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Lilith and Gareth share Queen's Birthday Honour

Mon 12 Jun 2006 In: True Stories View at NDHA

Gareth Farr Drag icon Lilith, aka gay New Zealand composer and percussionist Gareth Farr, has been appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in this year's Queen's birthday honours list. The accolade was a quite unexpected, says Farr, as the citation not only referred to his services to music, but also included reference to his alter ego, drag performer Lilith Lacroix. "My first reaction was that they'd sent the letter to the wrong person," says Farr. "I really thought that because there was so much about the drag side of my life in the citation, that the conservative powers that be in London would just sweep my one under the carpet." But they didn't, and Lilith, of Devotion and Hero fame, was given the royal nod, which "hugely impressed" Farr. Born on leap year day in 1968, Farr's rise through the music and performance scene has been nothing short of meteoric. In 1993, at the age of 25, he became Chamber Music New Zealand's youngest composer-in-residence. Since then his works have been commissioned and performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Auckland Philharmonia, the Wellington Sinfonia and the New Zealand String Quartet, among others. Farr has long explored his passion for non-Western music and rhythms, and has incorporated both the pacific island log drum and the Indonesian gamelan into his compositions. Farr's career highlights are many, including being commissioned to write a work to celebrate the opening of Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand; and the performance of two of his works by the NZSO at the Sydney Olympics. He has written music for television and a short film, and produced five full-length CDs. Farr is renown for his outrageous outfits, turning up to an NZSO performance in a tight PVC top and plastic pants, and winning best costume as Lilith at the Trentham Races. Lilith has amalgamated percussion and drag, performing 'Drumdrag' to packed houses. Prime Minister Helen Clark has called Farr "the most amazingly prolific and talented composer," and New Zealand critics have lauded him for his theatrical style and his contribution to New Zealand's "distinctive musical identity." Farr was astonished to receive his latest accolade, which he was compelled to keep secret for a number of weeks. "The letter was headed 'strictly confidential' and I wasn't even allowed to tell my mother!" He downplays the extent of his achievements. "I was thinking: 'Me? But I just write music!'" All those who have seen Lilith perform would think otherwise, and Farr's current schedule remains both hectic and varied. He has a musical opening in two weeks, 'Troy – the musical.' He's set the lyrics of "the gorgeous Paul Jenden" to music, "a brilliant wit," says Farr. "Who else could make a war hysterically funny?" He visited Antarctica in December as part of the Antarctica New Zealand Artists Fellowship, and is now composing a piece for the NZSO and baritone Paul Wheelan "based on the ill-fated voyage of Scott to the South Pole." Farr says being appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit "is the most amazing thing", both for himself and for Lilith. "The fact that the decision was made on a few sentences of information that was so thoroughly 'out' speaks volumes, I think."     David Parrish - 12th June 2006

Credit: David Parrish

First published: Monday, 12th June 2006 - 12:00pm

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