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NZSO fires up a Stravinsky masterpiece for four-date tour in April

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The music of Igor Stravinsky continues to set hearts on fire, and none more so than his breakthrough masterpiece The Firebird to be performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in April.

Led by top New Zealand conductor Hamish McKeich, Firebird in association with Ryman Healthcare will be presented in Wellington, Tauranga, Napier, and Auckland.

The concert also features renowned pianist Diedre Irons playing Mozart’s sublime Piano Concerto No. 23, considered one of his finest concertos. Firebird opens with New Zealand-born Canadian composer Juliet Palmer’s Buzzard. The spirited and mesmerising work was inspired by Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Piotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

The Firebird was first devised as a ballet by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, artistic director of the famous Ballets Russes. Diaghilev wanted a ballet inspired by Russian folk tales and asked Stravinsky, then a respected but little-known young composer, to write music for the premiere of The Firebird in 1910.

The Firebird made Stravinsky a star and led to further great works for ballets, including Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

The Firebird also has a special place in NZSO history. In 1961 Stravinsky himself came to New Zealand to conduct the NZSO in Wellington and Auckland. The programme included The Firebird.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 is considered the perfect example of the composer’s genius. He could take any musical genre and elevate it to its absolute supreme level. Like Palmer, Irons has spent considerable time in both New Zealand and North America, studying first in Canada, then studying and teaching at the Curtis Institute.

Her long and illustrious career as soloist, chamber musician and educator has seen her record all five Beethoven Concerti with Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, collaborate with the New Zealand, Kodaly, and Latin American String Quartets, and receive an MBE and ONZM for services to music.

Palmer wrote Buzzard after being invited by l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal to contribute a piece to a concert already featuring Swan Lake and Firebird.

"I wanted to discover how this Russian dance music works," Palmer said before Buzzard premiered in 2003. "Like a buzzard I swallowed the two pieces by Piotr and Igor. I chewed well - I wanted to digest them thoroughly."

Tickets to Firebird in Wellington and Auckland are available from and in Tauranga and Napier from

Firebird is part of the NZSO’s new Immerse 2021 festival in April, May, and July. The national festival of 24 concerts will be presented in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier, Palmerston North, and Christchurch.

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