One of the Competition’s core objectives is to showcase the breadth and depth of talent here in New Zealand. We proudly place our competitors alongside New Zealand’s wonderful artists.
Queenstown – Semi-final Rounds I & II
- Diedre Irons, ONZM, Canada/New Zealand – Piano
- Sarah Watkins, New Zealand – Piano
- Kenneth Young, New Zealand – Composer
Auckland – Round III (Piano Trios)
- Ashley Brown, New Zealand – Cello
- Michael Houstoun, CNZM, New Zealand – Piano
Auckland – Final Round (with Orchestra)
- Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand – Orchestra
- Rumon Gamba, United Kingdom – Conductor
Diedre Irons, ONZM, Canada/New Zealand – Piano
Diedre Irons is one of New Zealand’s most distinguished performing musicians. Born in Winnipeg, Canada, she made her debut with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12 playing the Schumann Piano concerto. She graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and was subsequently invited by her teacher, Rudolf Serkin, to join the faculty of that prestigious conservatory where she taught for the next seven years. During those years she toured Canada and the United States as a soloist and as a chamber music player.
Since moving to New Zealand in 1977 she has performed regularly with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Auckland Philharmonia and the Christchurch Symphony, toured many times under the auspices of Chamber Music New Zealand, and recorded extensively for Radio New Zealand. With the Christchurch Symphony and conductor Marc Taddei she has recorded the complete Beethoven Piano Concerti on the Trust label. She continues to travel internationally having to date presented concerts in 25 countries.
She was awarded an MBE in 1989 and an ONZM in 2011 for services to music and in 2007 received the degree Doctor of Music (honoris causa) from Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada. She taught at the University of Canterbury from 1992-2003 and has recently left her position as head of classical performance at the New Zealand School of Music in order to focus fully on her own career as a concert pianist.
Sarah Watkins, New Zealand – Piano
Sarah Watkins has enjoyed an impressive career as chamber musician, collaborative partner and recording artist, touring widely throughout Japan, England and the US with some of America’s leading instrumentalists. In 2002 Sarah formed NZTrio with violinist Justine Cormack and cellist Ashley Brown, a group which has since become one of New Zealand’s leading music ensembles. Sarah has been an official pianist for the Michael Hill International Violin Competition since its inception in 2001, has performed as a freelance player in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra, and has appeared as concerto soloist with St. Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra and the APO.
Sarah is a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, where she earned both Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in collaborative piano. Resident in the US for fourteen years, Sarah was a staff pianist at Juilliard, Yale University and the Aspen Music Festival. Among academic highlights was her work as coordinator of the collaborative piano program at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, and several years tenure on the music faculty of Purchase College, New York. During the period 2004-2009 NZTrio was ensemble in residence at the University of Auckland, where Sarah also taught collaborative piano and chamber music.
Ashley Brown, New Zealand – Cello
New Zealand-born cellist Ashley Brown won the Young Musicians Competition, the National Concerto Competition and a Young Achievers Award. He also won prizes at the Adam International Cello Competition, Gisborne International Music Competition and the ROSL Music Competition in London. After graduating Master of Music from Canterbury with teacher Alexander Ivashkin, Ashley gained the Artist Diploma at Yale University under Aldo Parisot, and took further lessons in London with William Pleeth. While living in America and England Ashley gained valuable experience there and throughout Europe in cello competitions and masterclasses, orchestras and chamber groups, as well as solo recitals.
He returned to New Zealand in 1999 to become the cellist of the Turnovsky Trio, and artist in residence at the University of Waikato. During his three years there he was also Cello Lecturer at the Universities of Waikato and Canterbury. Ashley then moved to Auckland to take up the position of Principal Cellist in the Auckland Philharmonia and, in 2002, founded NZTrio with violinist Justine Cormack and pianist Sarah Watkins.
In 2004 NZTrio became the first Ensemble in Residence at the University of Auckland. There, Ashley was Senior Lecturer in Cello. Since the end of that five-year residency, NZTrio has become an independent institution with a busy schedule of local and international concerts and recordings. It is described as a powerful advocate for chamber music old and new – “a national treasure”.
Alongside his work with NZTrio, Ashley presents solo recitals, concertos, ensemble performances and a variety of recording projects. He enjoys collaborating with musicians across the spectrum of musical genres, having worked closely with composers such as Victoria Kelly, Jack Body, Phil Dadson, David Downes, Samuel Holloway, Michael Norris and Gillian Whitehead, and also with songwriters such as Mark de Clive-Lowe, Sean Donnelly, Neil Finn, King Kapisi, Don McGlashan, Moana Maniapoto, Anika Moa and Bic Runga. He recently completed a six-year doctoral research project into the collaborative relationship between performer and composer, and was inducted as a Doctor of Musical Arts by the University of Auckland.
Michael Houstoun, CNZM, New Zealand – Piano
Michael Houstoun was born in Timaru in 1952 and showed an early aptitude for music. Under the tutelage of Sr Mary Eulalie and Maurice Till he moved through the examination grades and by the age of 18 had won every major piano competition in New Zealand.
His first international success came in 1973 when he won third prize at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Further study with Rudolf Serkin followed and in 1975 he took fourth prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition. After six years living in the USA and London (where he undertook valuable study with Brigitte Wild) he returned to New Zealand in 1981 where he has remained ever since.
One more international competition, the Tchaikovsky in 1982 where he took sixth place, signalled the end of his competitive career. Since then he has amassed a large repertoire (40 concertos, the complete Beethoven sonatas etc) covering most styles from JS Bach to the present day and including chamber music, orchestral scores, song accompaniment, and many commissions from New Zealand composers.
His awards include the Turnovsky Prize (1982), an honorary doctorate in literature (Massey University, 1999), a New Zealand Arts Foundation laureateship (2007), an honorary doctorate in music (Victoria University of Wellington, 2011), Life Membership of Chamber Music New Zealand, and he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Birthday honours.
He is Advocate for Chamber Music New Zealand and Patron of the Nelson School of Music, the Regent on Broadway theatre in Palmerston North, the Kerikeri International Piano Competition, The New Zealand Institute of Registered Music Teachers and the New Zealand Music Examinations Board.
Although he has played in the USA, Europe and Asia he currently restricts his performing life to New Zealand, happily free from the burdens of international travel and large scale professional infrastructures.
Kenneth Young, New Zealand – Composer
Kenneth Young is one of New Zealand’s most well-known and performed composers with a professional career which has expanded over the last 35 years. Numerous commissions from Chamber Music New Zealand, the NZSO, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, BBANZ, the International Festival of the Arts, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Vector Wellington Orchestra and Radio New Zealand have been regularly performed nationwide and also in the United States, Europe and Australia. Ken is currently the Composer in Residence at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
Recent premiers include his ‘Portrait’ for Solo Violin and Orchestra with the NZSO, ‘Lux Aeterna’ with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and ‘Four Questions, No Answers’ written for and first performed by the Australian contemporary music ensemble Southern Cross Soloists. He has twice been a finalist for the Sounz Contemporary Award.
Young is also one of New Zealand’s leading conductors. He works regularly with the NZSO and all the regional orchestras throughout the country. Outside of New Zealand he has worked with the Melbourne, Queensland, West Australian, Adelaide and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, Orchestra Victoria, the City of Osaka Sinfonia, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. In September he is conducting the premier of his Third Symphony with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and in November he will make his debut in China with the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra.
He has particularly enjoyed the many opportunities to perform Australian and New Zealand repertoire together in concert on both sides of the Tasman and has received considerable praise for his recordings of orchestral music from both countries.
Since 1988 he has been a member of the music faculty of the New Zealand School of Music at Victoria University Wellington where he lectures in conducting and orchestration. In 2004 Young was awarded the Lilburn Trust Citation in Recognition of Outstanding Services to New Zealand Music.
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand – Orchestra
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) is proud to have been the orchestral partner of the Michael Hill International Violin Competition since the competition’s beginnings, involved in the early rounds through operational aid and performing in concert with the finalists. APO supporters and patrons host and provide assistance and accommodation for the competitors, and through this have built lasting personal and musical links across the globe.
The APO is Auckland’s leading performing arts organisation and only resident professional symphony orchestra. In more than 80 performances annually, the APO presents a full season of symphonic work and supports both the NBR New Zealand Opera and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.
The orchestra collaborates with some of New Zealand’s most inventive artists, and is the orchestra of choice for visiting international classical musicians and popular acts alike.
Through its numerous education initiatives the APO offers opportunities to more than 25,000 young people and adults nationwide to participate in music, ranging from hip-hop and rock to contemporary and classical.
More than 100,000 people hear the orchestra live each year, with many thousands more reached through special events, other media and recordings on the APO Live and Naxos music labels.
Rumon Gamba, United Kingdom – Conductor
British-born Rumon Gamba is Principal Conductor and Music Director of NorrlandsOperan and Chief Conductor of the Aalborg Symfoniorkester, having served as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra between 2002-2010. He is an exclusive recording artist for Chandos.
A champion of new music, Rumon Gamba has given several high profile premieres including the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys with English National Opera, the Swedish premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage Blood on the Floor at NorrdlandsOperan and the Icelandic premiere of Turnage Scherzoid with Iceland Symphony Orchestra, as well as the world premiere of Brett Dean with BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Guest engagements in the 2014/15 season and beyond include concerts with the Residentie Orkest; Sinfonieorchester Basel; the Orquestas Sinfónicas de Galicia, de Euskadi, and del Principado de Asturias; the Auckland Philharmonia; and the Tivoli, Tampere, Queensland, BBC and Helsingborg Symphony orchestras. In North America Gamba has worked with the New York Philharmonic; the Toronto and Indianapolis Symphony orchestras; and the NAC Orchestra Ottawa. He has worked with all the major Australian orchestras as well as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong, Osaka and Nagoya Philharmonic orchestras.
Rumon Gamba is an exclusive Chandos recording artist and recent projects include an ongoing series of discs with Iceland Symphony Orchestra; one of which was nominated for a Grammy Award.