by Jonathan Besser
Acclaimed classical music composer and director Jonathan Besser’s career has been colourful and experimental, immersed in the burgeoning New Zealand art scene of the 70s and 80s.
Born into a Jewish household in New York in 1949, Jonathan struggled in school as a neuro-atypical child, before delving into music with single-minded zeal. After studying composition at Mannes College of Music, on a whim he went into the Australian immigration office, and was promptly redirected across the hall to the New Zealand office.
One can only imagine the culture shock of moving from a New York music school to New Zealand in the 1970s. From the gritty student flats of Grafton, to living as an unemployed composer in Wellington and working as a Dunedin postie, Besser offers a fascinating perspective on New Zealand’s cultural heritage via vivid, lively stories.
Travelling widely, and collaborating with the likes of Billy Apple, Whirimako Black, Warwick Broadhead, Jon Cells, Marti Friedlander, Don McGlashan, Gaylene Preston and Ian Wedde, Jonathan describes the oscillations of life as an artist, from impoverishment to sought-after director and composer across a strikingly broad range of disciplines, including poetry, theatre, film and television, painting, ballet and opera, as well as classical and avant-garde music.
Now in his seventies and still composing, Jonathan Besser leads us entertainingly through a career of music-making in a country that warmly welcomes the unconventional.
Published: April 2022