JOHN PSATHAS (b 1966 )
John Psathas is one of New Zealand’s most performed composers. In 2004 he achieved the largest audience for New Zealand-composed music when millions heard his fanfares and other music at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Athens. This high-profile work was recognised in New Zealand’s New Year Honours by his appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Additionally, his Piano Concerto was awarded the SOUNZ Contemporary Award for excellence in composition.
The son of Greek immigrant parents, Psathas grew up in Taumarunui and Napier. He studied composition and piano at Victoria University of Wellington and later with composer Jacqueline Fontyn in Belgium. Since returning to New Zealand, he has lectured at Victoria University, where he was appointed professor of composition, and he continues to fulfil a busy schedule of commissions. Psathas’ relationship with the percussionist Evelyn Glennie has been a fruitful one for them both. Her performing repertoire includes Matre’s Dance, Drum Dances, Spike, Happy Tachyons and the double concerto for piano and percussion, View from Olympus.
His music has been described as ‘difficult to define’, with the harmony and improvisational feel of jazz, the compelling rhythmic drive of rock music and the sustained repetitive textures of minimalism. But these influences combine and intermingle with something more intangible. This indefinable quality is what makes his one of the most original voices in the arena of contemporary classical music in New Zealand.