New Zealand composer Salina Fisher hitting the right notes in US

Salina Fisher never saw it coming - a call from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra wanting to play one of her compositions.

It was a pinch-yourself moment for the 25-year-old, just off the plane in New York and knuckling into work on a master of music in composition at the Manhattan School of Music.

"I'd just moved to New York to experience what the music scene was like and I really wasn't expecting to get a call from someone organising this concert," Fisher said.

"It's the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which is a pretty major orchestra - the facilities they had to make this concert possible was incredible."

Lighting artists and dancers brought her piece 'Tōrino' to life, creating the appearance of the performance taking place in a glow worm cave.

The composition was a collaboration with fellow New Zealander Rob Thorne, which makes use of the pūtōrino, a Māori instrument that can be played as both a trumpet and a flute and has a shape based on the New Zealand case moth cocoon.

"It's the only uniquely Māori instrument, in it doesn't have any Polynesian roots - it's only in New Zealand."

Her trip to Los Angeles is just another feather in the cap for someone who was playing the piano at four, the violin at five and composing music by age seven.

"I can't really remember not doing it!"

In the 18 years since she's put together an impressive résumé. In 2016 she was the youngest ever winner of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, New Zealand's top composition award, and something she won again the following year.

Her work has been performed by orchestras across the US, New Zealand and as far away as Russia and Germany.

Salina Fisher.
Salina Fisher. Photo credit: Hagen Hopkins

She describes her work as exploring the traditions of Japan and New Zealand, but living in the vibrant surrounds of New York City is the perfect setting for expanding the musical palette, and Fisher is lapping it up.

"There's just a lot going on, so many people. In New Zealand, there's this really nice sense of community, you basically know, or know of, everyone that's involved.

"But with New York, every week there's concerts with composers and performers that you've never heard of even after a year of being here. It's kind of overwhelming actually!"

The diverse musical scene of New York has left a mark on the young composer, but she's worked to make sure New York gets an impression of her own work.

Her composition 'Tupaia', a piece inspired by the master Polynesian navigator who accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage to New Zealand, was first picked up by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra before being played by the Albany Symphony Orchestra in the New York state capital in April.

"They actually got me up on stage in this big hall to talk about my piece before it got played. So to be able to share something about New Zealand was pretty awesome."

Fisher will complete her studies in New York in May next year, and is already lining up work back in New Zealand, where she aims to be based.

That is something of a coup for the New Zealand music scene, which can expect to hear plenty more from this talented composer for years to come.