In 1995 I was approached by the NZSO to write an overture to commemorate the recent death of New Zealand’s most famous war hero, Sir Charles Upham. Upham was famous for having won the Victoria Cross twice for bravery during World War II. He was, however, extremely modest when it came to discussing his achievements. Some years before his death it was suggested to Upham that he have a state funeral; he simply replied, “A bugle will do”. This comment seemed like a good starting point for my piece.
There are no bugles in the orchestra, but the opening section depicting the horrors of battle contains plenty of brass. Sub-titled Maleme and Ruweisat Ridge, the music is fast and furious, built from several motifs, and includes the opening rhythm for the most well known Maori haka (war dance), Kamate, kamate. The music builds to a climax, and the scene changes to a bleak Colditz Castle, where Upham was imprisoned during the war. While in prison he dreams of rural NZ, and the farm near Kaikoura called ‘Landsdowne’, where he eventually settled after the war. This brief pastoral section links into a coda celebrating the outbreak of peace. Motifs from earlier in the piece return but changed into brighter modes. ’
A Bugle Will Do was first performed by the NZSO in 1996 under Andrew Sewell, and was subsequently performed in the USA.
The composer writes: ”Drafted immediately after reading a book by the Buddhist guru Chögyam Trungpa, Abhisheka was my first-ever attempt at writing music with space in it. Until this piece, practically everything I had written was ultra-caffeinated, fast, full of notes, and murder on performers. But having been (albeit temporarily) inspired by the great truths and peace in Trungpa’s writing, I found myself navigating slower passages of musical time, as well as exploring the microcosm of inner space between the even intervals of our chromatic tuning system.”
Anxiety is a common psychological disorder in modern society. It is a state of uneasiness or tension caused by over-worrying about a possible future problem or danger. Ecstasy here implies a state of exalted delight, joy, and then, gradually moves to a more extreme emotion.
A person experiences various feelings every day. However, some people have to overcome certain psychological difficulties, such as phobia or anxiety. This piece reflects two aspects of feelings, anxiety and ecstasy, which are unique in humans. One maybe we are trying to avoid, while another one, we are trying to pursue. Some people may have already experienced both of these two states in real life. Others may have just suffered anxiety but never have made the journey into the euphoria of ecstasy. It is interesting to notice that if these two feelings are persistent or triggered by certain events, they both can lead to intense emotions, such as Anxiety Attack and an ecstasy of rage.
‘Beginnings’ was commissioned by Auckland Philharmonia. It was inspired by the birth of Ritchie’s son Tristan. It depicts the slowly mounting tension of the labour, through to the birth itself. There is a gradual growth in the music from small, delicate gestures into wild and pulsating ones towards the end. The child is represented by a ‘little Tristan waltz’ which eventually gets caught up in the musical frenzy. The waltz sequence imposes order on the music, which tends to be fragmentary and changeable. There are some echoes of Bartok and Debussy in this early work, and it presents a good challenge for a professional orchestra.
you miss swimming in electric lights
between your fingers, the sound of running water
things you had forgotten, left behind:
the chair legs you forgot to felt
the ink-black shirt for every occasion.
the perfect sentence continues to elude you
between is both a musical exploration of acoustic spaces, and also a conversation between past and present, an interaction between my own compositional practice and that of a musical ancestor, the great New Zealand composer Anthony Watson (1933-1973). The shared musical material, from Watson’s Prelude and Allegro (1960) provides the platform on which this conversation takes place, encompassing musical worlds both lyrical and angular, grand and intimate. The poem above is my own.
Trompe l’oreille. The aural equivalent to an optical illusion. Such images are often a blur, gradually coming into focus as the eye adjusts and changing form as one’s perspective changes. This piece begins on the edge of aural perception, slowly unfolding and evolving.
Delicate Fragility was read by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Marc Taddei in their Graduate Composers’ Workshop, 3 October 2005.