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.



For orchestra

Tūranganui was commissioned by the NZSO to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in Aotearoa. The first performance was given by them conducted by Hamish McKeich at the Michael Fowler Centre on 15 September 2018.

About the work

250 years ago, on 8 October 1769, Captain Cook and his men, with the best of intentions, made landfall in the Endeavour, on the east coast harbour of Tūranga-nui-a-kiwa (modern-day Gisborne). They went ashore to find water, but unfortunately things did not go to plan. In his diary Joseph Banks was to write, ‘thus ended the most disagreeable day my life has yet seen … and heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflection.’

As a result of cultural misunderstandings that day, the first shots were fired in this country, and 4 Māori lost their lives.

While writing this piece, I was aware of what Cook and his party, and Māori arriving in the same place centuries earlier, would have felt — relief or elation at being on dry land, alongside heightened awareness, apprehension, wonder, fear. And for the iwi on shore, curiosity, maybe apprehension, but no foreknowledge of how the visitors would threaten and change their world order.

Tūranganui is part abstract, part programmatic — given the theme of landfall how could it not be — and I leave it to listeners to interpret it in their own way.


Tūranganui is scored for: 2222; 4331; harp, timpani, 3 percussion and strings.

Percussion 1: wind chimes, stones, tomtoms

Percussion 2: tamtam, bass drum

Percussion 3: suspended cymbals, marimba, stones

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ soon.

The premiere performance was recorded as part of SOUNZ’s Resound project.

Tūranganui — video

RNZ Concert’s recording from the premiere is available online.

Tūranganui — audio


The Otago Daily Times interviewed me after the premiere.

Making sense of Cook’s confusion — publication

Iris dreaming

Opera, Voice and instrumental ensemble

One act opera for soprano and chamber ensemble

Text by Fleur Adcock

Iris dreaming was commissioned and premiered by soprano Joanne Roughton-Arnold. The first performance was accompanied by the Octandre Ensemble conducted by Jon Hargreaves, at the Grimeborn Festival in London in August 2016. The version with string trio was premiered with Joanne and NZTrio at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson on 6 February 2017.

About the work

Iris dreaming is based on the life of celebrated New Zealand writer and feminist, Iris Wilkinson (also know as Robin Hyde), whose short but intensely dramatic life took her from New Zealand via war-torn China to London on the brink of WWII where she killed herself in 1939, aged 33. She was a star, a significant figure in New Zealand literature, a respected journalist in her time and a pioneer of feminism.

Fiona Maddocks in her review for The Guardian noted, ‘Whitehead … mixes tonal and melodic writing with Māori and Pacific rim-inspired techniques, especially audible in music for flute and piccolo, or more overtly in the gentle, clattery wash of rainsticks.’


Lyric coloratura soprano and a chamber ensemble of flute doubling piccolo, oboe, clarinets (B♭, E♭ and bass), bassoon, harp, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass.

There is also a version for soprano and piano trio.


The score will soon be available from SOUNZ.


Films of performances both versions of the opera are available online.

Iris dreaming, London, August 2016 — video

Iris dreaming, Nelson, New Zealand, February 2017 — video

RNZ Concert’s recording of the New Zealand premiere in February 2017 is available online.

Iris dreaming — audio

Reviews and interviews

The Waitangi Day performance in Nelson in 2017 was reviewed in the Nelson Evening Mail.

Opera Iris Dreaming tells tragic life of New Zealand writer Robin Hyde — Nelson Evening Mail

A review by Elizabeth Kerr of the Nelson performances was broadcast by RNZ Concert on Upbeat.

Adam Chamber Music Festival Waitangi weekend reviews — talk

Joanne was interviewed for Kim Hill’s programme on RNZ National.

Joanne Roughton-Arnold: Iris Dreaming — interview

There is also an interview with Joanne and me, filmed before the Nelson performances.

Festival conversations: Iris dreaming — interview

Bryan Crump interviewed me on RNZ National’s Nights programme shortly after my return from the premiere in London.

Dame Gillian Whitehead — interview

Three Sephardic Songs

Voice and instrumental ensemble

3 Yiddish songs for mezzo and baroque ensemble

Texts: anonymous

The first performance of Three Sephardic Songs was given by Ana Good (mezzo) with Rare Byrds at a central Dunedin music venue called Dog with Two Tails in 2016.

About the work

The songs are:

  • Schluf mein Tochter — a lullaby
  • Leg ich mir mein Kapele  — what happens when I lay my head beside that of first my mother, then my mother-in-law, and finally my husband, and
  • Zum, zum — a nonsense song.


The work is scored for: 2 recorder players — playing descant, alto, tenor and bass — guitar, spinet, violin, bass viol.

The instrumentation is not set — you can substitute appropriate instruments.


Contact me to see the score.



Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

For string quartet

Poroporoaki was written for the New Zealand String Quartet to play at the Zhejiang Conservatory in Hangzhou during at festival celebrating the work of Jack Body, and focusing on transcription and collaboration.

About the work

Poroporoaki, which translates from Māori as ‘calls of farewell’ transcribes the sounds of taonga pūoro  as played by Richard Nunns. The instruments transcribed are the putatara (shell trumpet), karanga manu (bird caller), nguru (flute), tumutumu (percussive), poi awhiowhio (whirled gourd — bird caller) and putorino.

Poroporoaki is is dedicated to Richard Nunns.

Scores and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Poroporoaki — SOUNZ

There are 3 RNZ Concert recordings performed by the New Zealand String Quartet online.

Poroporoaki — video 2019

Poroporoaki — video 2018

Poroporoaki — video 2016

Shadows cross the water

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

For oboe, piano and string quartet

The first performance of this work, then called Tamariki, was given by the Stamic Quartet with Vilém Veverka (oboe) and Patricia Goodson (piano) in Prague on 9 December 2014.

About the work

2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of New Zealand’s first refugees, more than 700 Polish children who were cared for at a specially prepared camp in Pahīatua north of Wellington. The anniversary led me to consider the terrible and dislocating movement of children in times of war.

As I wrote this piece, 2 significant and dear friends – Peter Maxwell Davies and Jack Body – were terminally ill, so there are many interpretations of the title — which was taken from a Greg O’Brien poem.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Shadows cross the water — SOUNZ

A recording, released by Rattle CDs, can be bought from SOUNZ and all good record stores.

Shadows crossing water — CD

Song without words

Solo instrument

For solo violin, viola or cello

The first performance of Song without words was given by cellist Rolf Gjelsten in Wellington on 2 February 2014 at a private function.

About the work

Song without words was written to mark the occasion of Helen Young’s departure from Wellington to live in Auckland. Helen was always a champion of New Zealand music during her years as manager of Radio New Zealand Concert.


The piece has been written to be played by violin, viola or cello — a score exists for each of the 3 instruments.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Song without words — SOUNZ