‘Alegria’ is an education piece for children of primary school age. It focuses on aspects of rhythm and ostinato, and it is based on the flamenco principle of 3+3+2+2+2 (12 beat cycle). Flamenco music is based on Spanish gypsy music, and is often accompanied by clapping, so there are clapping parts included for members of the orchestra. The audience may learn the simple clapping patterns so they can accompany the orchestra when they hear the patterns. The central section in 5/8 is intended as an asymmetrical contrast to the duple and triple meters of the outer sections. “Alegria” means ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’ in Spanish.
Echoes was written for the Puspawarna Gamelan Group at the University of Otago. I have long enjoyed the sounds of the gamelan, and welcomed the invitation by Dr Shelley Brunt to compose something for Puspawarna. Although I knew some rudimentary things about the instruments, composing this piece gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal more. Being able to play a little in the ensemble was invaluable, as was advice provided by leader Joko Susilo, Shelley, Chris Watson (Mozart Fellow at Otago University) and one of my students, Ali Churcher, who coincidentally was writing a piece for gamelan at the same time.
Echoes is the first piece I have written without using a piano at all to compose. Having been to a gamelan rehearsal I found a tune popping into my head during a walk to the dairy. I developed this tune on the computer (using vibraphone sounds to represent the gamelan), layering it into a canon, or round. Two further tunes appear, based on different home notes, but all the tunes use the same pelog scale. They are decorated and varied, before the opening tune returns like an echo at the end. The idea of echoes is also evoked by the canons, and the ringing sounds of the gamelan itself. Echoes have a spiritual significance, I think; sound waves return to a listener in the same way memories flood the brain when triggered by something special happens. They induce a reflective state.
The title of this piece translates: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These were some of the last words spoken by Jesus before he died. It is based on the idea that within everyone there is a desire for more from life, and at times it feels like God has betrayed us.
I heard Alanis Morrissette’s song Hand in My Pocket when I visited Canada in 1996. I’m intrigued by songs that we remember in spite of ourselves. When Alanis sings I’m short but I’m healthy, I’m high but I’m grounded I think of Greg Oh biking to NYC. I do hope that everything’s going be fine, fine, fine.
The name hihi (“stitchbird”) has an onomatopoeiac quality which suggests the insistent call of this bird which is urgent, penetrating and strong. Hearing the striking call of the “hihi” on Tiritiri Matangi in the Hauraki Gulf inspired this piece.
The march of the crocodiles refers to the ongoing silliness caused by bureaucratic systems and how we all play our part in them.
We play a little tune, (this might be in the form of a phone call or a letter, a question, a request) the receiver does a little dance, a message gets passed along, someone else plays a tune, the next person does a little dance etc….until eventually a little tune comes back for us to do a little dance to.
I am fascinated by the amount of paperwork, human resources and time that can be involved in even the smallest and simplest of enquiries, not to mention the tedium. This silly game is so dreary it’s almost amusing!
The piece is played tutti then the ensemble divides into three groups and uses material from the composition to improvise. Eventually the ensemble becomes a choir.
Moto Perpetuo was commissioned by the Wellington Youth Sinfonietta for their tenth anniversary concert in 2003. I was excited about the prospect of composing a work for a group of enthusiastic performers, willing to throw themselves head-first at a challenge.
Moto Perpetuo is inspired by this youthful approach to music making which manifests musically as a sort of exuberant relentless energy.
Night Alley was commissioned by the 4th China International Piano Competition (2007) as the compulsory work.
Sometimes, I hear familiar music unexpectedly – in a film, or in a night alley where diaphanous sounds pour out of someone’s home. Though the power this music has to affect me has long faded, it suddenly takes on a new meaning, texture, and color. These fragmented sounds, spreading like a fragrance or dream, complete themselves in my imagination, while also arousing in me myriad threads of thought.
Night Alley attempts to capture such an unpredictable and poetic realm.
In an essay called The Class and Piano by the artist Chen Dan-Qing, the author writes, “In Beijing, Shanghai, and Nan Jing, I had several overheard encounters with the piano music of Bach and Chopin in the deep darkness of the commune corridors…strangely, listening to the renowned masters in the Lincoln Center or the Carnegie Hall is not as deliciously moving and enchanting as secretly enjoying music in the austere and unfamiliar domestic surroundings of a commune corridor, even if it is only from the first attempts of a young child.”
I can’t deny that I am also very fond of this kind of surprise or magic moment, which arises only from chance. One can never demand for this experience, one can only wait.
I have dedicated it to Madame Zhou Guang-Ren.
oboe/ violin duet (or other instruments with the same range), clarinet in B flat, violin section (at least 2 players), cello or cello section; Perc 1: glockenspiel. triangle, slide-whistle, whistle, egg-shakers, cap-gun or 2x 'party poppers'; Perc 2: typewriter, woodblock, bicycle horn, aluminium frying pan, vibra-slap, piano; everybody in the group also needs to have a 'kazoo'