The many restrictions on performing imposed by Covid-19 have not quelled the zeal of this year’s seven young recipients of a Kiwi Music Scholarship.
Western Bay of Plenty soprano Felicity Tomkins along with Pianists Modi Deng and Grace Francis, tenor Harry Grigg, violinists April Ju and Claudia Tarrant-Matthews and soprano Sophie Sparrow have each received a scholarship of between $8,000 and $15,000.
The scholarship was established in 2009 by Sven Stenbäck in memory of his wife, Maida Stenbäck née Saunders, a New Zealander who loved classical music.
It is to help further the musical education of Aotearoa New Zealand citizens who have demonstrated accomplishment in musical performance (including vocal performance) or conducting.
The selection committee was delighted to have such an outstanding group of applicants, says its chair, Emeritus Professor Peter Walls.
“It is impressive to see these young people managing to persevere with excellent study plans despite the uncertainties and constraints of the pandemic.”
Felicity Tomkins, aged 25 and from Te Puke in Bay of Plenty, is studying for an Artist Diploma at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in the United States.
She has previously completed a Master of Music and conjoint Bachelor of Music with Honours and Bachelor of Science at Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato – University of Waikato.
After a strong musical grounding in New Zealand, including as a Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist with NZO and in four of NZO’s summer schools, Felicity is excited to be embarking on her first steps overseas. She has been described as a voice to watch on the national scene.
Modi Deng, aged 24 and from Dunedin, is described as “outstandingly gifted” by Professor Joanna MacGregor, Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Modi is studying for an Advanced Diploma at the Royal Academy, having completed a Professional Diploma there. She previously completed a Master of Music with Honours, a Bachelor of Music with Honours and a Bachelor of English at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland.
Despite Covid-19, Modi travelled to London to start her Professional Diploma in September 2020 and has now returned after a break in New Zealand so she could practise more freely.
Next year, Modi will make her debut at London’s Wigmore Hall, performing with the Nash Ensemble. As part of her Advanced Diploma, she will present a research-based recital of music on a postcolonial theme. Earlier this year, she directed a multimedia project that combined Ravel’s Miroirs with Colin McCahon's art, contemporary dance and animation.
She is also a poet, with verse in two Auckland University Press anthologies published this year.
Modi is a past winner of New Zealand’s National Concerto Competition and runner-up in the country’s Wallace National Piano Competition and National Young Performer Awards.
Grace Francis, aged 30 and from Cambridge in Waikato, is one of the most sought-after collaborative pianists at The Juilliard School in New York, a significant achievement in a competitive pool of top-rank pianists.
Her talents have also been recognised outside the school by leading figures such as soprano Renée Fleming and the heads of the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera music staffs.
Grace is at Juilliard as a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar and has just completed a Master of Music there, having graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Music with Honours.
Her Kiwi Music Scholarship supports her continuing her studies in New York undertaking a Doctor of Musical Arts specialising in collaborative piano for vocalists.
“Before starting at Juilliard, I already had a long-term goal of becoming a university professor for collaborative piano in New Zealand,” says Grace.
“New Zealand is full of young pianists with enthusiasm for working collaboratively and earning my doctorate at Julliard will allow me to become a part of helping them grow in the future.”
Harry Grigg, aged 25 and from Cheviot in Canterbury, received a Kiwi Music Scholarship last year and has been awarded a second towards continuing his studies for a Master of Performance at the Royal College of Music in London.
Harry graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Music with Honours, having previously studied at Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo – University of Otago. He has performed extensively in New Zealand and Australia in concerts and with New Zealand Opera (NZO).
Much of Harry’s time at the Royal College has been dominated by Covid-19, he says, with classes online, only a select number of coaching sessions in person, and competitions, auditions and assessments postponed.
Despite this, he says, “I have continued to develop my languages, I am singing better than ever, and my technique is continuing to improve. And there is still much to come, including inter-college competitions and opera scenes to work on. I can’t wait to be back on stage collaborating with my peers.”
April Ju, aged 24 and from Christchurch, is half-way through her Master of Arts at the Royal Academy of Music but is currently in New Zealand, where she has been stranded because of Covid-19 and is waiting for her visa to be processed so she can return to London.
While in New Zealand, April performed in the finals of the National Concerto Competition, winning third place. In London, chances to perform have been disrupted but she nonetheless says the opportunities and experiences she has had “have truly enhanced my musical learning”.
One of April’s most cherished experiences has been the loan of a nineteenth-century Enrico Ceruti violin from the Royal Academy Museum.
“The instrument possesses this incredibly sonorous tone, while also having a sweet and mellow upper register, and has helped me to build a wider palette of colours, textures and dynamics,” she says.
April graduated from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Music with Honours, has been a casual violinist with the NZSO since 2019 and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra since 2014, and was concertmaster for the NZSO’s National Youth Orchestra in 2019.
Next year, she will be a Young Artist at the Wakatipu Music Festival in Queenstown.
Sophie Sparrow, aged 28 and from Whangārei, received a Kiwi Music Scholarship in 2019 and last year and has been awarded a third to complete her Advanced Diploma in the Royal Academy of Music’s Royal Academy Opera programme, which functions as a small opera company within the Academy.
Described as an emerging artist of rare distinction, Sophie says her time in the programme has given her “incredible opportunities to work with fantastic musicians, directors and stage management”.
Her performances include Tytania (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Belinda (Dido and Aeneas), Despina (Così fan tutte) and Nella (Gianni Schicchi).
She was also part of Whānau London Voices: Voices of Aotearoa, far from home, for which United Kingdom-based New Zealand opera singers came together at the Royal Albert Hall.
Sophie previously completed a Master of Performance from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and a conjoint Bachelor of Music with Honours and Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting from the University of Otago.
She was a Dame Malvina Major Foundation Wellington Aria competition winner in 2019 and Lexus Song Quest finalist in 2016.
This year, she was a Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition Vocal and Overseas Finalist (winning the Tait Memorial Trust Prize) and Kathleen Ferrier Award Semi-Finalist.
Claudia Tarrant-Matthews, aged 23 and from Wellington, received a Kiwi Music Scholarship last year and has been awarded a second as she augments her Covid-impacted, predominantly online studies for a Master of Arts at the Royal Academy of Music with a Professional Diploma there specialising in violin and piano recital playing.
The recitals are often in partnership with fellow Kiwi Music Scholarship recipient Modi Deng, with whom last year she formed The Awa Duo. This collaboration has upcoming performances at Southwark Cathedral and in the Royal Academy concert series.
“Creativity and collaboration are essential parts of building a professional performance career and, with help from the Kiwi Music Scholarship, a Professional Diploma at the Royal Academy will help me enrich and develop these skills,” says Claudia.
During her time at the Royal Academy, Claudia has had principal positions for many internal projects, such as the elite Academy Soloists Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra.
She is another past concertmaster of the NZSO’s National Youth Orchestra and currently plays regularly with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), including their tours to Turkey and Germany earlier this year.
In July, she was concertmaster for the LPO ‘Debut Sounds’ concert at the Royal Festival Hall, in collaboration with the Foyle Future Firsts scheme for which she is currently violinist.
A talented pianist as well as violinist, Claudia graduated with a Bachelor of Music from Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī.