Written by Joanne Barrett
A style originated in the 1800s, epitomised by the revival of medieval Gothic forms of mock fortifications, pointed arches and curved ceilings. The construction of St Matthew’s was completed in 1905 and to this day it remains a prominent architectural feature on the corner of Hobson Street and Wellesley Street in central city Auckland.
St Matthew’s is broad-minded in its approach and takes a solid stance on its commitment to accepting all people. Over the years it has been openly vocal on a range of social issues such as the call to end discrimination against gays and lesbians within the Anglican church along with support for the bill to legalise same-sex marriage.
Through its regular onsite billboards, it often takes a satirically humorous approach with messages such as: “Hell no, we’re not giving up pizza for Lent” or, “Open Home – Monday to Sunday”.
An open home, St Matthew’s certainly is. And not just for the people. It opens its doors for the annual ‘Blessing of the Animals’ held in October, when every imaginable four-legged pet and some two-legged feathered ones (and their owners), turn up for the occasion.
St Matthew-in-the-City, “A spirited place where people stand, connect, and seek common ground”
When one thinks of the quote from William Shakespeare, “If music be the food of love, play on”, and Edgar Winter, “Music is very spiritual, it has the power to bring people together”, then it is no wonder music plays a major part in the events at St Matthew’s.
The church’s latest initiative, First Tuesday is a new series of lunchtime concerts featuring outstanding smaller ensembles held on the first Tuesday in the month. Programmed for inner city people and local office workers it is a great opportunity to hear music in the warm and generous acoustic. Entry is by koha.
First Tuesday – a series of lunchtime concerts run from 12.10pm to 12.50pm on the first Tuesday in the month until November 2018. If a lunchtime concert doesn’t fit the schedule, then a Sunday afternoon concert might just be the ticket. Every year, St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra (SMCO) holds a series of six Sunday afternoon concerts in St Matthew’s church. These concerts attract well-known national and international soloists and conductors and, more recently, included a special programme that featured promising young talent selected from New Zealand’s top music schools.
A non-profit cooperative SMCO is Auckland’s longest-established chamber orchestra and for more than 40 years has enjoyed a close association with St Matthew-in-the-City. It considers the church its performance home.
Although most of the orchestra members work in full-time careers, they are highly accomplished musicians who enjoy performing and playing for the love of music. They willingly contribute to all aspects of the orchestra’s organisation.
“Beyond the initial fulfilment of its playing members it sees its role as a community asset in that it explores opportunities that help meet the needs of aspiring New Zealand musicians.”An annual Children’s School concert series was established in 2012. SMCO visited schools Auckland-wide, to present an interactive concert. Since its inception the programme has grown and now presents to over 1800 children annually. It involves children as soloists in the performances and provides teachers with related learning resources.
Recently formed into a classical symphony orchestra, SMCO has a wide repertoire of music and is committed to offering opportunities for musicians, composers and conductors from all over New Zealand.
Many SMCO members come from Auckland, and amongst them is long-time Grey Lynn resident, Simon Ansell.SMCO violinist Simon Ansell moved to Grey Lynn in 1991, into what he describes as a reasonably rough but serviceable villa in Scanlan Street, and with Grey Lynn constantly developing and expanding, he says it is a great place to live.
“Music runs in the family,” says Simon. “My older sister Gillian is the violist with the New Zealand String Quartet, so is a full-time musician. My three daughters have learnt a combination of piano and violin and have performed in school orchestras. I’ve played violin for over 45 years, in fact I play a violin made by well-known French maker Collin-Mezin of Paris.”
Simon was taught to play violin by renowned teacher, Heather Smith. She also taught, amongst numerous others, Simon’s sister Gillian Ansell, Wilma Smith, the former leader of NZSO and Melbourne Symphony, and Michael McLellan, leader emeritus of SMCO.
“I have been with SMCO for an alarming number of years, about 27 of them,” says Simon. “We play a wide repertoire with a constantly varying and very fine set of conductors and soloists which means there is a mix of continuity and variation. Participating in the orchestra requires an intense time commitment for the week of a concert, which doesn't always suit students or young parents. So, the players' age tends to stay constant from 30-year olds and up.”
Despite this, each year there is at least one concert involving younger people - either as composers or performers. It is a rare and exciting opportunity for them to perform in a substantive concert with a full-size orchestra and professional conductor.
“St Matthew-in the-City is a magnificent building to be in and to be associated with,” says Simon. For anyone who has dedicated many years to their passion, there will inevitably be a standout moment, and for Simon it was a concert about 10 years ago in which the orchestra played the famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis (Tallis Fantasia) by Vaughan-Williams. Simon led the orchestra, playing the famous leader's solo in the St Matthew’s stunning church acoustic. An unforgettable experience.
With St Matthew-in-the-City’s ongoing dedication to all people, the passion and commitment of the SMCO and audience attendances on the rise, and with loyalty from people like Simon Ansell - for love, tolerance and acceptance, learning and developing, for entertainment and music, and the next generation - the future looks bright.