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Tribute to Jonathan Besser

Jonathan Besser 1949 - 2022

Jonathan Besser, who passed away peacefully in Auckland Hospital on Wednesday 9th February 2022, was a unique musician, composer, collaborator extraordinaire, and beloved friend to many. An endearing and ebullient character, he lived life with a zest and crackle, playing piano in typically rambunctious and intense style, shoulders hunched at the keyboard, a furrowed brow and a gleaming eye, or composing with an innate musicality in which lyricism and beguiling harmony were the features that drew us in to his soundworld. Aotearoa gave the New York-born Jonathan a sense of place, and he had a deep and varied musical life here. With an open and genial nature, he was an expert networker, and worked easily and happily with some of our leading arts practitioners, loving the diversity that our musicians display, and our multi-culturalism. His collaborators were as diverse as his interests in the wider worlds of dance, literature, theatre, film, conceptual art and much more, and his rich legacy of works ranges from electronica to experimental, klezmer to ballet. We are so fortunate to have it all to go forward with with his many recordings and scores.

Jonathan had been dealing graciously with the trials of Motor Neurone Disease, and his passing was a merciful release from the ravages of this cruel condition.

In May last year when he was just still able to play, we staged a concert at the Pah Homestead, where he sat in the front row flanked by his partner Sarah Guppy, and oft-collaborator the late Billy Apple, and watched his closest buddies play, sing and improvise his music, from the soulful to the fanciful. Then he took to the piano, and with his friend Chris Prosser on violin, gave us a lilting Wellington Harbour, poignant then, and heartwrenching now.

A pleasure, and a treasure. Our smiling friend, our vibrant, irrepressible musical comrade in arms. 

Farewell dearest Jonathan.
Moe mai rā, moe mai rā.