Jonathan Lemalu

The bass-baritone tells us how he’s joining his fellow countrymen for a celebration of all things New Zealand at Kings Place

New Zealand festival

On 29 March, Jonathan Lemalu will appearing with the New Zealand String Quartet as part of the four-day ‘New Zealand at Kings Place’ series. Together they will be performing the UK premiere of Three poems by Mu Xin, by NZ-based composer Gao Ping. He tells us about it.


Can you tell us a little about the Three poems by Mu Xin?
Mu Xin is a poet, but I don’t know much about him. I do, however, know about the pieces themselves. They are Asian songs that have a certain calmness about them that I really like. About eight minutes long, they are essentially three love songs about people and nature – they are very simple in their poetry, though I am sure someone more intellectual than me can hear motifs and things. I like the fact that they are not necessarily lush and lyrical – they are certainly not tonal – but are very delicate.

Technically, are they challenging to sing?
They were written for me, so theoretically they should be all right for me to sing! Because they are not lyrical in nature, the difficulty is of a ‘so, where do I get that note from?’ kind. The music’s usually not what you are expecting, but the songs are certainly no more difficult than picking up a piece of, say, Britten. I don’t foresee any problems!

How closely have you worked with Gao Ping before?
I’ve never met him and have never spoken to him live, though we have had email contact. I believe that he was at some of my concerts last year with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and it was a lovely surprise that these songs were written for me. I have heard a little bit of his piano works – he’s a pianist by trade, so to speak – and he’s done some really interesting stuff and has got some very good reviews. I’m very excited. I do like working with contemporary music and being able to have a dialogue with the composer.

What’s it like singing in Chinese?
The Chinese language – and these particular dialects of Cantonese – is certainly one of the biggest difficulties I’ve had to encounter. The big challenge is the inflection of the language, which is unlike any other that I’ve experienced.

How proud are you to be showcasing New Zealand culture at Kings Place?
Very proud! I’m a very patriotic Kiwi. Even though my parents are from Samoa, I was born in New Zealand and those two cultures are very important to me. As well as working with the New Zealand String Quartet, I’ve also worked with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra a lot. And I recently sang some of the anthems at the Rugby World Cup!

Ah yes, the Rugby World Cup…
I sang at the semi-finals, and then flew back to the UK and watched the All Blacks in the final on TV. I have to say it was the longest 80 minutes of my life!


For details of Jonathan Lemalu’s concert with the New Zealand String Quartet at Kings Place, go to