Ariana Tikao and Philip Brownlee are finalists for the 2022 SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha for the work ‘Manaakifor taonga puoro and string quartet. We caught up with Ariana & Phil to find out more about the piece.

How did your work Manaaki come about?

Manaaki was commissioned by Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts, for a programme by the New Zealand String Quartet, with Horomona Horo playing taonga puoro. We had also planned for a performance at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson, with Bob Bickerton. After a series of Covid-related disruptions, the premiere was filmed, with Ariana on the taonga puoro part, and presented online during the 2022 NZ Festival. Since then, Horomona has performed it with NZSQ in Canberra, in May 2022.

Given that this was a creative collaboration, was there anything unusual in your approach to composing this particular work? Did it pose any specific challenges?

Collaborative partnership is less common in concert music, but it’s an approach that both of us really value. We’ve worked together on other projects, so this was a chance to develop and deepen our creative relationship.

We also really appreciate the support we had from the performers – we had some great sessions with the Quartet, and with Bob, where we could try out ideas, and get a feel for how the sounds all fitted together.

Where did you began when composing Manaaki?

The process began with conversations about the kaupapa of the work – about the story we’re telling, and how we were going to represent that in music. We arrived at the idea of using the process of a pōwhiri as the framework of the music, and drawing inspiration from the meanings of the stages of the traditional ritual of encounter.

Manaaki is a remarkable, and in many ways special, work because it combines taonga puoro and string quartet. Can you explain a little about how that works?

In Manaaki we worked from the pitch and timbre of particular taonga in Ariana’s kete. They have unique voices, so Bob and Horomona needed to findinstruments which fit in the same space. Bob even made a pūtōrino specific to this piece! Then in performance we’re bringing together different performance practices – the taonga puoro part is improvised, and the written score is opened up to create space for this. We’re aiming to draw the players into each other’s worlds.

Can you describe your feelings when you heard Manaaki lifted from the page and performed?

It’s so rewarding to work with committed performers like the New Zealand String Quartet. The score doesn’t really become music until it’s played, and in a piece like Manaaki, where some elements are different in each performance, it’s thrilling to watch the music grow, as the performers put themselves into it.

Are you planning more collaborations with each other?

Yes, in the work we’ve made together, it feels like we’ve reached places that neither of us could have got to on our own. We’d love to keep going on this journey.

What does it mean to you to be finalists for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award this year?

We’re very excited for our work to be recognised, and ngā mihi nui to the people and organisations who have supported and encouraged us. And it’s an honour to stand alongside Neville and Reuben as finalists.