The Queen’s Closet – 2023 Season Preview

We’re very excited to present a preview of our main programme planned for 2023, with seven projects to delight, entertain and move you.  As always, our aim is to present lesser-known repertoire, and to explore the music in innovative ways, using cutting edge period performance practice of the 17th century for 21st century performances.  As ever, our goal is to make meaningful connections with you, our audience, and to summarise the words of Quantz, to make ourselves masters of the hearts of our listeners, to arouse or still your passions, and to transport you now to this sentiment, now to that.

The Shows

Echoes: Musicking Across the Centuries, 24th February. Music by Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten. St Peter’s on Willis as part of Mahi Toi

Musicking with Several Friends, 4th/5th March, NZ Fringe 2023. Series of four individual one-hour programmes in a small and informal setting. Tickets here.

Decodance & Trumpet Signals, 25th/26th March, CubaDupa.

The Judgment of Paris, 30th July, Hannah Playhouse.

Three ‘mini-operas’ realised from operas by Francesca Caccini, Antonio Vivaldi and Jean-Baptiste Lully, 2nd/3rd September, Classical on Cuba.

Harmonie Universelle, 15th October, Foxglove Ballroom.

Wassail, 10th December, Old St Paul’s. 

In February we start the year with a programme of music by Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten as part of the concert-series Mahi Toi titled, Echoes: Musicking Across the Centuries, featuring music by Purcell alongside works by Britten, written or realised in response to Purcell’s music.

Next we present Musicking with Several Friends, as a part of NZ Fringe 2023.  These are four different one-hour programmes in The Queen’s Closet’s base in central Wellington, each with its own unique flavour.  Tickets are limited to 20 for each show.  This is chamber music as it might have been experienced in the seventeenth century: in an informal setting, with a small audience of friends, that allows the music to be more fully appreciated.  Further details and tickets are available here.  

Last year we collaborated with Chrissie Parrott on her work Decodance (review here) and as part of CubaDupa our trumpeters will be heralding in the dancers as they reprise Decodance outdoors in the Hannah Courtyard.  You’ll also see—and hear—the ensemble’s natural trumpets performing Trumpet Signals along the rooftops of Cuba Street, showing how the instruments were originally designed and used to transmit messages across a long distances.  Cutting edge communications technology of the seventeenth century!

We will be performing again our successful show from 2022, The Judgment of Paris in the newly reopened Hannah Playhouse.  Again, ‘with our sense of style and fun we will bring this 300 year-old music to life for Wellingtonians today.’

In September, as part of the anticipated Classical on Cuba festival, we present Three mini-operas realised from operas by Francesca Caccini, Antonio Vivaldi and Jean-Baptiste Lully.  In these shows we realise three baroque operas into three short ‘mini-operas,’ each lasting less than an hour.  Together these three colourful, concise and self-contained shows will also tell one story.  Dip into one or two mini-operas, or see all three!

For Harmonie Universelle we delve into the glorious world of the French Baroque, featuring the spactacular Te Deum by the massively underrated Michel-Richard De Lalande, alongside music by Philidor, Lully, Charpentier and others.

For Christmas 2023 we present Wassail, our take on seasonal festivities with colourful, festive and fun music from the Restoration and beyond.

We can’t wait to start musicking again with you over the coming year!

Returning Purpose to Music

Looking forward to next year’s QC season I was intrigued to read a review of a new translation of an essay from 1815 by Quatremère de Quincy.  The essay in question is titled Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art.  In it de Quatremère de Quincy argues, among other things, against the placing of works of art in museums.  He argues that doing so, as later argued by David Carrier,[1] who coined the term ‘museum scepticism’, that doing so ‘strips them of essential facets of their meaning.’[2]  This process has been described as ‘decontextualisation’ and ‘museumization.’  It’s argued further that this process strips art of its purpose and signals ‘society has no further use for that work.’[3]

For Quatremère de Quincy, performance of music in concerts was analogous to the attending of galleries to see art.  It could be argued, as I would, that performing of music intended for informal or theatre settings in a modern concert-hall setting[4] is analogous to the museumization of works of art and strips them of essential facets of their meaning.  Use of modern instruments and performance practices serves to further strip the music of meaning.

At The Queen’s Closet, what we are aiming to do is perhaps achieve a process for music, the opposite of museumization, perhaps demuseumization, or recontextualization?  We don’t therefore aim just to play music in ways which we think makes sense for the music, using period instruments and with an eye to authenticity, but also in ways which we hope gives audiences an experience of the music closer to the context in which the music was first heard.  With Cloverton for example, we placed the music of Purcell into a narrative with contemporary meaning here and now, as the original dramatic operas and theatre music of Purcell was originally intended and experienced there and then.  This approach, we hope, gives music back some of the lost facets of its meaning.  Of course the context of 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand is not the same as 17th century London, and neither are audiences.  The process of recontextualization is not a simple matter, and involves the creative use of period performance practice and contemporary cultural connection.  This is one of our key aims however, and we continue to explore the juxtaposition of early music with contemporary New Zealand context, cultures and people.  At the very least we hope that by giving the music an appropriate and analogous context, it is more meaningful for our audiences, and inspires better the strong reactions achieved by all great art.

Next year’s season is all about exploring our relationship with our audience, and all of our relationships and experiences with the music.  Across our 2023 season we will continue to use 17th century music in combination with a range of contemporary arts, including 20th and 21st century music and dance.  As always, no matter the scale of our performances—which will include small, friendly gatherings; church music in ballrooms and dance music in churches; and interacting with throngs of Wellingtonians up and down Cuba Street—we aim to engage, entertain and move everyone who is musicking with us.  We think our society, Pōneke and wider Aotearoa New Zealand, still has plenty of use for this music!

Gordon Lehany, Artistic and Musical Director, The Queen’s Closet.


Carrier, David. Museum Skepticism : A History of the Display of Art in Public Galleries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Small, Christopher. Musicking : The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: Hanover : University Press of New England, 1998.

Xhignesse, Michel-Antoine. ‘Quatremère De Quincy’s Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art: Introduction and Translation.’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 80, no. 4. (2022): 520-23. (accessed 24/12/2022).

[1] David Carrier. Museum skepticism : a history of the display of art in public galleries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

[2] Michel-Antoine Xhignesse. ‘Quatremère de Quincy’s Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art: Introduction and Translation.’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 80, no. 4. (2022): 520-23. 

[3] ibid

[4] For a fuller discussion of the modern music concert-hall and its culture see, Christopher Small. Musicking : The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: Hanover : University Press of New England, 1998.

Classical on Cuba and DecoDance


Before we present our new Semi-Opera later this year, we have a couple of somewhat different shows as part of the Classical on Cuba festival! One of these, in true QC style, presents contrasting seventeenth century music by Steffani and Bononcini for voice, and trumpets.

The other performance we’re involved with is DecoDance, a work by Internationally renowned and multi-award winning DANCE artist Chrissie Parrott AO.

Working with Chrissie and her dancers is an exciting new way for us to emphasise how period performance is both authentic and contemporary.

Chrissie explains: “The work is a pastiche with the underlying message that we are ultimately just simple human beings often hiding behind a public mask. It also triggers thoughts of colonialism…. but what attracts people to the work is its underlying dark humour.”

Dr Jo Pollitt says: “DecoDance is a work that reveals Chrissie’s unapologetic risk-taking in terms of staging and subject matter that results in visceral visual poetry that sparks rigorous conversation and keenly embodied experiences for audiences. Re staging DecoDance in New Zealand will enable a new audience to be impacted by a lineage of Dance Theatre that pitches audacious vaudeville scoring with satire, and humanness with the more-than-human.”

DecoDance will be performed in the grand foyer of the St James Theatre on both Saturday 23 July and Sunday 24 July, featuring four NZ based dancers and Soprano Barbara Paterson; with live accompaniment by The Queen’s Closet Baroque Orchestra led by Gordon Lehany.

Images of DecoDance: by Bohdan Warchomij

Media Contact: Tracy Routledge 0412 223 221 or


Why we love to Music

Many people write interesting and inspiring things about music, but I often come back to the writings of Christopher Small:

‘Of course music is a process rather than a product, a process in which all those present are taking part. That is why I coined the verb “to music,” defining it as “to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance.” Everyone present is musicking, and bears some responsibility for the event, for its success or failure. It is not a matter of performers (or composer-plus-performers) doing something for, or to, the rest of us. Whatever it is that is being done, we are all doing it together, whether the line separating performers from the rest is clear, as in a symphony concert, or whether it is blurred or nonexistent, as during that wonderful Sunday polka afternoon Keil took me to in Buffalo some years ago.’

Christopher Small, 1995.

When the QC play music we are always conscious that we are making music with our audience, and if we succeed it is because of those we are fortunate to be musicking with.

Reeds are like snowflakes

Sharon Lehany

If you ask most modern oboists how they go about making their reeds, they will usually tell you that they try to make every reed the same, following a very particular pattern that, at some point in their career, they found worked well for them.  To make reeds this way is to strive endlessly for the single, perfect product; anything else is practically unusable.  Wastage and frustration are high, and reedmaking often becomes a burden.

This approach to reedmaking unfortunately seems to be the norm amongst hoboy players as well, who can often tell you the design and dimensions of their reeds to the millimetre.  When I started playing the hoboy, I bought an excellent book for modern players on how to make hoboy reeds, which taught a very specific method and gave me the foundations for helping my hoboy find its voice.  It also happened that the book was written by my first mentor on hoboy, who also provided me with a selection of reeds to get started.  I duly learned to make copies of her reeds, and the result—my first reed case—looked like this:

A lineup of tidy clones…and yet part of the reason I had so many was that it was rare that I found one that seemed happy and played consistently well.

In time I became aware of just how many modern innovations most hoboy players rely on in their reed design, and also how modernised most modern replica hoboys are themselves.  Here in The Queen’s Closet we share an interest in historical equipment and techniques, rather than modernised adaptations, so I acquired my beautiful faithful replica of a c.1690 hoboy by Richard Haka, and then set about researching how to make more historically plausible hoboy reeds.

What I quickly learned is that there is no one ‘authentic,’ and certainly not one ‘best,’ reed design.  This should be obvious: even today, there are geographical, regional and personal differences in oboe reed design, often quite dramatic.  And yet, the dogma still seems to exist that each combination of person and instrument works best with one single design.  There are definitely some elements of personalisation to reed design, but overall what I’ve found is that different historically plausible designs simply have different characteristics and personalities and that it’s down to me to learn how to use each one.  I’m learning that I need to understand every piece of cane that I work with, in order to determine how to design the reed that it will become.

This is what my current reed case looks like:  

Every reed in the case is better or worse for different kinds of musicking, including when and where the music was composed, and of course the music’s affect.  Different reeds also vary in their resilience to Wellington’s endless changes in temperature and humidity.

The triangular, or ‘fishtail,’ shape of most of these reeds is, I believe, more consistent with seventeenth century and early eighteenth century reeds, and it leads to a much freer and more flexible sound.  The parallel shape of the last reed is probably a little bit later, with the earliest iconography I’m aware of for this kind of shape dating to the 1720s.  Parallel shaped reeds typically feel more contained to play and can often sound more refined, but less characterful.  The width of each reed is also different, with wider reeds (which evidence suggests may have been used more in seventeenth century England) giving a particularly full tone, and narrower reeds (perhaps more standard in Europe) favouring the upper register.

What surprised me most, though, was finding the length and shape of the scrape to be the most necessarily variable elements of reedmaking.  Most modern oboists belong in one of two camps: either ‘short scrape’ or ‘long scrape’ reeds.  Virtually nobody’s reed case, I suspect, would have a mix of the two.  However, what I’ve learned through my research is that the colour and playability of a reed not only can, but often should, be shaped and adapted through use of different lengths and shapes of scrape.  (I should say, though, that I only use simple, historically plausible scrapes; I don’t use elements of modern scrapes, such as the ‘spine’ or ‘heart’ of modern American-scrape oboe reeds, or the stepped-down tip that is characteristic of many modern oboe reed scrapes.)

So as I scrape each reed, I’ve learned to listen to what it’s telling me about how to get the best out of it and decide how to adapt my scrape as I go.  I no longer start making a reed assuming that I know what it will look like when it’s finished, and as a result, more often than not I can make a piece cane into a happily playable, and wildly individual, reed.  I think this is one of the most important things I’ve learned from my studies of historical hoboy reeds: that a box of hoboy reeds shouldn’t be like a string of paper dolls, but a collection of snowflakes.

Sharon is ensemble manager and hoboy player, and is also studying for a PhD at the New Zealand School of Music, focussing on seventeenth century hoboy reed design.

Crossing Fingers …

As we prepare for The Judgment of Paris next weekend, aware that the expanding numbers of Omicron cases may yet thwart our plans, I’m drawn back to what makes music special. For us it has always been, and remains, the experience of sharing our musicking with our audience. I’ve always liked the work of Christopher Small, who coined the term “musicking” – music not as a thing but an activity, and for us an activity shared with our audience. In 1995 Small wrote an anecdote:

I am preparing a performance, an encounter with my fellow-citizens of this little Catalan town, using material provided by Josef Haydn under the name of piano sonata. As I prepare the performance I find myself imagining my listeners, my fellow-musickers rather, most of whom I know and who know me, and drawing them in imagination into the encounter. On the night I hope to be empowered to do this in reality, since the performance will be meaningless without their critical but hopefully kindly collaboration.

Small, 1995

We’re enjoying rehearsing, drawing our audience in imagination into the encounter, as Small describes above. We’re excited with how things are going and think this show will be something very special, and we can’t wait to share this with our fellow-musickers in reality. We’re still hopeful we’ll be musicking with everyone in our Judgment of Paris on Sunday, but if Omicron determines it’s not this weekend … it will be soon!

Christopher Small. 1995. [The Theory of Participatory Discrepancies: A Progress Report; Searching for Swing: Participatory Discrepancies in the Jazz Rhythm Section; Rhythm as Duration of Sounds in “Tumba Francesa”]: Responses. Ethnomusicology [Online], 39. Available: [Accessed 13/02/2022].

Challenges and constraints, a cellist’s musings (Jane Young)

As I have dipped my toes into the world of ‘Historically Informed Performance’ I find myself wondering about what it really would have been like to be a professional musician of the 17th century.  There must have existed many of the same issues as there are in freelance musicians’ lives today such as uncertainty of income, anxiety before important performances and a constant quest for the best possible equipment.

However, there are also many areas where things would have been very different, such as the instruments themselves. As there was much less standardisation of instruments every player, and therefore every ensemble, would have had a unique sound as opposed to the somewhat bland, homogenised sound-world of modern instruments. Early instruments were more volatile and reactive to atmospheric and temperature changes, demanding adaptability from the players in a much more extreme way than today. Also, the instruments, without modern refinements, were far more comfortable to play in some keys than in others. Composers of the day knew that ‘exotic’ keys would create tension for the players and therefore ramp up the drama in the music, bringing in due course great relief to players and audience alike when the safer home key was finally reached. In the QC by playing on copies of baroque instruments we give ourselves some of these extra challenges, but hopefully as a reward bring our listeners something closer to what they might have heard at the time the music was written.

The often hastily hand written sheet music of the Baroque era must have provided a further challenge to players. At times illegible it can only have been a rough guide as to the actual performance of the music. Today’s musicians are trained to scrupulously observe every tiny dot, line or marking as this is what has come to be expected since printed music became commonplace, and even more so since composers have been able to proofread or even publish their own music. In the QC our wonderful manager Sharon transcribes and arranges much of the music to suit our configuration and so we have been spoiled by having beautifully clear and easy to read parts. However, it has been a learning curve for me to feel free to add ornaments, change dynamics, the odd note and even occasionally entire passages in contradiction to my strict classical training in which one would rarely if ever dare to change anything on the page (though this is probably less the case for musicians who have a background in jazz).

And then there were the audiences! By all accounts 17th century audiences were not prone to sitting still and listening quietly. Music could be the backdrop to a chess game, a drinking party, or a fierce debate, not to mention much coming and going, so the musicians had to make every effort to get their message across as well as keep the attention of their public. I guess our lives today are somewhat easier in that regard, in that we don’t usually have to fight to be heard, but we sometimes are left guessing as to the genuine opinions of our audience as they sit politely and automatically applaud at the end of each item.

It is quite liberating that there are no recordings from the period. No-one can say definitively that we are right (or wrong) in our interpretation. There do exist many treatises from the era with quite clear instructions on how things should be done, but advice often varies wildly between authors, and there is the expectation that one should always defer to ‘good taste’ (also subjective!). St Lambert (1702) said that taste provides ‘the freedom that musicians give themselves to transgress their own rules’. By listening to many performances and recordings, and by experimenting with one’s own playing one does start to develop this ‘taste’, but then aligning it with that of one’s colleagues is yet another challenge – one no doubt also faced by early musicians.

Ultimately, I feel very grateful to live at a time in which we have freedom to pursue our voyage of discovery into the world of Baroque music uninhibited, and also very happy that it is considered acceptable in the 21st century for a me, a woman, to play the cello in public!          -Jane

What is the Music in Musicking?

Christopher Small gave us the term “Musicking.” To do music, which we do when we listen, play, discuss or anything else that is … well … musicking. What do we mean by music though? Is the music we do when we music a form of reproduction of some pre-determined great Art? Or is it a live and social activity of creation in the moment? This is how Charles Keil described it, and like it! I think he nicely describes how at The QC we aim to perform Music … everyone creating socially from the bottom up. We also do this live, together with our audience …

“Music is about process, not product; it’s not seriousness and practice in deferring gratification but play and pleasure […] that we humans need from it; “groove” or “vital drive” is not some essence of all music that we can simply take for granted, but must be figured out each time between players; music is not so much about abstract emotions and meanings, reason, cause and effect, logic, but rather about motions, dance, global and contradictory feelings; it’s not about composers bringing forms from on high for mere mortals to realize or approximate, it’s about getting down and into the groove, everyone creating socially from the bottom up.”

Charles Keil

Keil, Charles. “The Theory of Participatory Discrepancies: A Progress Report.” Ethnomusicology 39, no. 1 (1995): 1–19.

Small, Christopher. Musicking : The Meanings of Performing and Listening.  (Hanover : University Press of New England, 1998).

French, Marilyn. Beyond Power. On Women, Men and Morals. (New York: Summit, 1985 )

Ensemble and Professional Development

Over the next few months we are undertaking a range of activities with the aim of developing our practice in one or two key areas of how we perform.  I’ll come to what shortly, but first is the why?

Over the year and a half we’ve been together The Queen’s Closet has established ourselves as innovators in New Zealand performance of 17th century English and continental European music.  Our aim is always to take music of 300-350 years ago and make it fresh and modern for contemporary audiences, by making our starting point to be as faithful as possible to performance practice the composers would have known.

The period music revolution has been around for over 50 years now, and began as a reaction against what was then poorly researched and understood performance of baroque music.  It was unpopular with many in the musical world, at least initially, and it took time and determination to build audiences and persuade listeners that this was a better way of approaching the music of Handel, Bach and all the other baroque composers.  Since those early beginnings an enormous amount has been discovered and many attempts made to recreate the playing styles and instruments lost for many generations.  Even over the last 10-15 our understanding of instruments and playing style has changed markedly.  Ideas from the beginnings of the early music revolution have been built upon and developed by subsequent generations of performers and academics, with new or altered understandings of how to play the music.  We believe that continuing to research and keep up to date with new ideas – working to realise those ideas in performance – is one way we will help keep the music of the baroque continuing to sound fresh and modern.  Our players work with specialists across the world, learning and discovering the ways performers around the world are finding to perform early music.  We never want to reach the point where we think we’ve learnt all we need to know and can always do things the same way from there on – that, we think, would be the road to the sterile and the mediocre.

So first … What is A?  Pitch in baroque music.

Our first focus is the pitch we play at … a pitch of 415 for A, which is a semitone lower than modern standard pitch in western music, has been adopted as a kind of one size fits all for much baroque performance on period instruments.  The narrative goes something like this: pitch was low in baroque and gradually went up in the classical era until by Beethoven we reached A at 440.  Some period instrument baroque ensembles even incorporate 415 into their name to illustrate the point.  Of course, it won’t surprise anyone that the story is not quite that simple!  

Music between 1600 and 1750 was played at pitches ranging from something like 392 (a tone below modern A) and 466 or higher (a semitone above modern pitch).  Much of Vivaldi’s music for example was written to be played close to 440.  Biber would most likely have been close to 466 for much of his music, while some Purcell would have been played at around 400 and other Purcell was written to be played at around 473 (so-called Quire pitch).

Why does this matter?  The issue is that raising or lowering instruments by as much as 3 semitones dramatically changes the way instruments sound and respond.  Performing at pitches away from the original intention leads to very different music and for voice in particular can even make a piece impossible to perform.  Strings, brass and woodwind all sound very different at 392 than they do at 466.  So far so good … but playing music composed for different pitch standards, and for instruments with different “home” pitches, at around its original pitch is not always practical today.  By exploring issues around performance pitch we aim to better understand how this impacts on the music … and we hope this will lead to new insights into the music we play.   

Performing under Covid …

We were fortunate to have our Fringe performance Quanto Dolce just before Covid-19 stopped all of us from being able to perform for the time being.  But as with other performing companies, all our performances for the rest of the year are now postponed, cancelled or in doubt.

The response of many musical performers and groups to this enforced hiatus has been to try and keep performing, by temporarily moving online with digital performances, collaborations, or streaming recordings.  Music is an art form that can work well across a range of media, and these performances have been something to light up the sometimes long and dreary days.  This has also allowed many performers to keep active and performing, even if not in ways they prefer.

But you may have noticed that The Queen’s Closet hasn’t joined in with this digital musicking.  While making recordings and performing across the internet is one way to keep making music, it’s not something that is compatible for the vision we have for The Queen’s Closet.  We make our music meaningful by performing live with an audience who we engage directly with, just as it would have been at the time this music was written.  Live performance with an audience is not possible at present, so as a group we are silent for the time being, which is difficult.  We enjoyed our last performance so much, as we do all our performances, and were humbled and delighted to have wonderful audience feedback and be nominated for two Fringe awards.  Following on from this we were looking forward to musicking with concert-goers throughout 2020 with a range of programmes, from the more conventional programme of Bach and Vivaldi with Nota Bene, to some more experimental and exploratory programmes.  We’re still hopeful that the programme with the Bach Choir of Purcell’s Hail Bright Cecilia and the Biber Requiem in A will go ahead later this year. 

Our enforced hiatus has had the unexpected benefit of giving us all the opportunity to spend some quality time with our charismatic and characterful instruments.  So we have been musicking in different ways, talking, arranging and planning music and performances, and experimenting with mouthpieces, reeds, staples, strings and bows!

But, we need to perform live to exist.  It is the only way for us.  So, as we look forward to a future easing of restrictions on gatherings, we are contemplating and planning ways of performing live as soon as possible.  Big audiences and large venues are unlikely to be possible in the near future.  But here is our opportunity.  Our performances work best in intimate and informal settings, with smaller audiences.  While the internet is not fruitful ground for us, the next stages we anticipate post-lockdown of small venues with small audiences will be perfect for us.  As soon as small groups of people can share a space together we can perform again.  

So how to aim for the same lively and engaging events, within whatever government restrictions we all need to follow in the current climate?  We have some exciting ideas, and we look forward to seeing, and more importantly to musicking with you again soon.

The QC