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Gillian Whitehead : Represented Artist

Random Audio Sample: Hineputehue (string quartets with maori instruments) by Gillian Whitehead, from the CD Puhake ki te rangi


Photo of Gillian Whitehead

Photo: Erica Murray

Since spending her formative compositional years in Europe, Gillian Karawe Whitehead has divided her time between Australia (where she taught composition at the Sydney Conservatorium for 15 years, taking significant periods of leave without pay to focus on writing) and her native New Zealand, where she is now living in Dunedin.

Three-times winner of the APRA/SOUNZ composition competition, in 1999 she was awarded the MNZM for services to music, in 2000 she was honoured by the Arts Foundation of New Zealand for artistic achievement as one of their five inaugural Laureates, and in 2003 she was given a DMus (honoris causa) by Victoria University of Wellington. From 2000-2001 she was composer-in-residence with the Auckland Philharmonia, and for a year in 2005-6 she was the CNZ/NZSM composer-in-residence, living in the Lilburn House in Wellington.

Her music has been widely performed and broadcast both nationally and internationally, and numerous pieces have been published or released on disc. Her output includes operas and monodramas, works for orchestra and other large ensembles as well as numerous chamber, choral, instrumental and solo works.

Whitehead's writing has evolved out of the modernist tradition, and has in recent years drawn significantly on improvisation and, more recently, on her Maori heritage. A significant number of pieces involve voice and text; collaboration with writers, dancers and performers is most important to her. Fleur Adcock and Anna Maria dell'Oso are the writers with whom she has most frequently worked, and her collaboration with the taonga puoro (singing treasures – the range of Maori musical instruments) player Richard Nunns has resulted in a number of pieces which combine taonga puoro with various ensembles of traditional western instruments.

An invitation to present a programme of Whitehead's music in Jakarta in 2004 led to the formation of the group Tuhonohono, which presents programmes of her music influenced by Maori language and traditions.

Pieces written and performed during 2006 include Karohirohi, commissioned for the NZSO and featuring the harp, Hineteiwaiwa, commissioned by Canada's ERGO ensemble and Piano Trio, commissioned by the New Zealand Trio, while Puhake ki te rangi, written for the New Zealand String Quartet and Richard Nunns, will be premiered in February 2007.


Biography provided by the composer — current to January 2007

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Piano trio (trios: piano, violin, cello) (2005) Commissioned by NZTrio.

Analysis & Media

Book: Moon, tides & shoreline : Gillian Karawe Whitehead: a life in music / Noel Sanders.

- Article: Women of note

- Document: Five Songs of Hildegarde von Bingen Song Company and Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir 1984

- Review: Virgins and Nightingales The Song Company St James Church 29 May 1992

- Review: The Song Company Women and Music September 1994

- Review: The Song Company Viewing 30 May 1999