peter’s walls

Peter Walls can certainly be described as a musical Renaissance Man, or perhaps it should be Baroque Man. He is a noted baroque violinist and scholar in the field of early music and beyond, a teacher, a professor, and has been Head of Victoria University’s School of Music for many years, arts administrator, former CEO of the NZSO, conductor, and, if that level of over-achievement isn’t enough, he has recently retired as CEO of Chamber Music New Zealand. Inside Walls’ delightful Wellington home hangs a huge collection of paintings, prints, lithographs and photography.

While we talked to Peter about some parts of his extraordinarily rich musical life, you can also take a look at Peter Walls’ well, walls.

Where that energy and passion for music came from could well be attributed to the rich musical upbringing given to Walls from his mother. Coming from a musical family who settled in New Zealand from Ireland, her father was a builder, who also happened to make violins, a few of which Peter still owns and has on display:

Walls’ mother taught him the piano from an early age, but it was in Standard 3 when his teacher, introduced him to the violin. “He was German, and he played violin and the zither. I thought violin was neat – I also thought the zither was neat, but it had limited possibilities…! However, Mum said I could only learn the violin if I got distinction in piano, so I’d better do that! I learnt from Enid Dunn, who was a bit eccentric, but was also brilliant, and she really took it off for me at that point, and I ended up doing a degree in violin performance at Victoria – and neglected the piano through 3 years of study. Mum said, “Peter, you do need to learn the piano” – and she arranged lessons with Judith Clarke.”

“I learnt from Judith until I went to Oxford. She was totally stimulating in ways I don’t understand -Judith didn’t say much. But what she did do is think about repertoire the whole time, she would say, “this would suit you”, and get you onto wonderful things. Lessons were just sitting beside shaking her head or moving, she was about learning the repertoire.

She had an obsession with sound quality which is so important, and I was lucky to have.”

Walls’ recollections of his time at Oxford is like reading a ‘who’s who’ of Early Music. Names like Christopher Hogwood, Emma Kirkby, Nicholas McGegan, Siegiswald Kuijken, Andrew Parrott, Jane Glover, The English Consort, The Academy of Ancient Music all feature, and Peter Walls was right in the middle of it. He established relationships which carried on through his academic career, and which are ongoing; his current projects include editing two volumes in the Geminiani Opera Omnia, a project first led by Christopher Hogwood.

As Chief Executive of Chamber Music New Zealand from 2015-2018 Walls’ contribution was immense. He concentrated on diversification for the program and the sense of a season needing to have a structure. “I knew when I came in, I wanted to have some high-end period instrumental performance in it, and that we should be doing this – no one in New Zealand can bring in these top groups. I wanted it contemporary, but in a way of not chasing people away. And there was the idea of bookends, the final tour had to have huge appeal for when we are trying to sell the following year, and the first of the year had to be able to fit into major festivals.”

The health of NZ’s music landscape is encouraging, according to Walls.

“What goes on in NZ is extraordinary given size of population – especially with choral music, Tudor Consort, Youth Choir, and National Youth Orchestra. The level of what coming through the Chamber Music Contest is extremely good. It is all very encouraging.”

Despite his retirement there isn’t any danger of Peter Walls slowing down. He conducts a Note Bene performance of the St John Passion with Chiesa in this April, he is still involved in his research, he continues as Chair of Lilburn Resident’s Trust, Trustee Kiwi Music Trust, Judith Clarke Memorial Fund – the list goes on!

But mostly he will be spending his time as a “professional grandfather” – with his two little grandsons, David and Michael.

in this issue…


Creative New Zealand | Toi Aotearoa