Gareth Farr was born in Wellington, New Zealand. He began his studies in composition and percussion at the University of Auckland in 1986. The experience of hearing a visiting gamelan orchestra in 1988 prompted his return to Wellington to attend Victoria University, where the characteristic rhythms and textures of the Indonesian gamelan rapidly became the hallmarks of his own composition.
Farr continued with postgraduate study in composition and percussion at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where his teachers included Samuel Adler and Christopher Rouse.
In 1993, at the age of 25, Farr was appointed composer-in-residence by Chamber Music New Zealand, the youngest ever composer to hold that position. At the conclusion of the residence, Farr returned to the Eastman School to begin a doctorate in composition. As well as composing Kembang Suling (for flute and marimba, his most popular work to date) and three works for orchestra during this time, Farr also introduced audiences to his on-stage alter-ego, the percussion-playing drag queen Lilith LaCroix.
His music was also performed by the NZSO in Beijing as part of the 2008 Olympics, and in the opening ceremony of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
In 2006 Gareth was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for his services to music and entertainment, in 2010 he was a recipient of the prestigious NZ Arts Laureate Award, and in 2014 he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from The University of Auckland.
Farr’s music is particularly influenced by his extensive study of percussion, both Western and non-Western. Rhythmic elements of his compositions can be linked to the complex and exciting rhythms of Rarotongan log drum ensembles, Balinese gamelan and other percussion music of the Pacific Rim.
In addition to his music for the concert chamber, Farr has written music for dance, theatre, television and film. He has won four Chapman Tripp theatre awards including his soundtrack to Vula, a NZ/Pacific Island theatre piece that went on to perform extensively overseas including Australia, the Netherlands and London.
In 2006, the Royal New Zealand Ballet toured the country with their brand new work The Wedding, featuring a score by Gareth Farr. At 90 minutes, it was among the ballet company’s most ambitious projects, and brought Farr together with prominent New Zealand novelist and librettist Witi Ihimaera.
Farr’s music was integral to Maui – One Man Against the Gods, a stage show four years in the making. First premiered in 2003, in incomplete form, it featured aerial theatre, Maori kapa haka, contemporary dance and song, with Farr’s stirring music touring a number of centres in New Zealand.
From 2006-2013, Farr developed a fruitful collaboration with director and librettist Paul Jenden, producing five comedy musicals: Troy, Monarchy, Rome, The Nero Show, and C a Musical.
In 2007 Farr was appointed as Composer-In-Residence for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra culminating in 2008 with the premiere of Ex Stasis a symphonic song cycle for four soloists. In 2008 Farr also celebrated the world premiere of his work Terra Incognita, for bass baritone solo, choir and orchestra, performed by Paul Whelan and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout Polynesia, Tangaroa is the god of the sea. The sustaining life force of the cultures of this region (and the mythical origin of humanity), the mighty Pacific Ocean is the inspiration for this work. In its surging ebb and flow, the music evokes the ocean in its many moods – from the gentle rippling of calm, sparkling waters to the turmoil...
Three Little Pieces for Eve is a unique work in that it utilises unconventional percussion 'instruments': bottles, flowerpots and mixing bowls. The work was written for composer Eve de Castro-Robinson's 50th birthday celebration concert and, in addition to being a homage to de Castro-Robinson, Three Little Pieces for Eve is also a...
Three Etudes was written while Farr was performing regularly as a marimba soloist. This work showcases the many potential rhythmic and sonic possibilities of the marimba by exploiting virtuosic playing techniques (such as the double lateral stroke) and by contrasting moods with seamless melodies. "For Jeremy Fitzsimons" and "Him" were written for fellow...
Pint-sized yet power-packed, Farr’s Fifty Fifty for solo bongos was composed at the request of Dame Evelyn Glennie as part of her 50 for 50 project. Farr injects a range of playing techniques into this 50-bar work – drumsticks and a mini maraca come into play alongside more conventional hand and finger work in articulating rapid-fire passages that twitch...