Written during a month-long residency in November 2005 at the Visby International Centre for Composers, in Visby on the Swedish Baltic island of Gotland, this piece was inspired by the surroundings there- the history related to its importance in the Hanseatic League and prior to that the long Viking period; and in particular the old town with it’s beautifully preserved encircling medieval town wall.
The piece consists of seven descriptive historical episodes, and includes two poems to be narrated by the pianist in episodes 2 and 7- ‘Clouds’ and ‘Centuries’. The vocalisations are mainly sung, hummed and whistled sounds, along with the breaths of the third section indicating the onerous task of building the wall.
Both movements of this work began as transcriptions of recorded performances by two of Greece’s living master-musicians, clarino player Manos Achalinotopoulos and percussionist Vagelis Karypis. The Transcriptions are based on two separate recordings of a traditional taximi entitled Kartsigar. Taximia form part of an oral tradition in which improvisation played an important role. Songs would begin with an instrumental prelude, the taximi, where a musican showed off his prowess. This set the mood for the song to follow, and could last for as long as twenty minutes.
The taximi Kartsigar comprises two elements, an ostinato and the improvised melody. The melody forms the basis of the first movement of the quartet, and the ostinato forms the basis of the second.
Like my piano solo Where the river flows, Otari (2004) for solo harp is inspired by one of my favourite Wellington places, Otari Bush near my home, which is a peaceful soundworld of birdsong, pools of stillness, and ebb and flow of wind and stream. The chorale-like theme that emerges towards the end is based on my Te Puna Waiora (Spring of Living Water).
Overall, Otari is shaped by some words in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: " At the still point, there the dance is.."
This work is dedicated to Carolyn Mills, principal harpist for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, whose innovative and enthusiastic collaboration enabled me to explore some extended harp techniques as part of the composing process. In March 2005, Otari was premiered in United States and since then it has received several performances in New Zealand and the United States as well as at three international Harp Festivals – London, San Francisco and Adelaide.