Australia & New Zealand tour 2023 blog

As part of our tour of Australia and New Zealand this February, we’re sharing stories from our travels on our blog. For video updates and other exclusives, head to our new Patreon. You can also find out more about our concerts.

Auckland – Owain

My adventures in New Zealand started a little ahead of everyone else, as Hannah and I visited the South Island to have our longest holiday to-date! We met up with some of her extended family in Christchurch, who helped plan the finer points of our itinerary (where the pies and penguins were), and headed on a loop around Lake Tekapo, Queenstown, Dunedin and Oatamu.

The scenery was like nothing I’d ever experienced: beautiful, powder blue water that stretched for miles across streams and lakes; incredible rolling hills, with sheer drops and jagged edges; amazing birds and local wildlife, from albatross to blue penguins. I particularly appreciated the care and detail at Dunedin’s Settlers Museum, which explored Māori culture and provided a lot of information about the land and peoples who live there. It was an unforgettable adventure, and set me up for an excellent start to our tour down under!

Most of the chaps rolled in from the UK a few days ahead of our concert in Auckland. Guy had spent some time in Sydney before visiting parts of the North Island, but I’ll let him tell you more about that later on. We all convened to get used to the new climate and time difference, enjoying everything from local wines on Waiheke to international conservation efforts at Auckland Zoo.

Ahead of our performance at Holy Trinity Cathedral, we visited Westlake Girls High School to give a masterclass to their choir of 130 singers, and appeared on RNZ to chat everything from Formula 1 to ficta. We also sang Rheinberger’s ‘Abendlied’ live on air, which seemed to peak people’s interest, as our ticket sales jumped overnight by almost 200!

Later that day, we began our collaboration with Auckland Gospel Choir, experiencing an unforgettable traditional Samoan welcome. We valued learning about the history of the Pacific Islands, and the concept of becoming one with local people through ceremony and sharing. Despite being far from the UK, we felt very much at home.

Our concert took place in the district of Parnell, a vibrant cultural pulse which sits just in from the port and Hobson Bay. Choosing one cafe before and after our rehearsal was a challenge – too many excellent options! Well-fed and watered, we began our rehearsal at the cathedral, with Timothy Wayne-Wright, our agent down under, listening in closely. 

The cathedral is an interesting building: stonework behind us as the chancel, with a wooden nave in front of us. Apparently the stained glass at the west end is the largest such kind in the southern hemisphere – we can believe it! With the crickets chiming on the outside, we ended by working on our encore with Auckland Gospel Choir: a beautiful Samoan folk tune called ‘La’u Rosa e’, arranged by their director, Simon Matāfai.

As the sun began to set, we began our musical set, featuring sacred works in the first half from around Europe, and secular numbers in the second. The concert was recorded for RNZ, and should be available in the coming weeks for listening wherever you are. Thank you especially to the 30 students from Westlake who cancelled their choir practice to come and hear us – it was great to see you all there!

We ended our day with a cold and crisp beer at a local bar, discussing all aspects of our debut in New Zealand. It was a great trip, which has set us up well in both musical and social aspects for an enjoyable tour in Australia. Now, to Tasmania!

Hobart – Mike

Our journey across the Tasman Sea began bright and breezy, as we hopped in the SuperShuttle from our hotel at 6am heading to Auckland Airport. We settled into the very plush lounge for breakfast (pancakes a particular highlight), and boarded our flight to Hobart. After another round of biosecurity, all of our bags arrived fruit and vegetable free into our second country of this Southern Hemisphere adventure: Australia.

Guy and I have fond memories of visiting Hobart before on previous musical trips, and we were excited to introduce the rest of the lads to the delights of island living. We were welcomed at the airport by our hosts, the wonderful team at St David’s Cathedral. Sam knew the Revd Christopher from his time at Christchurch Oxford, and it was great for them to catch up again on the other side of the world. The two of us headed with Christopher into town for a coffee and a walk around. Hobart is the most wonderful city, full of good places to eat and drink, and famed for whisky, wine and seafood. We had a quick but productive rehearsal on some repertoire for the rest of tour, as well as some new editions of Italian Madrigals (watch this space!), before heading for a fantastic sharing banquet of Asian food at DĀNA Eating House. Well fed and watered, we headed to our homestays for a kip.

Sam and I woke up the next day to glorious views of Sandy Bay, with sailing boats and kayaks out enjoying the morning sun. We were much less ambitious and headed to Machine Laundry Café for eggs, fruit and coffee, before rendezvousing with the rest of the chaps for a rehearsal at the Cathedral. Our concert in St David’s was an old favourite of the group, our “Fading” programme, and the strains of compline-themed music echoed around the building perfectly. A quick pit stop at a local dumpling house was followed by a pre-concert reception with some of the fabulous people who had helped to make our Hobart concerts happen. The acoustic of the cathedral got even better with the audience in place, with a clarity that allowed some of the more text-driven secular works to come across well even at the back of the building. After the gig a good local contingent accompanied us to Hadley’s Orient Hotel bar for a debrief over a Little Creatures.

The next day had us soaking up the sophisticated culinary and artisan offerings of the Salamanca market, before departing the shores of Hobart for distinctly more profane pleasures, as we were giving a concert at the art gallery/lair of the Tasmanian professional gambler and businessman David Walsh. The MONA has been a central draw to Tasmania since its opening, and on arrival it is easy to see why. It has a kind of anti-art, combative but charming approach to the concept of a gallery, which chimed well with our Wishing Tree programme, offering a bit of everything but with a good chunk of Italian madrigal and modern playful repertoire. Honestly, I’m not sure of the recommended age rating of this blog, so I am loth to describe more extensively many of the exhibits we saw – our green room was called the “Sex and Death gallery”, and it had a lot of both of those things. Our concert venue was the Nolan gallery, the centrepiece of which is an astounding large work by Sidney Nolan consisting of 1620 individual images which when viewed together make up a huge snake making its way across the gallery wall. Our capacity audience enjoyed our programme to the full (I’m not sure we’ve been heckled before in a concert!) and we headed for late night Japanese food with Nick Caddick, our man on the ground in Hobart who was fabulous value throughout the weekend helping us get to where we needed to be, and generally being excellent company.

A key feature of this tour which has ticked our boxes has been the amount of time we have been able to spend in each city – in the three full days we spent in Hobart I reckon we’d have probably done 5 concerts and a masterclass in the US. Our final day started with us working with the Allegri Singers, the fabulous local chamber choir, on repertoire for their concert in a couple of weeks’ time. It was a great opportunity to get into the nitty gritty of Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude, and the Tallis Lamentations. We caught up with their director Jonathan, who delightfully we realised that Guy and I had already met at his house in 2010 when bright and bushy undergraduates! Our final night finished with something which we as a group love and believe in passionately: curry. Jonathan brought his homebrew with him (delicious) and the momos, a Nepalese delicacy, were particularly yummy. Farewell Tassie, you were the best!

Adelaide – Joseph

After bidding a very fond farewell to our Tassie hosts at the airport, we ventured to mainland Australia to continue with our tour. A multi-leg journey by plane sadly will always evoke bad memories for us as a group, but on this occasion all our bags made it safely to Adelaide!

Whenever we hire a vehicle in Australia, the attendant always engages me in a conversation about Formula 1, such is this country’s love of the sport and my propensity for wearing my McLaren cap (which rather gives the game away, perhaps…) After the customary commiserations on the team’s current performance, we hopped into the latest mammoth automobile for the 45-minute journey out of Adelaide, straight up into the hills, bound for the UKARIA Cultural Centre. This is a repeat booking for us having last visited in February 2020, so we already knew what to expect. Nonetheless, the stunning venue and location took our breath away once again. We were met by Liam up at the onsite artist accommodation: set just beneath the Mount Barker Summit, the house boasts some incredible views of the surrounding hills. There was an ample kitchen, and so Guy knocked us up a trademark Italian arrabbiata for us which we greatly enjoyed, followed by a round of contract whist.

The next day was a warmly welcomed day off, so after a lazy morning we headed into Adelaide to explore the city, something which we weren’t able to do last time. Owain, Mike and I dropped Sam and Guy off for some fresh trims whilst we headed for the botanic gardens. It was a lovely way to spend an hour or so, marvelling at the huge grey-headed flying fox bats which flew about the tree tops, as well as the giant lily pads from the Amazon basin.

We picked up the other boys at the Senna Chicane, a part of the street circuit which F1 used to race at in the 80’s and 90’s. I can only leave you to imagine the levels of excitement I had to contain at this (!), but we couldn’t stay long as we had a dinner invitation from Jenny and Nicholas Wilson (Jenny is the Precentor at St James Cathedral) who treated us to the South Australian delicacy that is sparkling shiraz! They also very generously brought out some champagne to go alongside a delicious curry – yes, another curry. It was also a delight to meet the music department at the cathedral and we hope to be able to visit them again soon.

The next day saw us begin a rather glorious five days of masterclasses as part of the A Cappella Academy, the brainchild of our man on the ground, Tim Wayne-Wright. UKARIA proved the perfect venue for this, and we were excited to begin working with three local ensembles. The opening performances were short but knocked us all for six. We were genuinely thinking how could we string this out for five days?! With the standard so high from the start, we pulled our socks up and managed to find a few things to say.

We were afforded the opportunity to not only teach each group, but collaborate with all of them too in works by Owain. The Adelaide Chamber Singers (ACS) had picked The Wings of the Wind, which is a real tour de force for any choir, and something for which we all had to do a bit of manic learning! ACS presented us a very impressive programme of music, and the time we had was a real luxury to be able to take it apart and put it back together again with no real sense of time pressure. Christie Anderson is their wonderful director, and she also directs the Aurora Vocal Ensemble, an upper voices ensemble of young singers whose professional attitude and sheer love for singing was truly inspiring. Particularly impressive was their willingness to put some time aside at the end of each session to debrief and review the points we had made, to make sure they had taken as much in as they could. One of the basses from ACS was Jono Bligh, the director of the third group, the male voice a cappella Festival Statesmen Chorus. From the moment the Festies began, we were moved by their performance. Their stage presence and sincerity was palpable – and who doesn’t love a bit of Disney’s Hercules?

We found throughout the week that having three choirs coming back each day afforded them the opportunity to think about the previous day’s work, and come back having levelled up. The rate of progress was beyond our expectations, so come the performance day at the end of the Academy, the standards achieved were simply mind-blowing. This rather piled the pressure on for our stand-alone concert, but in fact when we came out to full house featuring rather a lot of the choir members beaming at us, we were made to feel rather at ease.

We would like to thank ACS, Aurora and Festies for their hard work, their beautiful singing and their utterly glorious company throughout the week, as well as Tim, Liam, Rachel, Alison, Ulrike and everybody at UKARIA for having us and looking after us so superbly well. We certainly have some friends down under!

Next stop, Melbourne… and more F1-related excitement for me!

Melbourne – Sam

Hello everyone, Sam here! After a hugely successful week at UKARIA it was time to say our farewells and head to the flat white capital of Australia: Melbourne.

We were greeted with a homely and familiar sight, as a large downpour of rain had just begun. Thankfully we were whisked by taxi to our hotel, and upon checking into our rooms Mike and I were able to enjoy some epic views of the city from the lofty heights of the 39th floor. Its amazing how quickly the body goes into fight or flight when you step onto the balcony at that level!

We thought it was about time in the tour to put our ten pin bowling skills to the test, with the first game feeling very much like a warm up, and the second round culminating in some fairly respectable scores all round! After a warm down in the arcade, with slots, boxing and basketball, we were feeling the burn and headed off to sleep.

The next day was our concert day, and after a lazy morning checking out some of the local sights (which included Joseph finding the F1 tents and even some of the drivers), we made our preparations for our concert in the Melbourne Recital Centre. The concert hall possessed an absolutely magical acoustic and with a 500+ strong audience, the energy that nignt was just incredible, and will stay with me for a very long time. We finished the evening with a delightful cocktail at a bar on the river. How lucky we are! 

The following day was a busy one, combining filming for our podcast and Patreon subscribers in the beautiful Primrose Potter Salon with various media commitments. We made the short commute from the Recital Centre to the ABC Studios, where we met the very affable Meghan Burslem, host of Classic Breakfast. Meghan, who we’d met at Tempo Rubato last time round, made us feel very at home, giving us all some charming Aussie nicknames: Jamesy, Wicko, Cootski, Cradsky, Sammo and Parksky. 

With the identity of our renaissance boy band fully solidified, we headed back to the Primrose Potter Salon to work with three local ensembles: Alta Collective, Divisi Chamber Singers, and The Consort of Melbourne. These talented groups treated us and the audience to a variety of repertoire: from Raphaella Aleotti to Ben Rowarth, and my personal highlight, ‘Gracias a la vida’ by Violeta Parra. All ensembles sounded truly wonderful and it was a joy to get to know them in the Blondie Bar afterwards.

After a delightful stay in Melbourne, it’s time for me to hand over to Josh – see you all soon!

Castlemaine – Josh

Our next stop was just a short trip northwards to Castlemaine, an old gold rush city 90 minutes north of Melbourne by car – the perfect length of time for Mike to delve into the entire history of cricket with our driver…

Our performance was at the Town Hall as part of Castlemaine State Festival, a remarkable local series that has over 100 events in the space of 14 days. Clearly there’s huge local interest in the arts, and the audience certainly showed it as their energy was contagious! I don’t think Owain’s ever been heckled so much in his speeches before but he dealt with it brilliantly to guide us through our ‘Fading’ programme, finishing to a standing ovation after an encore of the Tallis classic ‘O Nata Lux’.

Having now officially run out of CDs for this part of our tour, we were whisked off to a VIP event, giving us a chance to meet some of the festival organisers and supporters. Usually these events are held either in the concert venue or in a local bar. Here it was in a marquee with a DJ! The group certainly made the most out of this and after showing off our amalgamation of “moves” for the Castlemaine locals we called it a night.

The next morning we had the pleasure of singing a short set at the local care home, Ellery House, where Owain put on his best soothing morning radio voice for the Q&A session that accompanied it. A big shout out should go to Steve (or Sav, as he’s known to his friends!) whom we paid a special visit as he’s a huge fan of Renaissance polyphony!

Cricket was the order of the afternoon as my hosts had managed to outdo themselves by sourcing us a cricket bat and showing us to the local nets! Unfortunately the weather had other plans so we headed for cover at St Florians cafe, nestled in Castlemaine’s historic fire station, where we savoured their delicious plum crumpets.

With the weather not clearing, most of the group used the rarity of having a free afternoon on tour to relax and catch up with other halves at home, or in Sam’s case spend some time with his true passion: Guitar Hero! We enjoyed sampling food from the local bakery, followed by Asian tapas for dinner.

We’re now heading off to the last stop of our tour: Sydney. Over to you, Guy!

Sydney – Guy

Thanks Josh! The next morning we departed Castlemaine, passing wild kangaroos on the road to Melbourne Airport for the short flight to our last destination: Sydney.

We were all tremendously excited to see the sights of the famous harbour, especially Joseph who was visiting for his first time. As it happens I had got out to Sydney for a few days before our tour had kicked off, so I had put in some hard work, doing a thorough recce of the best beaches, breakfast nooks and roof-top bars in anticipation for the group’s arrival a month later. Sadly the weather greeting us at Sydney wasn’t very conducive to a day at Bondi beach, as it was absolutely lashing it down with rain.

By a mysterious alignment of stars, seasons, and destiny, April Fool’s day coincides with my birthday, and the group were keen to use our spare evening in Sydney to celebrate in style…

Our hotel was right in the centre of the action near Circular Quay and featured a glamorous rooftop pool with harbour views, which Michael immediately made the most of. Having towelled-off, Mike came along with Owain, Joseph and me to the nearby Opera House bar to catch director Stephen Layton for a drink. It has recently been announced that Stephen is departing his role as director of music at Trinity College, Cambridge, the chapel choir with whom Mike, Owain and I toured Australia as undergraduates. It was a great treat to share memories of those tours and shoot the breeze for a moment with our former director in front of probably the world’s most famous arts venue.

The next day saw us up and raring-to-go early, preparing for a masterclass with two local music groups. It was a great joy to jointly explore radically different methods of approaching music and art with both the Chamber Choir of NSW University and also The House that Dan Built: a group of female artists who use dance and extended vocal techniques in a modular performance structure, which they have built and honed over many years. It was a particular pleasure to explore their creative process and swap ideas and inspiration with these fantastic ensembles over coffee and cake afterwards.

This left us with one last item on our itinerary: our performance in the Utzon Room of the majestic Sydney Opera House. We made the most of our artist passes, exploring the acoustic of the newly renovated concert hall (check out our new Patreon for a video!) and using the boardroom (with stunning views of the harbour) as our changing room. It is a real ‘bucket-list’ goal for any classical musician to perform at the Opera House and we were delighted to have sold out our venue well in advance of our arrival. The intimate space of the Utzon Room allowed our audience to feel right in the midst of the action for our English Motets programme, as the appropriately English rain dripped down the panoramic windows behind us. In what felt like the blink-of-an-eye we were out enjoying a well-earned, crispy cold drink overlooking the harbour. 

On our final day Down Under, Josh, Joseph and I headed out on the famous Manly ferry to explore the beach and the local coffee, gelato, and craft-brewing scene (all excellent), ahead of our mammoth return journey to the UK. Seeing Sydney from the water is by far the best way to get a grip on the geography and beauty of the city, and the Manly ferry affords some amazing views of the CBD and the harbour bridge. Touring Australia and NZ was so rewarding for G6, and made particularly special by the amazing people we met and made diverse music with all across Oceania. Our great thanks go out to all the people who we met and who helped make our trip such a success. We hope it won’t be long until we return!

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