Search this list of all my publicly available works using the search box, or the category and year lists. Information about each work includes where to buy, borrow or listen to it.

Ngā roimata o Mānuka (The tears of Mānuka)

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players), Works with taonga pūoro

For string quartet and taonga pūoro

Ngā roimata o Mānuka was commissioned by the New Zealand String Quartet (NZSQ) and Bob Bickerton. The first performance was given on 4 February 2024 at the Nelson Centre for Musical Arts as part of the 2024 Adam Chamber Music Festival.

About the work

I wanted this commission for the NZSQ and Bob Bickerton (who ran the Adam Chamber Music Festival for many years) playing taonga pūoro to commemorate a place in the Nelson region, which I have come to know quite well over the years.

Haulashore Island off the coast at Whakatū (Nelson) was known as Mānuka in the mid-19th century; whether named by Māori or Pākehā is uncertain. But one meaning of mānu, according to Williams’ dictionary, is a ‘launching place’, the starting place of a journey, and it seems to me that may have been an earlier meaning of the name Mānuka, which was used by local iwi as a safe landing and camping place when hunting birds and kai moana on the Boulder Bank. Seen in this way, Mānuka is quite similar in meaning to Haulashore.

In 1906, the Cut was blasted in the Boulder Bank close to Mānuka to establish Nelson Haven, the forerunner of Port Nelson. Local iwi were concerned about the disturbance of the mauri of moana and whenua as altered currents reshaped the land and even changed river flows.

A decade or so ago, a group of friends went on a hikoi to the island — Lyell Cresswell, Richard Nunns, Jenny McLeod, Helen Bowater and myself, with Bob Bickerton ferrying us. We were supporting Lyell, whose great-great-grandfather emigrated from Britain but died of typhoid on the ship before setting foot on land, so was buried alone on Mānuka. (His family travelled on a different ship, arriving shortly afterwards to the news of his death.) Lyell, Richard and Jenny are no longer with us, but were very much in my mind while I wrote this abstract, rather than narrative, piece.


The Adam Festival, including this work, was reviewed by Elizabeth Kerr for her blog Five Lines.

The Adam Festival: chamber music heaven — Five Lines

Ngā whetū o Matariki

Orchestra with soloist, Works with taonga pūoro

For orchestra and taonga pūoro

Ngā whetū o Matariki (The stars of Matariki) was commissioned by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. It received its first performances, with Brent Stewart conducting and Ariana Tikao playing taonga pūoro, on July 22 and 23 at the King’s and Queen’s Performing Arts Centre in Dunedin.

About the work

Ngā whetu o Matariki celebrates the two harbingers of the Māori New Year — the star Puaka, particularly important to iwi in the south of Aotearoa, and Matariki, the Pleiades.

I found when I was writing the piece that I was thinking of many things — of the varying patterns in movement of stars and planets, of the appearance of Puaka and Matariki in the morning sky as the seasons change, of human ritual.

The work of Professor Rangi Matamua has revealed Māori beliefs concerning the star group Matariki — how, as the constellation first rises, the clarity of individual stars presage the quality of crops and weather for the new year; how our aspirations rise with the smoke from baking kumara to be understood by the stars; how the constellation was formed when Tāwhirimātea, distressed when his parents Rangi and Papatūānuku were driven apart by his brothers, tore out his eyes and threw them into the sky, where they splintered to form Matariki (the eyes of a chief); and how Taramainuku, the captain of the Waka in the sky, whose prow is Matariki and whose stern is in Orion, captures in his great net the souls of those who die each day, then releases them into the sky as stars at the time of Matariki.


The score will be lodged with SOUNZ after the premiere.


Ngā whetu o Matariki  is scored for taonga pūoro, 1222, 2200, timpani, 2 percussion and strings. There is also an alternative version with 2 flutes.


Listen to an interview about the work on RNZ National.

Composer Dame Gillian Whitehead premieres a new work about Matariki — RNZ


Retrieving the fragility of peace


For orchestra

Retrieving the fragility of peace was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for their 2022 season. The first performance was given on 30 September in the Auckland Town Hall conducted by Alexander Shelley. Further performances were given in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

About the work

While I was writing this piece, my dear friend and colleague, Lyell Cresswell, who I’d known for 50 years since we were young composers-at-large in Britain, was diagnosed with cancer and died a few weeks later. The piece is dedicated to Lyell and his wife Catherine.

One evening, replete with food and wine, the 3 of us were talking, and I was very tired. I opened my eyes and saw them looking at me strangely. ‘Did I say something?’ I asked ‘retrieving the fragility of the voice’, they replied. Sleep talking, and hence the slightly varied title.

Before I’ve heard a piece, sometimes it’s hard to know what to say about it, as it doesn’t come alive until it’s performed, and that’s certainly true of this one, which draws on ideas I’ve worked with recently, but in a more abstract way. I think it may reflect something of the times we’re living in, but words can’t express as music does. It must for itself.


Retrieving the fragility of peace is scored for 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo); oboe, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet, clarinet (doubling bass and E flat clarinet); bassoon; 4 horns; 2 trumpets in C; 3 trombones; tuba; 2 percussion and piano.

Percussion: timpani, 4 rototoms, bell chimes (higher), tapped stones; glockenspiel, 3 suspended cymbals, claves, 2 woodblocks and bass drum.

Score and recording

The score will be lodged with SOUNZ after the premiere.

Listen to and watch a performance by the NZSO in October 2022.

Retrieving the fragility of peace — video


A review of the September premiere is available for subscribers to the New Zealand Herald website. Here is an excerpt.

‘Dedicated to composer Lyell Cresswell, who died six months ago, this intensely engaging music might have encouraged one to detect specific tributes in its soaring cor anglais solo or, later, during a more tense cello turn.

‘Such memorable moments emerged then returned, seamlessly, into the all-embracing Whitehead world, as did twittering piccolo birdsong and the rumbling of a perhaps discontent earth.
This is a substantial composition, subtly fueled by the sound worlds of nature and man. If at one point we felt the relentless drive of Stravinsky’s Sacre, we were spared any sacrificial horrors. The last few exquisitely scored pages ended with shimmering strings and percussion, suggesting that treasured peace should not be taken for granted.

‘Conductor Alexander Shelley, having magnificently brought this to vibrant life, provided some background to it while a Steinway was wheeled in for the storms and sunshine of Mozart’s D minor piano concerto.’

— William Dart, New Zealand Herald, 5 October 2022

Max Rashbrooke reviewed the Wellington performance on 1 October 2022.

NZSO hits a few speedbumps with Legacy concert — Stuff

Steven Sedley reviewed the same performance.

A concert of “music from then and now” with the NZSO — Middle C

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

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