John Psathas is New Zealand's most frequently performed composer.
Born in 1966, he is the son of two Greek immigrant parents to New Zealand. He grew up in Taumaranui and later shifted to Napier. His Greek heritage forms part of his musical influences. John Psathas was an early school leaver, and went on to study piano and composition at Victoria University in Wellington.
At this stage, his parents moved back to Greece, and were unable to support him financially for his tertiary music education. Consequently, Psathas supported himself by playing several jazz gigs a week in the Wellington music scene for several years. The influence of jazz can also be observed in his music.
One of the performers that frequently has Psathas' works in her repertoire is percussionist Evelyn Glennie. She has commissioned several works from John Psathas - but he has never charged her anything for the commission itself. Why? John Psathas and Evelyn Glennie have a sort of symbiotic relationship - he composes the music and has it performed frequently (which is the most important and he earns money from the collection of royalties) and Evelyn Glennie has challenging works to perform for her audiences. This is an example of John Psathas' attitude to composing.
Other regular performers of John Psathas include percussionist Pedro Carneiro, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Federico Mondelci, pianist Michael Houstoun and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
John Psathas' music is quite distinct with a mixture of Greek, jazz and rock styles and genres fused together, but is also virtuostic and extremely technically challenging. For example, in his piece Drum Dances for the full drum kit (plus a bit of other percussion instruments on the side) and an amplified acoustic piano is very dense in terms of polyphonic texture and sounds very random. In fact, many audiences have questioned performers of Drum Dances, "Did you just make that up?". But it wasn't made up, there is too much coincidental material contained for the piece to have been an improvisation. It sounds random because one of Psathas' composition techniques is to input music into a computer via a keyboard and then use that to notate the music.
John Psathas is married with two children and is currently based in Wellington where he not only composes, but teaches composition at Victoria University.