13 was inspired by the Renaissance art I saw while studying and travelling in Italy in 2009 – 10. I was taken with the bold depictions of martyrs with the attributes of their lives and deaths.
13 is a set of 13 variations on a theme first presented by the organ. Each variation is based on one of the thirteen present at the Last Supper. The details of their lives are often sketchy, and sometimes sit somewhere between fact and legend. The order is as follows:
Theme Var. I
St Simon Zealotes – Revolutionary; went to Armenia and Persia; sawn in half. Var. II
St Thomas - Doubted Christ’s wounds; went to India; pierced with lance. Var. III
St Philip – Sober-minded; went to Greece and Phrygia; crucified upside-down. Var. IV
St Bartholomew - Honest; went to Armenia; flayed alive. Var. V
St Jude Thaddeus – Farmer; went to Syria and Armenia; clubbed to death. Var. VI
Judas Escariot – The betrayer; eternally punished; hung himself. Var. VII
St James the Great – Fiery temper; ‘Son of Thunder’; Judaea; beheaded. Var. VIII
St James the Less – Brother of Christ; Jerusalem and went to Egypt; thrown off temple. Var. IX
St Matthew – Tax collector; accompanied by an angel; Ethiopia and Persia; martyr. Var. X
St Andrew - The first-called; went to Ukraine and Black Sea; crucified on saltire. Var. XI
St John – Author of Revelations; ‘Son of Thunder’; went to Asia Minor; died of old-age. Var. XII
St Peter – Holder of the keys to the Gates of Heaven; went to Rome; crucified upside-down. Var. XIII
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.
“Where do words go when the sound of them has died?” (Keri Hulme). With onomatopoeic words we can linger on the actual sound of the word and then the imagination considers how the sound was produced. There is a bewildering array of sounds and instruments available to the composer who writes music for percussion. I am one of those annoying people who, upon seeing an interesting object, immediately wants to hear what sort of noise it makes. In choosing the instruments for the soloist in Bonk I wanted to have a unified sound world and so made a decision to restrict the instruments to those made of metal. The result would be a piece with industrial and machine-like characteristics but there is also an element of fantasy and sounds which could adorn the world of Oberon and Titania. The sounds of metal percussion are full of variety and range from pitched instruments such as the vibraphone, glockenspiel, gongs, brake drums and cowbell through to those which make unpitched noise such as the cymbals, tam tam, spring coil, mark tree and rainstick. The orchestra in Bonk serve to enhance the soloist by adding to the attack or resonance of the percussion instruments, thereby giving the process of composition much in common with sound design. The orchestral writing also utilises the sound spectrum from clearly pitched or melodic music through to clusters where the priority is noise rather than harmony. Bonk explores density of sound. The thin transparent music of the glockenspiel solo contrasts with densely layered structures. The rhythms in Bonk are built on the simple repeating idea of short-long-short-long. In jazz this is called “swing”. In Bonk different degress of wing are explored by varying the ratio between the short and long duration and then these are layered against a common pulse. The strict notation creates an amalgam of independent tempos.
I would like to finish those note with two quotations. Firstly, the words of Quince iin his prologue to the play within a play from Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespear: “If we offend, it is with our good will. That you should think, we come not to offend, but with good will. To show our simple skill, that is the true beginning of our end.” And from Mondy Python team – “Ah, I see you have the machine that goes ping!”
An essay in tension between soloist and orchestra. In the first movement long cello solos are contrasted with outbursts from the orchestra; in the second movement cello and orchestra merge – the cello sound coloured by various doublings; and the last movement is a moto perpetuo again contrasting soloist with orchestra. Premiered by cellist Alexander Baillie, conducted by Matthias Bamert and the Scottish National Orchestra.
This work was written as part of a series of composer workshops organised by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, for works for organ and orchestra. The Auckland Town Hall organ had been restored and refurbished, returning it to its original splendour as a magnificent concert organ. Six composers were invited to write works for organ and symphony orchestra during 2012, for performance in 2013.
For this work I proposed a work that would contrast percussive sounds with the sound of the organ.
The title appealed to me through its various meanings and associations. Firstly as “a mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail”. Surely if anything could be said to be a musical embodiment of a “fire-breathing monster” it would be the pipe organ! A second definition suggests a ‘chimera’ might be seen as a “grotesque monster having disparate parts”, and also as a “vain or idle fancy”. These last two definitions perhaps relating to the disparate nature of sounds available on the instrument, and the somewhat free-form of the work.
Musically the work contrasts a syncopated one-bar rhythmic idea with more flowing melodic material presented by both the orchestra and the organ. In the final bars the two powerful forces battle for supremacy with the organ having the last word!
I was delighted to be paired with organist John Wells for this project, a musician and fellow composer who I admire greatly (and whose daughters I had taught!). His advice and support were very much appreciated.