The title of this symphony comes from the ominous tam tam stroke that opens the first movement, a mysterious sound heard by two of E M Forster’s characters in A Passage to India when they investigate the Marabar Caves. This is a sound which symbolises the mysteries of life and death, although Ritchie warns us not to take it all too literally. “The echo is only a starting point to a general theme of human struggle. The listener can interpret the music in his or her own way.”
The first movement opens sonorously in the tonality of G, pulsating chords leading us inevitably to the first main theme, a theme that Ritchie himself characterises as a “muscular, Brucknerian theme”, although the momentum that it engages owes more to Shostakovich. A sinuous saxophone theme is very significant in the central section, as is the lengthy oboe theme in the moderato section. The second movement opens with the sharp, bright sounds of oboes and clarinets accompanied by Cook Islands log drums. The log drum punctuates the movement’s textures and creates a sense of propulsion. A light-hearted dance introduced by string quartet offers an opportunity for a change of mood. The third movement is a lament for the victims of the Bosnian wars.
The highly evocative scoring of the opening pages was inpsired by the wailing of a Maori karanga, while tolling bells imbue this elegy with a special sense of tragedy. The symphony ends with a ‘grand dance’ which shows Ritchie has not been untouched by rock music. Several themes are brought together in an ecstatic coda, after which the music slowly unwinds over a reiterated pedal note. The opening of the first movement returns, and the final sound we hear is a single stroke on the tam tam.
Symphony No.1 ‘Boum’ was completed while Ritchie was Composer-in-residence with the Dunedin Sinfonia in 1993, and first performed the following year, under the baton of Sir William Southgate. It has received numerous performances, and was recorded for radio by the NZSO, in 1998, Auckland Philharmonia in 1996, Dunedin Sinfonia in 1994.