This piece was originally the fifth movement of a short Christmas cycle (“Angels and Shepherds and Wise Men All”) was written in 2012 for the end of year concert by South Auckland Choral Society to be conducted by the composer. The concert included my school choir, St Mary’s Schola, and I was keen to write something that the combined forces (including the soloists) in the concert could sing together.
The cycle doesn’t try to encapsulate the entire Christmas story, but focusses on those characters on the edge of the story – the angels, the shepherds and the wise man. In this piece, the characters who gathered around the infant Jesus are focussed on: the animals, the angels and the shepherds.
This work for clarinet quintet in three movements was written following time spent in the north of Scotland, during which I visited the remote and desolate places that my family left behind when they emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand in the 19th Century. Although the music is not intended to be strictly descriptive, the image underpinning the work is that of an infinite shore that stretches from the line of steep cliffs at Badbea overlooking the North Sea, around the world to the rocky southern shores of Aotearoa New Zealand. The work draws on the tonal colour and extremes of pitch that are possible in the clarinet, and the extraordinary platform of sound of the string quartet.
Ave Maris Stella (“Hail, star of the sea”) is a plainsong Vespers hymn to Mary. It was especially popular in the Middle Ages. The creation of the original hymn has been attributed to several people, including Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), Saint Venantius Fortunatus (6th century) and Hermannus Contractus (11th century). The text is found in a 9th century manuscript in the Abbey of Saint Gall (St. Gallen in present-day Switzerland).
The piece uses little material other than the original chant melody. It is presented against a single sustained pitch from the singing bowl which sounds throughout. The work uses a mix of fully notated and semi-improvised music to create an atmospheric response to the text. Only the first and last verses of the text are used, with the choir only ever singing the first verse, and two solo voices singing the final verse.
“Ave Maris Stella” was written for St Mary’s Schola (St Mary’s College, Auckland).
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.
Bout is inspired by the sport of women’s boxing. In an interview with Canadian boxing pioneer Savoy “Kapow” Howe, I was struck by her detailed demonstration of the inner monologue of a fighter. Melodic and rhythmic material from her words insinuate themselves into the piece, along with referee’s whistles, counts and bells, training routines and the dogged persistence of the fighter.
Bout: A round at fighting; a contest, match, trial of strength, physical or intellectual.
When American poet Walt Whitman first published his collection Leaves of Grass in 1855, it was notable for its sensual imagery in an era when such carnal expression was considered immoral. On the eve of his 191st birthday, Whitman’s evocative prose was sung in the language of passion.
In many ways this is a companion piece to an earlier work, Vivid for solo trumpet, which also sets a powerful, sexually charged poem by Will Christie. But where Vivid is very often overtly violent and forceful in its gestures, deepwalker is mostly much subtler, almost passive-aggressive in outlook. The opening lines of the poem – “the day is a drum that connects these vocal loops with grey traffic circles bridge after bridge” – are mirrored in the cyclical, sometimes elliptical form of the work, loops and circles that play between registers of the clarinet. Sexual tension and aggression bubble away in the background, periodically rupturing the musical surface with piercing, angular outbursts, sometimes in parallel with the rather tender, fluid lines of the low register, and with the spoken text itself. This violent interplay creates a kind of disordered internal conversation, a bizarre hermetic character opening and shutting her windows; a clarinet of many voices.
Dry Shadows draws on the idea of fragmentary colouring, and the trajectory and resonance of these fragments through blending different combinations of the instruments. It inhabits a sparse world of very specific material and gestural flow. Intentionally discontinuous, Dry Shadows explores the sound relationships between and across the instruments. Sudden loud, spiky punctuations in the music, as well as the numerous more delicate colours and shadowy sonorities in between these interjections, give rise to a sense of mystery in the music.