Designed and directed by Daniel Belton of Good Company Arts, Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū is a 30-minute film combining digitally re-choreographed dance and music. It is based on Paul Klee’s painting, Ad Parnassum.

My music accompanies the film where the dancers become part of a shared visual and sculptural language bringing together Pacific and Mediterranean influences. Music drives the work which carries 9 women in an elongated vista — a singing bowl brimming with movement and colour codes.

Creative team

Other members of the creative team were creative producer and designer, Donnine Harrison and fashion designer, Kate Sylvester.

The Good Company Arts digital film team were Daniel Belton (cameras, film designer, film editor, post production choreography, motion graphics, audio mastering), Jac Grenfell (motion graphics, Cinema 4D, 2D animation, audio design), Nigel Jenkins, Josef Belton (kinetic props), Bradon McCaughey (cameras) and Stuart Foster (spatial lighting, props, cameras).

The choreographers and dance performers were Nancy Wijohn, Kelly Nash, Jahra Wasasala, Christina Guieb, Laura Saxon-Jones, Lucy-Margaux Marinkovich, Neve Pierce, Kiki Miwa and Stephanie Halyburton.

Score and recording

The score for this work is not available.

Watch the film on the Good Company Arts website, where there is also more information about the work.

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū — Good Company Arts

A promotional video created for the premiere gives a taster of the work.

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū — promo video


Daniel Belton was interviewed on RNZ’s arts programme, Standing Room Only ahead of the premiere.

Ad parnassum – Purapurawhetū dance film series — RNZ

The Otago Daily Times interviewed Daniel and me about our collaboration.

Dancing with the stars — ODT


The premiere was reviewed by Dr Ian Lochhead for Theatre Review.

Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū — Theatre Review

There was also a review by Erin Harrington.

Review: Matariki at The Arts Centre — Flat City Field Notes


In March 2023, Ad Parnassum – Purapurawhetū was presented at the Paris Women Festival based in Ontario, Canada. I was awarded Best Woman Composer for my score.

Winners March 2023 — Paris Women Festival

Tai timu, tai pari

Orchestra with soloist

Concerto for violin and full orchestra

Tai timu, tai pari  was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) with funding from the APO Trust and Creative New Zealand. The first performance was given by the APO conducted by James Feddeck with Andrew Beer (violin) on 10 June 2022. It is dedicated to Andrew Beer.

About the work

I wrote Tai timu, tai pari on the Otago Peninsula, in the wake of the first wave of Covid-19. I’d worked on other pieces during 2020, all initiated before the pandemic (and cancelled because of it), but this piece is written under the influences of these new times. I felt initially that I couldn’t write anything that was harsh or strident, but rather the sounds had to be gentle. This was probably something to do with the uncertainty, the keeping safe and the exhortations to be kind we’d experienced over those 18 months. However, as I wrote, the structure of the piece took over, and that self-censorship went away.

From my studio on the Otago peninsula I can look across the harbour towards the hills opposite, and what I see constantly changes. The tide ebbs and flows — tai timu, tai pari translates from te reo Māori as ‘low tide, high tide’ — light plays on the water, birds forage for food, rest on the water, whirl in flocks.

When I was writing, images of the variation in waves lapping on the shore, of distant disputes between birds or sea-creatures and birds in flight, of footprints on the beach came to mind. Not that the piece is primarily a soundscape — more than most of my pieces it harks back to the balance and proportions of the classical era.

Tai timu, tai pari is in a single movement, lasting a bit over 20 minutes, where the sections, in general terms, are slow, fast, cadenza, fast and slow.


Tai timu, tai pari is scored for: 2 + piccolo 222; 4331; harp, timpani and 3 percussion, strings and solo violin.

Percussion 1: 3 suspended cymbals, gong, bass drum, tapped stones

Percussion 2: wind chimes, clashed cymbals, tamtam, Thai finger cymbals, stones

Percussion 3: 3 suspended cymbals, gong, sizzle cymbal, stones

Scores and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ soon.

Listen to and watch the Auckland Philharmonia’s 2022 premiere.

Tai timu, tai pari — video


William Dart  and John Daly-Peoples reviewed the performance on 10 June 2022.

Whitehead concerto a superb evocation of our landscape — New Zealand Herald

The APO’s evocative Ebb and Flow concert — New Zealand Arts Review


Before the premiere, Andrew Beer and I were interviewed by SOUNZ and the Auckland Philharmonia.

The connection between image and sound — publication

Tai timu, tai pari: Gillian Whitehead & Andrew Beer — publication

I was also interviewed for the APO News and Te Ao Māori News.

Legendary composer excited about work premiere — interview

Elizabeth Kerr talked to Andrew Beer about the process of preparing the concerto.

Andrew Beer in Whitehead premiere — Five Lines

Ka maranga ngā kapua

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

For violin, cello and piano

Ka maranga ngā kapua was commissioned by NZTrio and premiered by them on 12 December 2021 in Auckland Town Hall.

About the work

Ka maranga ngā kapua translates as ‘the clouds will lift’. There are 3 short pieces in the work, and the last 2 were written just after the whole of Aotearoa went into Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown in August 2021.

The pieces reflect our changing perceptions through the juxtaposition of ideas or styles from different times.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Ka maranga ngā kapua – SOUNZ

Watch and hear a recording of the premiere.

Ka maranga ngā kapua — video

Mate Ururoa

Works with taonga pūoro, Opera

For baritone, mezzo and large ensemble

Text in Māori and English by the composer

Commissioned by and written for baritone, David Tahere. The premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York was scheduled for November 2021 but has been postponed because of Covid.

About the work

During World War 1, Roger Dansey, of Te Arawa, a captain in the pioneer battalion, disobeys his commander’s orders to save the lives of his men. The piece explores the differences between Māori and European approaches to war.

‘Kaua e mate wheke, mate ururoa — don’t die like an octopus, die like a hammerhead shark’ was a saying used in the Dansey family.


Mate Ururoa is scored for baritone and an ensemble of taonga pūoro, flute doubling alto flute and piccolo, clarinet  doubling E flat and bass clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, violin, viola, cello and double bass.

Percussion instruments are: marimba, vibraphone, 2 timpani, rototoms, bass drum, wood blocks, wooden drum, metal chimes, 5 suspended cymbals, tamtam, thundersheet, stones and poi.

Scores and recordings

The score will be available from SOUNZ after the premiere performance.


Elizabeth Kerr wrote about this work in a blog celebrating my 80th birthday.

Gillian Whitehead at 80 — publication