Home Stay

Bill Ralston finds it's possible to make a living from the arts in New Zealand.

Photograph: Simon Young.

All the talk over the past year about the brain drain — the loss of New Zealand talent in business and academia to more lucrative job opportunities abroad — has rarely men­tioned the process that has, for generations, seen local tal­ent in arts and culture irresistibly drawn abroad.

Musicians, in particular, have long had to go overseas once they reached a certain level of development due to the paucity of opportunities for making a living in this country. Unless singers want to eke out a living doing weddings, funerals and the occa­sional stage show, there is little hope of maintaining a successful career within New Zealand. Admittedly, within rock 'n roll it's pos­sible to reach a level of subsistence with concert and pub gigs. But step up a peg or two into the realm of serious music and the pick­ings are lean indeed. Even if those singers go to London, New York or Milan and make a reputation, there is little here to sustain them should they choose to return. I was at a private function recently where Dame Malvina Major sang. Her choice to return to New Zealand was her own and her international reputation has served her well in her home country although, obviously, she could never achieve the financial reward here in New Zealand that she might expect had she stayed consis­tently on the gruelling world circuit.

On this night her gorgeous voice was accompanied in a couple of pieces by that of a highly talented young man whose singing caused the hairs to rise on the hack of my neck. His name was Tim Beveridge and, especially in collaboration with Dame Malvina, he rocked.

Chatting to Tim afterwards, I discovered that he was hugely versatile. Opera was not his number one priority, rather he prefers musical theatre. His favourite music is by crooners such as Mel Torme.

Is this the beginning of a cultural renaissance?

Have we at last reached a point where our

culturally talented have a domestic market

sufficiently large to sustain them?

In the United States or Europe, some­one with Tim's voice would be able to build a lucrative career. However Tim Beveridge has one huge problem: he is a New Zealander to the bone. This is his home and he wants to live and work here.

He discovered that after a brief sojourn in London where he achieved fairly spec­tacular success by anyone's terms. In Australia, a couple of years before, he had secured roles in Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard. On arrival in the United Kingdom he quickly won recognition as one of the premier young singers in the world.

In 2000 Tim Beveridge was one of six finalists in the BBC Voice of Musical Theatre contest in Cardiff. His perfor­mance led David Benedict of British mag­azine The Singer to remark, "In terms of sheer relaxed vocal finesse New Zealander Tim Beveridge was peerless. When he sang 'On the Street Where You Live' from My Fair Lady he seemed to be dueling with the cello, and when he sang the line, 'Cos there's nowhere else on Earth that I would rather be' you felt that there was nowhere else you would rather be than sit­ting there hearing him effortlessly spin­ning vocal lines."

It was the kind of breakthrough of which most young singers can only dream. He had an offer of a West End role, understudying the lead in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's hit Whistle Down The Wind. Instead, he returned to Auckland.

That should have meant the end of his career. Yet, surprisingly, it has not. Even Beveridge cannot quite make up his mind about what persuaded him to return: patriotism, homesickness or just stub­bornness. "I love doing concert work but the stubborn decision was to come back to New Zealand and see if it was possible to do something," he laughs.

Generations of singers and musicians before him had discovered it was simply not possible to make a living singing in their own country. But, to his surprise, so far Beveridge has found that he can.

On his return he did an ENZO with for­mer Split Enzer Eddie Rayner. He staged his own successful concert, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Baritones, in Christchurch using the Christchurch Symphonyand plans to do the same in Auckland with the APO. In June he was touring in support of the angelic-voiced Hayley Westenra, plans were on the table for a national tour with Dame Malvina Major, and he had gathered an entrepreneurial group of South Island backers to record a CD.

What is going on here? Tim Beveridge should be starving in an environment where the only outlet for his voice is the bathroom. "The amazing thing is you discover a sub­culture of talent in the country," he says. He points to the pianist who accompanies him, Tim Evans, who also accompanied him at the BBC competition in Wales. At that com­petition Stephen Sondheim's musical direc­tor singled out Evans as an extraordinary pianist who would be in constant demand were he working in the UK. "This guy is something special, yet Tim [Evans] lives in Epsom in Auckland. He has no desire to live in London; he thinks it's a toilet," says Beveridge.

Beveridge says his namesake is a little like himself. "Is it stubbornness or  ideal­ism?" We decide it is idealism. And those ideals are paying off. "So far this year is shaping up really well," says Beveridge. "With the CD and so on, I don't sit on my couch sweating, practising for the park bench with seagulls flying past."

Is this the beginning, however small, of a cultural renaissance? Have we at last reached a point where our culturally tal­ented have a domestic market sufficiently large to sustain them?

Over the next few years Aucklander Tim Beveridge could provide a barometer by which to judge our cultural maturity. If he is still on stage here in two years' time rather than sitting warbling on a park bench it will be a very heartening situation indeed

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