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