Fred Page

Story by Marcus Jackson

New Zealand School of Music, 2017

A Search for New Music

It is Fred Page’s name above the door into the keyboard lab at the New Zealand School of Music, serving as a reminder to students of his vital contribution to music in Aotearoa New Zealand and at Victoria.

Here, students learn the fundamentals of music theory and aural training, they compose new works, and they learn the importance of conversation between musicians. These ideals reflect Page’s approach to music: rigorous, yet inquisitive.

From humble beginnings, Fred Page started as a piano student in Lyttleton, quickly honing a taste for the avant-garde music he would eventually dedicate his life to following.

A man of many interests, Page undertook studies at Canterbury College. Initially he studied Law, but eventually abandoned this for Music.

While Fred did not consider himself a composer, he was sent on a special grant to the Royal College of Music where he studied composition under the celebrated composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

Upon return to Christchurch, Fred became a music critic with a formidable reputation. His unwavering opinions eventually resulted in him being fired. The very next day he discovered he would be founding a new department at Victoria University, the beginnings of the New Zealand School of Music.

Time Abroad

After beginning his new post at what is now the New Zealand School of Music, Fred used his leave to attend the Darmstadt and Donaueschingen festivals for new music in Europe. Here, he met the likes of Pierre Boulez and (by chance) Stravinsky, some of the biggest names in Western art music.

He was able to hear concerts of the best contemporary music, while also advocating for New Zealand music. While in London, he managed to organise a radio concert of works by New Zealand composers. Fred formed a bond with Boulez in particular, with whom he discussed avant-garde performances in New Zealand.

Taking leave again later in his career, Fred was invited twice to visit China where he articulated his thoughts on the state of the conservatories.

To his dismay, he found a lack of contemporary European music, but was delighted by performances of Chinese opera and instrumental ensembles.

Renaissance Man

“Fred was a total internationalist. He was fascinated by new sounds”, says Robin Maconie, who studied under Page during his time at Victoria University.

Robin went on to a similarly international education, studying under Olivier Messiaen in Paris, and meeting composers Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and John Cage at European festivals. The latter, because Maconie had introduced himself as a native New Zealander, was under the impression that Robin was, in fact, Fred.

Ever the advocate for new music in New Zealand, Fred had a lasting influence on musical affairs, an influence that still resonates at the School of Music today.


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