Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 20 February 2009 Contents 20 February, 2009 | Page 7
She began piano lessons at the age of five
or six and was enrolled at music school.
Such was the pressure on students in East
Germany to show results that every year
they had to pass an exam to stay on the
course. Fail and your career would be over
– there was no opportunity to get private
tuition. But if you could successfully pass
more than seven years at music school
there was a good chance you could make it
“If you’re good they give you a bit of
opportunity to improve but if you don’t make
it you’re out,” she said.
After the first year more than half of the
students were kicked out. At the end of the
fourth year the then nine-year-old Kerstin
failed her exam. But luck – and talent – was
on her side. A Russian tutor at the school
saw the potential in her and fought to have
her reinstated. She taught the best students
and had a reputation for picking up those
who other tutors couldn’t deal with.
“If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t play,” Kerstin
By her last exam, at the end of nine years,
Kerstin was one of only two left from the
original intake. The other was her Russian
After an anxious 25-minute wait for the
results she learned she had passed and
graduated school – complete with A-levels.
Around that time the Berlin Wall came down
and Kerstin began applying for places in
music conservatories. She had her sights
set on Weimar and practised at least two
hours a day for the entrance exam. There
were more than 200 applicants for the
seven places and she missed out. However,
she did get accepted at Mainz where she
studied piano for four years qualifying as
a music teacher and graduating with a
teaching degree. She stayed on for another
two years to attain her performing degree.
During that time she was also accepted
for an international master class. Music
students could send audition tapes and,
if good enough, could be chosen for
classes with a famous tutor.
Kerstin was fortunate to be selected
by world-renowned piano teacher Peter
Feuchtwanger. She was a student of
one of his assistants so had the benefit
of being familiar with his technique.
However, it was a scary experience. She
was the only European selected and the
classes – every day for up to a week –
were conducted before an audience of
more than 200.
At the completion of her studies her
future seemed mapped out. She could
either teach piano, something she had
been doing since the age of 14, or go
on to become a professional performer.
There was no opportunity to try
“Making music is great. Teaching music
is great. But there is more in life than
So she set off overseas in search of
adventure and improved English skills
and ended up in New Zealand.
Sunset recitals hit perfect note
A Manapouri backpackers is
playing host to a recital by a
world-class concert pianist
... every week.
Music that once filled concert halls in
Germany is now the perfect accompaniment
to breath-taking views of Lake Manapouri.
And it’s live. Every Saturday night.
The professional pianist responsible reckons
this is the best venue she has ever played.
And she doesn’t even need to leave home.
But her road to Eden has been long and
difficult.Kerstin Ladstaetter was born in
East Germany to parents who recognised
the best opportunity they could give their
daughter was the gift of music. The political
scene meant she would not be allowed to sit
traditional school “A-levels” but as a fulltime
music student, she could.
Nine years ago she visited the Freestone
Backpackers in Manapouri and, with the
exception of a stint in Christchurch to
improve her English and a trip home to
extend her Visa, stayed. She and partner
Jimmy Calder now run the business
together and most Saturday nights she
puts on a recital in the large living room of
their new home that was built specially for
the purpose with high, timber ceilings for
acoustics and large windows to capture the
fantastic views of Lake Manapouri.
In the corner is the electronic Yamaha
Clavinova piano that Jimmy bought for her
about eight years ago – its rich tone the
closest possible to a grand piano.
Most of her concerts are held at sunset and
her audiences total no more than 20.
“If we had more than 20 people I would
hardly remember all the names,” she said.
It’s that kind of intimacy that she loves
about her performances these days. There
are no newspaper critics – in fact there are
no critics at all. She plays because she loves
to and people come because they love to
She is careful about her selection of
material – nothing too long or laborious. She
is conscious that for most who come to hear
her – predominantly backpackers – this is
their first experience of classical music.
“I don’t want to do big concerts. I just want
to do home concerts and enjoy making
people happy,” she said.
And she is. Almost every Saturday night.
Anyone is welcome to attend but bookings
are essential. Admission is $10 and the
concerts last for two hours.
After spending most of her life dedicated to
studying music, Kerstin said she had now
found her niche, both as a performer and a
“I do it because I want to, not because I
have to. I do it for pure enjoyment,” she
Kerstin is enjoying her best performances from the comfort of her living room which is
open every Saturday night for guests to enjoy her music.
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