It’s not often that a musician is a finalist in the Women of Influence New Zealand Awards so it’s a real triumph that the Musical and Artistic Director of Auckland’s own Bach Musica - Rita Paczian appears in the year’s line-up.
Presented by Stuff and Westpac, the Women of Influence New Zealand programme recognises and celebrates women across the board who are committing time and energy to create a real change in their industry and community and are using their influence to achieve great things.
Rita Paczian hails from Germany where she graduated with a Master of Music with distinction in organ, harpsichord and singing. She was recognised as one of the outstanding young conductors of her generation and was the only woman amongst 100 men selected to work with Leonard Bernstein. From there she went on to work with other leading international conductors and orchestras in Europe and has conducted all over the world.
Not only is Rita one of two musicians ever to be a finalist in Women of Influence but in the field of music, Rita is also a rare beast. Of all the orchestral and choral concerts only around seven to ten percent are conducted by women.
I caught up with Rita and asked why so few women conductors!? Rita agreed that it is surprising but orchestras were traditionally comprised of male players who couldn’t tolerate a female with a baton. Rita encountered deliberate boycotting from male orchestral players on occasion in Europe simply because they wouldn’t work with a female conductor. It has taken a while for the proportion of players in an orchestra to be more equally female and male and for an understanding, openness and respect for women conductors to grow.
So has New Zealand taken a while to catch up with this trend? Rita replied actually it was the opposite, she has found a curiosity and lack of prejudice in NZ. On her first experience of New Zealand in 1992, she met amazing people with open-hearted generosity while hitchhiking around the country.
On the strength of that, she moved to NZ in 1993 and worked with many major orchestras, and became the Music Director of Bach Musica in 1994. Under her directorship, the choral and orchestral ensemble has become the only NZ group to be both a professional level choir and an orchestra.
Not only do they present works of an excellent standard but they are committed to bringing works to NZ for their first performance in this country. And here Rita let me in with a sneak look at their 2020 programme. Exciting to hear that next year they will be presenting Schumann’s Requiem for it’s NZ premier amongst other new works never heard in Aotearoa before.
Not only does Rita wield a baton with incredible aplomb, but she is also an accomplished tennis player and coach. She tells me that the fitness and the focus in tennis gives her the great powers of concentration needed on the stage. The tennis court is an excellent place to thrash out any tensions... Better that than on the first violin section I’m sure.
So why is it so important for a musician to be a finalist in such an Award? Rita feels it’s hugely important that women in classical music are recognised - “women have a different approach to men, less ruthless, more passionate and especially in music the emotional is so much more important”. She describes the work she does with Bach Musica as being ‘music for the soul’. She laughs and says that she tells her orchestra that she can forgive a wrong note or two but being BORING is unforgivable!
I don’t think this committed and passionate conductor could ever be accused of being boring. Nor the music that her baton can generate from orchestra and chorus.