New Zealand’s landscape has long been a source of inspiration for artists and composers. I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed frequent trips to the mountains when young, and I still remember them fondly to this day. I have written quite a number of works on the theme of New Zealand’s natural environment. So I was very pleased to be asked by the Dunedin Sinfonia (now Southern Sinfonia) and Natural History New Zealand to compose ‘Southern Journeys’.
After initial discussions in 1999, I was given freedom to come up with my own ‘synopsis’ for the piece. The music was to be written first, and then recorded by the Dunedin Sinfonia so that images could be put to the music. This was a considerable luxury for the composer, as normally the film is made first and later the music is written to fit the images. Natural History was insistent that I should compose my music without the restriction of specific images, and for that I am very grateful.
Although Southern Journeys is programmatic, I have attempted to incorporate a symphonic logic into the music. Themes are developed and transformed, and there is an element of cyclic form with the return of the opening theme at the very end of the work. Ideally, the music should be able to stand alone without film, and still make sense.
The first movement is subtitled ‘Ancient South’ and portrays southern landscape, particularly remote areas such as mountains and sounds. The land is constantly being changed by water, snow and wind, the most dramatic example being the effects of avalanches. In the second movement, ‘Southern Adventures’, humans interact with Nature, at sea, in caves, on rock faces, in the air. Although these adventures are often difficult and treacherous, we feel exhilerated by this risky communion with Nature. The third movement, ‘Seasons in the South’, begins with the stillness of lakes and forests in Autumn, and moves on to explore southern bird and sea life. Winter announces its arrival with a storm, followed by the thawing of snow and ice and the first signs of Spring. The last movement, ‘Our Place’, explores our own environment and contrasts it with the natural environment we have witnessed in the previous movements. A note of caution is sounded: we cannot take the natural beauty of the South for granted. We have to respect and care for it, so as to maintain the balance between our needs and the needs of Nature. At the end of the movement a harmony exists between the beautiful aspects of a city like Dunedin and the natural environment.
Southern Journeys received financial assistance from the Millennium Fund and Natural History New Zealand.