This “reverse theme and variations” was realized in Studio B of the Experimental Music Studiols at University of Illinois, Urbana, USA. Distorted beyond recognition, and then increased in speed to the point of white noise, the “theme” or sound source is revealed in the final moments. And, as should be the case, John Barrymore has the last word.
I’ve admired John Psathas’ music for years, for its incredible sense of energy, its ability to defy categorization, and its cultural pluralism. With 4BY4 (his first non-pitched percussion piece), John delivers on all counts … and then some. If David Weckl, Christopher Lamb, Steven Schick and Giovanni Hidalgo – all percussion virtuosi from widely different genres – were to have a jam session, I can’t help but think that it would sound something like 4BY4.
Each of the four players plays a drumset-like set-up; one player has two snare drums a hi-hat, a tambourine, and a cymbal, another has two congas and a hihat, and the remaining two have tom-based set-ups. However, what binds these four seemingly disparate voices is the kick drum, which all four drumsets have. At times, these four drums pound a relentless beat in unison, and at others they’re split into complex rhythmic counterpoint.
It is this, in part, that makes 4BY4 such a great piece and a perfect fit for this album. John manages to take culturally different instruments, each with different playing techniques, and link them together with a common element – the kick drum. It is cultural pluralism at its best, with each voice maintaining its unique sound and identity, but seamlessly integrated into a common whole. - Omar Carmenates
In 1995 I was approached by the NZSO to write an overture to commemorate the recent death of New Zealand’s most famous war hero, Sir Charles Upham. Upham was famous for having won the Victoria Cross twice for bravery during World War II. He was, however, extremely modest when it came to discussing his achievements. Some years before his death it was suggested to Upham that he have a state funeral; he simply replied, “A bugle will do”. This comment seemed like a good starting point for my piece.
There are no bugles in the orchestra, but the opening section depicting the horrors of battle contains plenty of brass. Sub-titled Maleme and Ruweisat Ridge, the music is fast and furious, built from several motifs, and includes the opening rhythm for the most well known Maori haka (war dance), Kamate, kamate. The music builds to a climax, and the scene changes to a bleak Colditz Castle, where Upham was imprisoned during the war. While in prison he dreams of rural NZ, and the farm near Kaikoura called ‘Landsdowne’, where he eventually settled after the war. This brief pastoral section links into a coda celebrating the outbreak of peace. Motifs from earlier in the piece return but changed into brighter modes. ’
A Bugle Will Do was first performed by the NZSO in 1996 under Andrew Sewell, and was subsequently performed in the USA.
I did intend to sit down and compose an orchestral epic. I really, really DID, honest. Could I help it that as soon as I made that decision, the saxes started up a 1920s tea dance in my computer?! Only it’s not all sweetness and light and good ol’ days, in fact it sometimes gets a little murky in there, to say the least…
Commissioned in 2000 by the NZTrio, A Feather of Blue takes its title from a phrase in a poem called A View From A Window by New Zealand writer Kevin Ireland. I have always admired the wry humour and brightness of Kevin Ireland’s writing and many years ago set three of his poems for soprano and mixed ensemble. As a kind gesture Mr Ireland sent me a copy of his book of poems Skinning A Fish, and I was particularly struck by the imagery of colours, flowers, feathers and birds in this poem, which illustrates rain pouring down a window pane and giving way to a burst of sunshine after a storm.
A Little Sleep was written for Tom McGrath, in 2009. It is a programmatic piece that evokes a bedtime scene. A child listens to a music box while she prepares for sleep. Her parents sings her a lullaby – the slower section – and she drifts off, but her sleep is disturbed by a nightmare, represented by the furious final section.
A Musical Party was commissioned by the New Zealand Accordion Association (NZAA) to commemorate their 30th anniversary in June 2001. The weekend and Musical Party was dedicated to Silvio De Pra, honouring him for his outstanding contribution to the accordion in New Zealand. He has chaired the Accordion Examination Board of NZ Inc. since its inception in 1972 and been chief examiner since 1992.
A Musical Party was premiered by a massed accordion orchestra and conducted by the composer, Gary Daverne. It was later revised and arranged for solo accordion and symphony orchestra, which is the version that appears here.