Au began as a series of musical reflections on the Auroroa with pitch material based on the name of bass clarinettist Andrew Uren whose initials provide the title. This title, ‘Au’ is also the abbreviation for ‘aurum’, the Latin word for gold. As I was composing I realised that I was dealing with golden qualities not only of the sounds in the piece but also of the musicians in the ensemble 175 East who would be giving its first performance. This was particularly the case with the soloist Andrew Uren whose adventurous bass clarinet playing has revolutionised the way in which composers in New Zealand think about the instrument.
The work was commissioned by Andrew Uren with funding provided by Creative New Zealand and was first performed on 15 September 2002 at The Space, Wellington, by Andrew Uren and ‘175 East’ conducted by Hamish McKeich.
Black Sand began as an investigation of possible cello sounds and their variations, which I composed into a solo line using a devised compositional system, balancing initial conscious choices with chance elements. I also utilised an aleatory process to generate material for the rest of the ensemble by treating the possible gestural fragments in a number of categories (dynamics, articulation, instrumental technique, and orchestration). Underpinned by a rotational pitch structure, and due to the severe limitation on pitch and sonority, Black Sand unfolds as a bare and very atmospheric piece.
Fission draws its name from the actions and reactions that characterise a lot of its material. The work was based on the concept of organised chaos ‘resolving’ to a chaotic organisation. Despite the apparently haphazard nature of the first section, it is in fact highly organised, while the last section, calmer and seemingly more ordered is in fact far less organised. The piano plays an important role providing much off the impetus for the introduction of new ideas and textures, introducing the first real melodic material in the solos of the middle section, and directing the harmony towards the greater resolution of the work’s end.
Edgard Varèse’s Octandre (1923) is arguably not trademark Varèse: missing are the menacing batteries of percussion that punctuate most of his important works. While the challenging idée fixe rhythmic unisons of works such as Ionisation are in evidence, in Octandre, melody is also to the fore.
The work is, to my ears, both clinical and expressive, and, after umpteen listenings, it remains modern and fresh. It is the one work above all others that I go to when seeking inspiration. So, as a means of perhaps peeling back a few layers of mystery surrounding Octandre and also as a way of demonstrating my gratitude to it, I have written this homage, using Varèse’s same instrumentation and three movement structure.
First Movement – a solo flute incites an angry mob.
Second Movement – ugly harmonies mingle with fairground-esque diversions and a sinking feeling.
Third Movement – whereas the first and the second movement used isolated, haphazardly-chosen fragments from Octandre to propel the discourse, this movement is anchored by motifs borrowed directly from the work, including the oboe, piccolo and bassoon openings of each of the first, second and third movements respectively and the brutal tutti rhythmic unisons of Varèse’s third.
As if to underline the composer’s reverence for Octandre, the final oboe note, taken from the stunning ending to Varèse’s first movement, is a semitone below that used by the Frenchman.
MIM is a fanfare. It is made up of lots of simple musical layers, each instrument playing a simple musical line. The combination of these layers creates a complex and vibrant whole. MIM was composed especially for the opening of the Selwyn College Performing Arts Theatre on 22 April, 1999. MIM is dedicated to my daughter Xanthe – it was written in the last stage of her gestation and finished just days before she was born.
Composed in 1964, this wind octet is in three contrasting movements and is scored for the classical combination of pairs of woodwind and horns.
The work has as its inspiration the classical octets of Mozart and Beethoven although the main compositional influences come from the 1930’s ‘neoclassical’ soundworld of Stravinsky and Copland.
Octet was first performed at the Cambridge Music School in 1965.
OCTET:INFILTRATION begins as two quartets, one of wind and the other of strings. The wind group is displaced from the central performance area, so the timbral groupings are initially delineated both in time and space. The process of the piece is that of the wind players one by one “infiltrating” the string group. This accounts for the four solos which form the second section of the piece, often coloured and embellished by the instruments that are already part of the main group. The unaccompanied clarinet solo leads to the main body of the piece where the ensemble functions as a whole. Here material previously hinted at crystalises into a series of interrelated textures and gestures. OCTET: INFILTRATION was composed in Siena, italy, while the composer was studying with Franco Donatoni at the Accademia Musical Chigiana in July and August 1992. It was premiered in Siena by Octandre, directed by Giorgio Magnanensi.