Michael Houstoun has been a household name in New Zealand for more than 35 years after winning every significant prize for pianists in the country by the age of 18 and placing internationally at three of the world's most distinguished piano competitions: Van Cliburn (1973), Leeds Piano (1975), and the Tchaikovsky Competition (1982). In the process he acquired an unprecedented and as yet unmatched record in international competition by a New Zealand pianist.
Born in a small town in rural New Zealand, and raised on a farm, he studied with Maurice Till in Christchurch and Dunedin. Following his international successes, he lived in London and in the United States from 1974-81, appearing in such vaunted venues as Queen Elizabeth Hall and Carnegie Hall, furthering his study with Brigitte Wild in London and Rudolph Serkin at the famed Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and recording for EMI.
But in 1981 Houstoun made the decision to return to New Zealand and devote his life to music in his native land. His restless creativity, his seeking of new challenges, and his giving back to the culture that nurtured him have garnered Michael Houstoun a unique reputation in New Zealand society both as a pianist of extraordinary calibre and as a musician universally recognized as New Zealand's finest.
Since his return, Houstoun has performed regularly each year with every professional ensemble in the country, and is equally prominent as a recitalist and chamber music partner. He makes a point frequently to appear with smaller ensembles and travels to smaller population centres, giving generously of his time to help spread the love of music and keep musical standards high throughout the country.
His large and ever-expanding repertoire includes many world premieres of New Zealand composers alongside the traditional piano repertoire. Of his commitment to New Zealand music, Houstoun writes “I have been playing (and at times conducting) New Zealand music since I was a student in the early '70s. Composers that have written for me include Jack Body, John Psathas, Christopher Blake, Kenneth Young and Gareth Farr. I have recorded solo music by Douglas Lilburn and the just-mentioned composers and concerted works by Blake and Psathas.”
Accomplishments within the traditional repertoire include Houstoun performing the complete 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a series of cycles in the 1990s; his recording of these led to the establishment of Trust Records, now widely considered New Zealand's premium classical label. He gave the complete Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in a cycle series, and has appeared in recital and as orchestra soloist in all the major centres of Australia as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Houstoun's television appearances include the 1996 Franz Liszt feature Icon in B minor, filmed in Germany, and Piano Man which follows the premiere of New Zealand composer John Psathas' double concerto View from Olympus with the Christchurch Symphony (2006).
Houstoun was awarded the Turnovsky Prize in 1982 and was made an Honorary Doctor of Literature by Massey University in 1999. In 2008 his solo CD of New Zealand Music inland was named the Best Classical Album and he was awarded a Lilburn Trust Award for his services to New Zealand music.
[As a recipient of a 2007 Arts Foundation Laureate Award more information about Michael Houstoun can be found on the Arts Foundation website.]
for piano, 19m
for piano quintet, 21m
for piano duet, 15m
for piano, 12m
for piano, 9m
for piano and chamber orchestra, 23m
Commentary or analysis