The New Yorker’s Alex Ross voyaging through modern chamber music

The New Yorker’s Alex Ross voyaging through modern chamber music

Best-selling author and The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross is touring New Zealand this May with Chamber Music New Zealand, in a concert promising to open anyone’s ears. Sharing the stage with our very own STROMA and mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew, the concert offers a musical tasting session to accompany Alex Ross’s hugely successful book The Rest is Noise.

“When The Rest is Noise appeared in 2007 it was on everybody’s (not just music lovers’) must-read lists. It is easy to understand why,” says Peter Walls, Chief Executive, Chamber Music New Zealand. In the music and literary worlds Alex Ross is rather a big deal. His first book, The Rest is Noise won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Discussing music from Bartók to Björk, Shoenberg to The Velvet Underground, the book performs the remarkable trick of tying musical threads together and transforming occasionally abstruse music into something accessible – and exciting. It provides not so much a history of 20th-century music as a history of the 20th century through its music” describes Ross.

And the concert? Bringing together the music and literary worlds offers a unique opportunity to experience what history sounded like, in its context. Describing the music line-up as ‘diverse’ doesn’t quite hack it, taking inspiration from the World War II jazz of Benny Goodman, the words of Martin Luther King and Shakespeare, to mathematical game theory and childhood experience. The premier of one work even resulted in the composer threatened with being shot! This concert promises some of the most intriguing and beautiful compositions of the 20th century.

“The STROMA tour with Bianca Andrew contains music that is both seen as important and challenging. I can think of no better way with this repertoire than to have it illuminated for us by Alex Ross” says Walls.

The national tour visits 8 centres throughout Aotearoa, with the Auckland concert presented in partnership with the Auckland Writers Festival.

Audio described concerts: Auckland, New Plymouth and Wellington concerts will also be audio described for patrons with low vision. It is a narration service that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted. Each audio described concert will also feature a touch tour on stage beforehand.

Just as Alex Ross’s book provides an entertaining and illuminating peregrination through the history of modern classical music, so this concert will provide the soundtrack. It promises to be a veritable smorgasbord of delight upon delight, and everyone is bound to make some new favourites.” STROMA’s Co-Director Michael Norris

For details and booking information visit

Chamber Music New Zealand

Auckland Writers Festival



If there is one characteristic that unites the music of this period, in which all aspects of human endeavour seem to have been transformed at unprecedented speed, it is variety.

The concerts will include excerpts from the following seminal works:

SCHOENBERG | Pierrot Lunaire (1912)
RAVEL | Chansons Madécasses (1923)
BARTÓK | Contrasts (1938)
MESSIAEN | Quartet for the End of Time (1941)
LIGETI | Balada si joc (Ballad and Dance) (1950)
STRAVINSKY  | Three Songs from William Shakespeare (1953)
JENNY MCLEOD | For Seven (1966)
BERIO | O King (1968)
BOULEZ | Improvisé – pour le Dr. Kalmus (1969)
XENAKIS | Charisma (1971)
GILLIAN WHITEHEAD | Manutaki (1985)
KAIJA SAARIAHO | Oi Kuu (1990)
DAVID LANG | Short Fall (2000)


SCHOENBERG Pierrot Lunaire (1912): the work required 40 rehearsals before its premiere in 1912. It is a set of poems mocking religion and disturbed some listeners enough to say that the composer should be shot. Schoenberg was quoted to say “If they were musical, not a single one would give a damn about the words. Instead, they would go away whistling the tunes”.

BARTÓK | Contrasts (1938): was commissioned by American jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman and first performed and recorded by Goodman, Bartok and violinist Joseph Szigeti. Watch Benny Goodman here.

LIGETI | Balada si joc (Ballad and Dance) (1950): Ligeti is best known for his work in music for film. Remember the black monolith scene in Kubrick’s film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’?

BERIO | O King (1968) is a work dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King.


ALEX ROSS critic The New Yorker, author The Rest is Noise

  • Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996
  • His first book, The Rest Is Noise won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
  • His second book is the essay collection Listen to This
  • Now at work on Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music
  • Ross has received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Belmont Prize in Germany, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship

THE REST IS NOISE: LISTENING TO THE 20th CENTURY“Not so much a history of twentieth century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.” – Alex Ross

  • 20th-century classical music’s influence can be felt everywhere. Atonal chords crop up in jazz. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalism has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward
  • The Rest Is Noise shows why 20th-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators
  • The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. It follows the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken

“Just occasionally someone writes a book you’ve waited your life to read. Alex Ross’s enthralling history of 20th-century music is, for me, one of those books.” — Alan Rusbridger, Guardian

“Incredibly nourishing.” — Björk

“A work of immense scope and ambition…. a great achievement.” — Geoff Dyer, New York Times Book Review

“The best book on what music is about — really about — that you or I will ever own.” — Alan Rich, LA Weekly



STROMA is one of New Zealand’s finest contemporary chamber ensembles, comprising a selection of the crème de la crème of NZSO members and other freelance Wellington performers. For this concert NZSO Associate Conductor Hamish McKeich, Concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen and Section Principals Patrick Barry, Bridget Douglas, Ken Ichinose, and Andrew Thomson are joined by Wellington pianist Emma Sayers. Since its inaugural concert in 2000, STROMA has performed regularly, with a repertoire of fresh, cutting-edge compositions.

  • STROMA has also been active in commissioning new works from New Zealand composers
  • STROMA has appeared at each New Zealand Festival of the Arts since 2002, as well as the International Jazz Festival 2003, the Wellington Cathedral Festival 2003 and the Christchurch Festival of the Arts 2005. They also toured for Chamber Music New Zealand in 2004

“One of the most interesting and original ensembles to have emerged recently”

“vibrant and exhilarating”, “stunning” and “staggeringly fine”

Hamish McKeich (STROMA Conductor/Co-Director)

Bridget Douglas (Flute)

Patrick Barry (Clarinet)

Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin)

Andrew Thomson (viola)

Ken Ichinose (cello)

Emma Sayers (piano)


BIANCA ANDREW mezzo-soprano

Born in Wellington, Bianca Andrew is considered one of New Zealand’s most promising young singers to emerge in recent years. She is currently continuing her vocal studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London under the tutelage of Yvonne Kenny, where she is a full scholarship awardee on the Opera Studies programme for 2015/16.

“She has a kind of talent and undeniable star quality that money can’t buy. A magnetism, combined with a natural ease and presence”. – RNZ National


Chamber Music New Zealand presents

Alex Ross with Bianca Andrew and Stroma

20 May 2018     4:00 pm     Auckland *  Auckland Town Hall   Ticketmaster   0800 111 999

21 May 2018      7.30pm      Hamilton  Gallagher Academy   Gallagher Academy 0800 383 5200  

22 May 2018      7.30pm      New Plymouth*  Theatre Royal   Ticketek 0800 842 538

24 May 2018      7.30pm      Napier    MTG Century Theatre   Ticketek 0800 842 538

25 May 2018      7.30pm      Wellington*  Shed 6   Ticketmaster  0800 111 999

27 May 2018      7.30pm      Nelson     Nelson Centre of Musical Arts   TicketDirect  0800 224 224

28 May 2018      7.30pm      Dunedin    Glenroy Auditorium   Ticketmaster 0800 111 999

30 May 2018      7.30pm      Christchurch   The Piano   Ticketek 0800 842 538


*Concerts are audio described


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