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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Water comes to life through NZSO Baroque Series

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

One of the most loved pieces from the baroque period is set to take audiences in Southland for a classical music ride next week.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will perform Water Music at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill next Thursday (September 12) showcasing Georg Philipp Telemann’s Water Music and George Frideric Handel’s Water Music.

The pieces were written six years apart during the baroque period, which covers the years 1600 through to 1750, with Handel’s piece first performed on a barge on the River Thames in London in 1717 at the request of King George I who wanted a concert performed on the water.

The concert was so popular with the king that he made the orchestra perform it another three times, with thousands of London residents rushing outside when hearing the performance to watch it.

Telemann’s piece was written as an “inventive orchestral suite” to celebrate the centennial of the Hamburg Admiralty and attempted to “take the audience on an emotive journey”. It was first performed in 1723.

The show is part of the NZSO’s 2019 Baroque Series and orchestra concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen, who is also serving as director of the show, said audiences would be in awe at the spectacular nature of the performance.

He said both pieces of music would help make the audience feel as though they were listening to water through music and translate just why the original performances were so popular.

“Nobody had ever done anything like it and of course as a musician I sort of think about practicalities like sitting on a barge with just a little breeze, picking the music from the water and how was it set up because Handel always wanted as big an orchestra as possible and it’s rumoured that there were 50 players on that barge… you can imagine water carries sound really well. Acoustically it would’ve been a really interesting experience.”

Leppänen, who has been NZSO concertmaster since 2003, said performing Water Music was an “exhilarating” experience.

Variety is fantastic. Because something like Handel is such a variety. The variety really is the key and as long as that happens it’s always enjoyable.”

Water Music takes place at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill on Thursday, September 12. Tickets are available via

This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here

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