Jonathan Lemalu, “fiercely proud to be born and educated in Dunedin” returned home after a busy international season of performances and recordings which took him across four continents, performing to a jam-packed Dunedin town hall on 12 April. The city certainly turned out to show their support for the Grammy Award winning bass, and Lemalu expressed his gratitude to his family, teachers, and community at multiple points throughout the show, even performing the much loved Finzi ‘Let us Garlands Bring’ song cycle, which he first learned during his time at the University of Otago. “I sure hope I sing it better than I did back then” Lemalu joked, but, to be fair, if he sang it half as well at uni as he did in concert, we can assume that he was the star of his class. If his dance moves back in the day were as slick as they are now, it seems safe to assume he was a successful charmer too.
With a completely twentieth century programme, the repertoire perfectly suited the “fun-filled” vibe for the concert Lemalu had in mind. It was certainly an accessible concert, particularly for people who don’t find heavy opera to their taste, although by the end of the evening I was a little over the comedic musical storytelling and just wanted him to sing the Finzi again. But on the other hand, Lemalu has a voice you could listen to for hours on end, which was perfectly encapsulated by his virtuosic and thoroughly entertaining encore performance of a work composed by former University of Otago Professor John Drummond. Framed around the ‘superiority’ of bass vocalists, the work left the audience in fits of laughter and in awe of Lemalu’s outstanding range. Professor Terence Dennis’s talents were also showcased through the virtuosic accompaniment lines. Dennis and Lemalu clearly work well as a team, and Otago is lucky to have two such outstanding musicians as passionate supporters of the university and the city. “By Dunedin and for Dunedin” was Lemalu’s vision for the concert, organising the event entirely through the backing of local performers, sponsors, businesses, designers, and volunteers. It was extraordinary. I cannot remember ever seeing the town hall so full. It’s amazing to see such an effective event culminating from years of partnership between the Dunedin community, businesses, and university. It must be hoped that all parties continue to provide support for aspiring Otago musicians in the future.