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Peter Averi - 60 Years with Messiah

Peter Averi

From harmonium to the Wellington Town Hall: sixty years with Handel's Messiah

When the Kapiti Chorale, the Coast's largest community choir, performed Handel's Messiah on 28th November 2010, it helped to celebrate a special anniversary for Peter Averi, New Zealand organist and Life Member of the Chorale.  It was sixty years, almost to the day, since he first performed the oratorio, playing the accompaniment on a harmonium.

Since 1950 he has been involved in many performances, either as organist or conductor, which has included playing the organ at the Wellington Town Hall with the Alex Lindsay Orchestra and the National Orchestra, and he recalls many challenges each time the work was staged.

One that stands out was playing a Wurlitzer organ (originally from Auckland's Regent Theatre) for a performance at the Hutt Valley High School with the Hutt Valley Orpheus Society, (now called the Orpheus Choir of Wellington).  The Wurlitzer's console was at the stage end of the hall but the pipes were installed in the ceiling over the entrance doors at the back.  The choir was placed at the rear of the hall under the organ, which meant that the organist at the other end had to watch the conductor over the heads of the audience.  Peter said "it was very nerve-wracking when the audience stood for the Hallelujah chorus because I couldn't see either the choir or the conductor!".

One year, Peter received a frantic phone call from the Wairoa Choral Society.  At the last moment, the orchestra booked for their performance withdrew due to a clash of commitments - could he come instead and accompany the performance on a Hammond organ?  In the spirit of the show must go on, Peter agreed, driving to Wairoa on the Saturday morning of the performance, and leaving to return at 2.30 am the next morning to be in time to play the organ in Wellington for a broadcast church service.  "I was younger and had the energy to do those crazy things then", he said.

Among his happiest memories are the annual performances of the Messiah at St Alban's Church in Pauatahanui.  From the organ, he directed a small choir of sixteen voices, mostly well-established soloists in their own right, which often included former members of the National Youth Choir.  With a small choir it was possible to adopt a baroque style making the performances memorable occasions.

In 1997 Peter was guest conductor of the Festival Singers of Wellington and with this choir edited the score to include several of the changes which Handel himself made in 1743 for its first performance in London.

Since moving to the Kapiti area in 1987, Peter has been actively involved with the musical life of the community, appearing regularly with the Kapiti Chorale as accompanist and soloist.  Since 1999 he has been the music director of Television New Zealand's programme Praise Be.

Peter observes that it is a well-known fact that Handel's Messiah is the most frequently performed oratorio in the western world and that the year would not be complete without a performance of Messiah included somewhere.