Haydn Rawstron – a voice of inspiration and innovation

10 Sep 2021

For Darfield-born, Christchurch-educated Haydn, music has been most things, though not everything. He first struck high notes as a treble chorister in the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, then the more mellow notes of the viola, organ and piano at Christ’s College, before winning a scholarship to Oxford University's cathedral/college, Christ Church. After leaving the cloistered world of the latter, he remained based in Europe managing careers for stars of the international opera world until 2010 and, finally, in 2013, pioneered a new art form – narropera (narrative opera). Along the way, as 'vocational' hobbies, he has pursued several enlightened New Zealand-related projects.

“I well remember my time in Condell’s House, enjoying the best of College's academic and sporting opportunities, though rather too complacently to excel particularly in either,” Haydn recalls. “It is rather humbling to be most remembered at College for a prank: improvising on Three Blind Mice as an organ voluntary at a morning Chapel service, to the delight of the boys, to the amusement of the Headmaster, Nigel Creese, and to the extreme anger of the Music Master, Robert Field-Dodgson.”

Haydn believes that “College built substantially on a solid foundation already laid at Cathedral Grammar and as a cathedral chorister”.

“I literally progressed, easily and smoothly, from Cathedral to College, then on to Oxford's cathedral/college, as if I had been educated in one, single institution from 1958 to 1971 – 14 years of absolute privilege.”

Just being at College was to be exposed to high aesthetics and sensibility: “An almost constant dialogue with 'beauty of nature in a formal setting' through College’s close relationship to the Botanic Gardens, coupled with a 4-year sojourn within the exquisite built environment that is College itself."

His extraordinary life after College “was shaped by two pieces of immense good fortune”, opening countless doors on a distinguished career in international music management.

“The first was membership of Christ Church, Oxford, where I suppose my ‘career’ began in October 1968, the moment I matriculated at Oxford University.”

Alongside studying musicology, with special reference to opera (1968–71), Haydn remarks: “I had won the Christopher Tatton Organ Scholarship to Christ Church, to that unique twin foundation, part university college, part cathedral (of Oxford). As Organ Scholar, I was automatically employed as assistant organist in the cathedral.”

However, within three months of beginning his time at Christ Church, the organ was relegated to second place in his affections, that is, second to the opera house. He had spent his first Christmas vacation in New York, including a dozen nights at the Metropolitan Opera House. Graduating in 1971, he hung up his organ shoes and plunged headlong into opera. He drove out of the gates of Christ Church, with his worldly possessions crammed into a Mini, and headed straight for Bayreuth, the Richard Wagner-mecca. He obtained employment in Bayreuth in a family-owned industry, which enabled him to learn German fluently and to study Wagner's music dramas, in situ.

“Bayreuth is the epicentre of study and performance of Richard Wagner’s great operas. Moreover, the Bayreuth Festival is the most ‘sacred’ of all German musical institutions,” Haydn explains. “During my two long summer vacations while at Oxford, in 1969 and 1970, I had already ‘pilgrimaged’ to Bayreuth and, through the good offices of an Oxford friend, I was initiated, even as an undergraduate, into the inner circle of the Wagner family, which at that time still owned the Bayreuth Festival. This close Bayreuth connection, together with my membership of Christ Church, Oxford, paved the way in precious stones, for my career as an impresario, and for a worldwide management of international opera singers, conductors, stage directors and designers.”

In the next 40 years of almost relentless travelling, Haydn attended about 2500 performances of opera, including about 250 in Bayreuth.

Through his friendship with Wagner’s great-grandson, Gottfried Wagner, Haydn expanded his earliest operatic network. In Bayreuth, his chamber music partner was the grandson of Franz Liszt.

“Through Gottfried, I came to befriend his remarkable (though highly controversial) grandmother, Winifred Wagner, the daughter-in-law of the composer Richard Wagner. This Welsh-born woman had run the Bayreuth Festival from 1930–1945 and was the dearest musical friend of Adolf Hitler, who stayed with her, as house guest, on his regular visits to Bayreuth.”

Haydn’s musical network soon expanded and, in 1975, The Earl of Harewood – managing director of the English National Opera – engaged Haydn as an interpreter for East German opera director, Joachim Herz, and his staging of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome in London. Through that two-month engagement, Haydn established contact with “several of the makers and shakers in the opera world of England and also (for later use) with the cultural elite of East Germany”.

In 1976–77, he became an assistant stage director at the State Opera House in Oldenburg, North Germany.

“Already by the end of 1975 I had decided that managing careers of opera singers, conductors and stage directors/designers would be my professional vocation. I therefore used my time in Oldenburg discovering how a major opera company functioned, behind the scenes, on a daily basis.”

While in Oldenburg, Haydn also contacted the leaders of other opera houses in Germany, outlining his plan to found his own London-based, management agency, on leaving Oldenburg.

One such contact – responsible for the Wiesbaden Opera House and The

Wiesbaden International May Festival – offered him the chance of a lifetime.

From 1977–1981, alongside establishing his own London management business, Haydn was commissioned to source international opera and ballet companies for the Wiesbaden Festival. The climax of four years of this impresario endeavour on behalf of Wiesbaden was reached in May 1981, when Haydn negotiated the substantial contracts for a dozen opera, ballet and theatre companies, totalling more than a thousand 'personnel', all engaged from the five Nordic countries. Years of ceaseless work had produced the first ever pan-Nordic cultural festival.

His many contacts, made through programming most of that 1981 Wiesbaden Festival, led him to creating or managing a series of cultural projects throughout the 1980s, each of which was to have some international significance. These 'projects' co-ordinated television companies, record companies, several opera houses and the musical worlds of London, Cologne, Munich and Stockholm, in various combinations.

However, one such 'project' during that decade, involved New Zealand – the highly acclaimed Finnish/New Zealand Cultural Exchange (1986-88), which was ground-breaking for New Zealand's composers and their music, both nationally and internationally.

Throughout the 1980s, his own artists' management business went from strength to strength and in the 1990s, it took off. By now, he was negotiating contracts for his artists at all the great opera houses of Western Europe and the United States, without exception, and with most of the world's major symphony orchestras and radio symphony orchestras. He was rubbing shoulders with great conductors, singers, stage directors, composers and, of course, with the most powerful theatre managers in the business.

Nevertheless, he continued to find time for his 'hobby' projects. His personal connections enabled him to deliver, lock, stock and barrel, a Covent Garden opera gala concert for the New Zealand High Commission in London (ultimately for the New Zealand Government) in July 1990. The sold-out Gala Concert marked New Zealand's 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and was entirely 'cast' with New Zealand resident and expatriate soloists, led by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Sir Donald McIntyre, Dame Malvina Major, Sir William Southgate and Dame Gillian Weir.

As Haydn points out, “it was, and might in future prove to be, the only New Zealand Opera Gala ever held at Covent Garden”.

In the 1990s, Haydn's hobby projects also brought him back closer to his cultural roots. In 1995, he co-founded the Christchurch Arts Festival with Briony Ellis. In the same year, he settled the charitable John Robert Godley Memorial Trust in Christchurch. In 1996, he loaned the trust, interest-free, the sum to buy the beautiful Lansdown(e) Homestead and Gardens in rural Christchurch, and, in 1998, he arranged the first visit to Christchurch of the OXFORDS, singers from the cathedral choir of Christ Church, Oxford, who over the following 20 years would come out from England, annually, to work with choirs at College, and the cathedral.

However, the 'jewel in the crown' among his many hobby projects was his creation of a series of high-profile events in 2000 in England and Ireland to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canterbury. Haydn spent every spare moment for seven years researching, preparing and fund-raising for those sesquicentennial celebrations.

He re-founded the Canterbury Association in London with which to propel the project. The Queen became its patron, the Archbishop of Canterbury preached at the main sesquicentennial event in St Paul's Cathedral, and scores of people from among the 'good and the great' became involved in one or other of the seven principal events mounted in Britain and Ireland (from former prime minister Margaret Thatcher to Kevin Whately, TV's ‘Inspector Lewis').

The Canterbury Association 2000 went on for another 12 years under The Queen's patronage, before it was subsumed into the trusts and endowment programmes of Christ Church, Oxford, of which institution the reigning Monarch is always The Visitor.

In the aftermath of the 2000 celebrations, a new scholarship (yet another brain-child of Haydn's) was established and gradually endowed. Thanks to the enormous generosity of the (Edward Gibbon) Wakefield family and the (Charles) Torlesse family, an endowment of more than $500,000 has been built up since 2000 to fund one year's study at Christ Church, Oxford, for postgraduate students of the University of Canterbury. Moreover, the Canterbury Association's OXFORDS Project, which Haydn initiated in 1998, also came to benefit from the residual good will from Canterbury's sesquicentennial celebrations. The OXFORDS Project has gradually been endowed (to more than $300,000). Both these endowments are exclusively funded by British philanthropists, all of whom were initially approached by Haydn, without exception.

Both Haydn's professional work and his philanthropic work have been acknowledged. The French Government made him a Chevalier (knight) de l’ordre des Arts et Lettres for services to opera and music. His philanthropic work has been honoured with membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit, specifically for his cultural and heritage achievements in Britain on New Zealand's behalf.

A unique acknowledgment of Haydn's work for Canterbury heritage came from the Godley family in England, in 2000, with the gift (to the John Robert Godley Memorial Trust in Christchurch) of the priceless manuscript of James Edward FitzGerald's handwritten children's story Seadrift, illustrated with FitzGerald's own 32 brilliantly executed watercolours. This exquisite, miniature 'Gesamtkunstwerk' was originally presented as a Christmas box to Godley's young son, Arthur, and is New Zealand's first illustrated children's book. It is undoubtably Canterbury's earliest major work of art created solely in the imagination. FitzGerald became Canterbury's 1st Superintendent of Canterbury on Godley's return to England. College's name, Christ's College, was FitzGerald's Cambridge alma mater, and his lasting memorial at College is Big School, for which FitzGerald was architect.

The trust published Seadrift in facsimile in 2007 as the centrepiece of a multiple award-winning, book set publication, Godley Gifts (www.godleygifts.co.nz). The limited edition consists of 100 beautifully handcrafted sets. Book set No. 56 rests in the Hare Memorial Library and No. 26 rests in the Royal Library of Rare Documents in Windsor Castle, 'in perpetuity' at the wish of Her Majesty, The Queen.

In 2010, Haydn sold up and retired from his agency management work after 33 peripatetic years. Within two years, his innovative energy had invented 'narropera' (narrative-opera) and, in January 2013, he pioneered the new format with Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in the miniature concert hall-like Golden Room of Lansdown(e). Since then, more than 50 performances of this novel format have been given at Lansdown(e) by The Narropera Trio of soprano, violin and piano/narrator. The Trio has also given an equal number of narropera performances in Europe, since 2013.

Lansdown(e) borders on the Rawstron family farms and the headquarters of the family businesses of vineyards and wine production, wedding centre and property development, all run by Haydn's brother, Old Boy Brent.

Haydn sums up his creative focus, today: “I am involved in the family businesses as director and shareholder. I run the day-to-day affairs of the John Robert Godley Memorial Trust and I keep a watchful eye on the two endowments – (1) the (Edward Gibbon) Wakefield Scholarship and (2) the Canterbury Association OXFORDS Project. I write the narratives for the individual narroperas, arrange the musical scores for a trio of players, market the performances, act as pianist and narrate the story. At the end, I 'put out the cat with the milk bottle'."

Haydn urges the next generation of Collegians to "do whatever you do because you love doing it”.

“However hard it might seem at first, stick to it passionately through thick and thin for five years and you won't look back.

“Over and above your professional vocation, always find time for some philanthropic work and use the privileged opportunity of a Christ’s College education to contribute to the wider community, as quid pro quo for that privilege.”