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Richard Nunns

Richard Nunns’s † Biography

Last Updated:
8/06/2021, 12:38 pm
Musician and Researcher
Arts Foundation Laureate 2009
Richard Nunns was an authority on ngā taonga puoro (Māori traditional musical instruments) and is described as one of New Zealand's most remarkable musicians.

Richard Nunns is credited, with Hirini Melbourne and Brian Flintoff, with rediscovering many of these instruments. With a personal commitment to research, presenting and performing the traditional musical instruments of the Māori, Richard has organised this body of knowledge into a form which is immediately understandable to people, particularly Māori who had lost contact with such knowledge.

Since he first began public taonga puoro performances, Richard developed an international profile, both through the diversity of his recorded work and through performing with a wide variety of people and musical genre in differing settings and circumstances. His traditional instrument performances include the World Expo' in Brisbane; the pre-Olympic Festival of the Dreaming in Sydney; representing New Zealand at the Polynesian Music Festival in Rarotonga in 1996,and several Asia Pacific Festivals – most recently Wellington in 2008. Richard has performed at five WOMAD festivals in Adelaide, Auckland and New Plymouth. In 1998, he co-led the musicians at the opening of Te Papa dawn ceremony with ngā taonga puoro.

Richard toured and performed with Māori Artists Moana Maniapoto, Deborah Wai Kapohe, Mere Boynton, Waimihi Hotere, Whirimako Black and Ariana Tikao; with free jazz improvisors Evan Parker and Jeff Henderson; with pianists Judy Bailey, Marilyn Crispell, Paul Grabowsky and Mike Nock; and flutists Alexa Still and Bridget Douglas. He was a core member of Tūhonohono – a group which specifically performs the work of Gillian Whitehead and has founded the Puoro ensemble – Ipurangi. He has also participated in a significant number of performances of contemporary classical works, written specifically for him. His performance of these pieces involved working with ensembles such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand String Quartet.

Richard was especially noted for finding ways of conversing musically with a variety of genres, styles and cultures. His improvisation work was truly cross cultural and saw him performing with Performers from Iran, Australian Aboriginal, First Nation America, Korea, Bolivia, China, Turkey, Germany, Faroes, Italy, Poland, Finland, and Scotland. He worked in every musical form, ranging from classical music to free improvisation. He was instrumental in forging a path towards new New Zealand music, collaborating with composers; Gareth Farr, Gillian Whitehead, John Rimmer, Martin Lodge , Philip Brownlee and Scottish composer John Purser, along with collaborations with many other New Zealand performers including Paddy Free and Salmonella dub.

A strong connection with Contemporary Dance was forged via wananga and performance, with productions by Bronwyn Judge, Merenia Grey and especially Atamira Dance Collective.

With Hirini Melbourne, Richard made a number of recordings. He continued to be in demand for recordings with a wide range of musicians. He participated in well over 25 albums. These include Te Whaiao: Te Ku Te Whe, remixed, which won the Tui award for the best Māori album in the New Zealand Music Awards 2007; Spirit of the Land - best classical album New Zealand Music Awards 2006; He Ara Puoro - commended as a finalist in 2006 Media Peace Awards; Te Hekenga-a-rangi -finalist in the New Zealand Music Awards 2005 and in 2002 Te Ku Te Whe which gained gold status.

Richard held the position of Research Associate at the University of Waikato which he took up in 2001.

He was awarded an honorary life membership of the New Zealand Flute Association. In 2001 was honoured by the Composers Association of New Zealand with a Citation for Services to New Zealand Music and in 2007 received the Citation for outstanding services to New Zealand music from The Lilburn Trust. In December 2008, Victoria University acknowledged Richard's contribution to the recognition and role of Tāonga Puoro in New Zealand music, by awarding him an Honorary Doctorate of Music and he received a Queen’s Service Medal (Q.S.M.) in the 2009 Queen’s birthday honours list. In September Richard Nunns and Hirini Melbourne were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

Richard became an Arts Foundation Laureate in 2009. Activities that year included Blood and Stone in collaboration with Phil Dadson which premiered at the Auckland Festival 2009; Taonga: Dust, water, wind performing with Atamira Dance Collective also at the Auckland Festival; a tour with the New Zealand String Quartet to the USA. He collaborated on North:South with Glenn Colquhoun and Bob Bickerton which premiered at Going West and toured to the Nelson Festival. Richard travelled to China as a performer in the New Zealand delegation to the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music. He also took part in a Composers Workshop in Shanghai and presented in Huangzhou.

Richard Nunns died 7 June 2021