A sense of optimism pervades this work – remarkable considering that during the writing of it some of my worst fears were realised. I lost my father and find it hard to reconcile myself to his passing, yet he lives on in me and for that I am grateful.
To Steve and to Edwin I say farewell, too – Steve was a friend, colleague and the bass player in my band, dying tragically young in a road accident the week before my father died. Edwin Raymond was a significant influence in my teenage years and I am only sorry that I did not write this sooner so he could have conducted it.
The piece is not, however, about death. It is not gloomy. The middle movements are reflective and peaceful and the outer movements are lively and rhythmic. If there is an optimistic side of death it is that life becomes more intense and more meaningful. The spirit of the finale is testament to this, ending the work vigorously and on an optimistic note.
The concerto was premiered on 7 November 1999 with Carol Hohauser as soloist, accompanied by the Da Capo Chamber Orchestra under conductor Mark Hodgkinson. The concerto was revised significantly in 2002 for the Russian premiere in May 2002 with the Kuzbass Symphony Orchestra. The work was written for Carol and I thank her for her enthusiasm, musicianship and for believing in my work.
This work another commissioned work, this time by the Kaipara District Council, in honour of long time accordion and arts supporter and lifetime member of the New Zealand Accordion Association, the late Mrs. Jenny Cocurullo. A respected and loved citizen of Dargaville, the main town in the Kaipara region in the north of New Zealand, Jenny always promoted the Kaipara as the ‘Gem of the North’. She in turn was considered ‘The Gem of the Kaipara’. Written for solo accordion with string orchestra and percussion, the Gem of the Kaipara was premiered in Dargaville on 11 May 2002, where it was performed by the Auckland Symphony with New Zealand accordion soloist Kevin Friedrich, and conducted by the composer. Written in simple sonata form, the introduction of the piece is quite mysterious in nature, with the lower strings providing a subtle bagpipe-like drone. The airy melody and soft percussive effects are reminiscent of the awakening of the lush majestic Kauri tree forests and countryside of the Kaipara Flats with its blanketing dawn fog. The main themes are written around Jenny’s name and the name of the region ‘Kaipara’. The lyrical re-occurring melody is first heard by the accordion with string accompaniment and then switches to the string accompanied by the accordion. After working through an animated and rhythmical jig-like section portraying Jenny’s boundless energy, various interests and Scottish heritage, the strings restate the soaring melody expressing the vast expansiveness and sweeping landscapes of the Kaipara region.
This work was inspired by happy memories of wartime holidays at Piha and ably describes the quiet peace of the rugged countryside; the sea with its swirling waves; the singing of the birds and the quiet, awesome majesty of the cliffs and Lion Rock.