The overall conception of the piece is underpinned by an evolving, wave-like movement – continuous cycles stretching/compressing/proliferating. There is a strong connection to the sea, as in [… and…11], composed in 2002. A passacaglia of seven chords, gradually permutating until they eventually assemble into reverse order, form the ground or ‘canvas’. The various textural and linear surfaces of the piece all emerge from this ground as reflections, extensions, compressions, or distillations of the core material. Quarter-tones (division of the chromatic scale into 24 tones instead of the usual 12) enrich and intensify the harmony while rendering it more tactile and less pitch-defined.
“The 7-minute a gentle infinity…is both atmospheric and deft in Ker’s handling of a large orchestra, subtly dynamic (not least in the use of percussion), edgily communicative, and vibrant in its imagery; a piece full of good things, arguably cut off prematurely. Conducted by Pavel Kotla, the LSO once again suggested that Ker (in attendance) is a composer to watch out for.”
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.
Much of my work is a marriage (or balancing act) between the Western art music tradition and my own position in time and place. Along with many forms, I have had a love for sacred choral music from Mediaeval times through to the present, but in not being a Christian, I have felt a reluctance to set text in which I don’t fully believe.
In reading the work of spiritual author, Eckhart Tolle, I have discovered a new connection with biblical texts. Tolle quotes the line “Be still, and know that I am God” in his book A New Earth, as an example of a universal truth that is at the heart of all religions and belief systems. In this text “God” may be seen as the Christian God, an omnipresent spiritual dimension or the universe personified. This line, and the rest of the text, is from Psalm 46. In setting this text I have found an opening into the world of sacred choral music that aligns with my own beliefs.
In composing this concerto I recognise two contrasting musical cultures within the European artistic tradition. The Brass Band represents what I call a ‘closed’ musical system portrayed by its standardised instrumentation heard to great effect in its stirring marches, sonorous hymn playing, contest pieces and arrangements of popular and show music, while the orchestra with its dazzling array of many instrumental colours, its flexible instrumentation and its potential for pushing musical boundaries, represents an ‘open’ musical system. I wanted also to exploit the virtuosic capacity of the brass band as a concerto soloist and to celebrate through this work the unity and solidarity amongst brass musicians.
Europa is a one movement work in five main sections which alternate slow atmospheric music with a fast and rhythmic style. The latter is heard in the many rapid passages which switch from band to orchestra and vice versa. Notable also is the relationship between the band and the orchestra particularly in the cadenzas for the brass band followed by the orchestral brass.
I was spurred into composing this work after reading about Europa, one of the large moons of the planet Jupiter first seen by Galileo in 1610 and named after a goddess of Greek mythology. Such thoughts were instrumental in generating my first musical ideas, for instance the name ‘Europa’ is represented by a six note melody heard throughout the work. However, my initial thoughts about Europa receded as I explored and developed the musical material. ‘Europa’ was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia. The work was first performed by the Dalewool Auckland Brass and the Auckland Philharmonia conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya on 13 June 2002 in the Auckland Town Hall.
Fault had its genesis in the line ‘phrases shifting tectonically’ from an electro-acoustic work by John Cousins, and suggestions of subterranean tension and earthquake are perhaps audible. Fault was written in 2004 and was workshopped by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. It was premiered by the NZSO at the 2007 Asia Pacific Festival.
Feral is the story of a creature that lives somewhere humans seldom go. His environment is dank and dark. Sunlight seldom penetrates the tree canopy – day is differentiated from night only by a thin translucent film. This area is down the side of a hill in a remote, inhospitable valley not easily accessed by others. Perhaps it’s a forbidding lost world at the back of your garden.
The creature is aggressive, easily spurned, and thoroughly anti-social – both by environment and by choice. He has no need of a name, because nobody ever sees him long enough to give him one – or at least nobody lives to tell the tale. You find yourself on his turf. Nobody can hear you.
You’re never to be heard from again.
Feral was workshopped by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conductor Hamish McKeich as a finalist in the 2009 NZSO/Todd Corporation Young Composers Competition. The piece was highly commended through winning the Orchestra’s Choice Award.