Upbeat: Fiona Pears and COnnor Hartley-Hall are ready to bring a cheerful vibe to Arrowtown


Last year was a challenging time for most musicians, as uncertainty reigned supreme and lockdown dulled the senses.

But for one violinist, whose CV already listed venues most artists would kill to play, lockdown presented a career highlight — the chance to play with her favourite muso.

Okay, so it wasn’t in person and happened over video calls, but Fiona Pears was still sent running around the house when her phone flashed up with Roby Lakotos’ name.

‘‘He is one of my violin heroes … I contacted him through [Facebook] Messenger when he was doing lockdown videos in Hungary, I never thought I’d get a reply back.’’

The Hungarian maestro’s a direct descendant of János Bihari, a violinist Beethoven admired and who played a role in developing gypsy jazz.

What’s that?

Well, Pears’ on-stage partner Connor Hartley-Hall sums it up as ‘‘having the energy and expressiveness of rock music, the harmony and complexity of jazz, and the melodic, exotic sound of classical and Spanish music.’’

Guitarist Hartley-Hall was so in awe of the genre he never believed he could actually play it himself, but now he’s on tour with Pears and hits Arrowtown in a free gig this Sunday.

Pears says her love of gypsy jazz came from a young age, when she heard a record by French virtuoso violinist Stephane Grappellini.

She’d already received a violin from Santa eight years earlier, when, as a four-year-old, Pears had come home from a concert stomping her feet and begging for her own string instrument.

Her passion grew from there and Pears says the introduction to gypsy jazz allowed her to break free from the manacles of classical music.

‘‘I loved the freedom of the music as opposed to having the handcuffs on and being tied to the music stand.’’

Pears, who grew up just outside Christchurch, joined her first band aged 18 around the time the city’s jazz school kicked off.

‘‘There probably was a certain vibe in the city for jazz at that time and playing outside of the symphony orchestra, so I’m sure that would have contributed to the passion for playing in bars,’’ she recalls.

Pears says attracting an audience for a classical solo or duet violin performance can be hard, but that’s not so with more upbeat genres.

‘‘People enjoy feel-good music, and I think that’s why gypsy jazz has been popular, lately, because people want music that makes them feel good — even the sadder tunes I would call wistful.’’

During her career, Pears has performed at iconic venues such as Birmingham Symphony Hall, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, Joe’s Pub in New York and Donovan’s Store in West Coast’s Okarito.

She says although it’s great to be able to say she’s played at each, she’s never been too overwhelmed by a setting and gives every performance — wherever it is — equal weight.

Fiona Pears and Connor Hartley-Hall, South of France, Arrowtown’s Buckingham Green, Sunday,  February 7, 2pm