First outings for Octagon Ensemble

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First performance ahead . . . Octagon Ensemble singers and instrumentalists (from left) Tessa Romano, Michelle Walker, Rosemary Tarbotton, Courtney Hickmott, Anna Tarbotton, Sophie Gangi, Emma McClean, Daniel Dance, John Buchanan, Olivia Pike, Sharon McLennan, Sara Brown and Ondine Gotschalk will present their first performances in Invercargill and Dunedin this weekend. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Dunedin’s newest chamber music group, The Octagon Ensemble, will present its first public concerts this weekend, in Invercargill and Dunedin.

Led by director John Buchanan and artistic adviser-vocal coach Dr Tessa Romano, The Octagon Ensemble’s Dunedin concert will be held this Sunday, March 1, from 2.30pm at Knox Church. Entry is via door sales.

Entitled “Beginnings”, the concert will feature a broad range of works, from early music through to modern, melodic pieces, in a programme including Monteverdi, von Bingen, Biebl, Poulenc, Chilcott, Gjeilo, Ramsey, Hagen and Lauridsen.

The Octagon Ensemble was founded by Buchanan and Romano last year, after they felt there was a space in the local landscape for a small scale ensemble of highly skilled musicians and singers.

The performers in Sunday’s concert will include pianist Sharon McLennan, instrumentalists Craig Monk, Sally Couper, Alan Starrett, Anna Petersen and Daniel Dance, and vocal ensemble Anna Tarbotton, Courtney Hickmott, Emma McClean, Michelle Walker, Olivia Pike, Ondine Gotschalk, Rosemary Tarbotton, Sara Brown, Sophie Gangl and Tessa Romano.

Buchanan returned to Dunedin in early 2019 after a lengthy career as choral and orchestral conductor in Auckland, the United Kingdom, and in Central Otago. He was musical director for Opera Otago’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado in August.

Dr Tessa Romano came to Dunedin last year from New York to take up a position as lecturer in voice at the University of Otago’s School of Performing Arts. She also has an extensive background in choral music, both as a singer and educator.

A keen tramper, Romano is loving the experience of living in Dunedin and is excited to be able to bring some of her voice students into The Octagon Ensemble.

“There are a lot of opportunities for voices in the chamber music and choral settings, so the more experience they have, the better,” Romano said.

“Having and ensemble involving such experienced musicians and singers means we can adapt quickly to take on a broad variety of works,” Buchanan said.

“There are a lot of wonderful modern works that are rarely heard, so we are excited to bring them to audiences.”

For both Romano and Buchanan, it is important to bring parity to musical performances, and Sunday’s programme features many women composers, including the much-loved 11th century abbess, writer and composer Hildegard von Bingen.

“What we wanted to do in this concert is to show the breadth of stylistic ability from very early works through to modern pieces,” Romano said.

Because the vocal ensemble for Sunday’s concert is all women, the works have been arranged by their composers for first and second soprano, and first and second alto.

In future concerts, The Octagon Ensemble will also include male singers and perform works for soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.

“We will be a new ensemble every time, which will allow us to present a great variety of works,” Romano said.