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
burlesques mécaniques is a rather extroverted collection of grotesque miniatures whose characters are not people or animals but dances. These dances have been mechanised, electrified, and often obscured by their own rhythmic impulse. Old forms and formulaic tropes are given new identities, freed from the confines of metric stability and the expectation that they be “danceable”. The essentially mechanical, artificial aspect of music (and of art in general?) is embodied in the piano, here a brittle, seedy protagonist whose string limbs hover and flail about it. Conflicting rhythms dominate the surface, oscillating between insistent repetition and mad, angular flourishes. The generally jerky, muscular rhythmic material is periodically frozen throughout the work, most strikingly in the ninth movement (chain). Here a string of rich, impressionistic chords briefly reveals an alternative, interior world which is then rudely dismissed in an almost haphazard finale.
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.
This work is named after the beautiful Huia Bay near the entrance to the Manukau Harbour.
While not necessarily directly programmatic, this piece evokes a day at Huia. The opening chords suggest the morning mist across the bay, and then the following organ solo, sunrise. Some bird song and a variety of weather (ranging from bright sunshine to the odd thunderstorm) follow, and the piece ends in a contemplative mood watching the day’s last rays of sun through the clouds. I’ve been very inspired by the light at Huia, reflected in the water and on the hills, and its constant changes, sometimes very subtle and other times more striking. I have also wanted to capture the spirit of a certain Indra Hughes who lives there, to whom the piece is dedicated.
It is an unashamedly Romantic work in style and scope, and although I have given the organ a prominent solo part it is also used as a member of the orchestra in places. I have been very interested in the juxtaposition of the orchestral woodwind with the organ (also a woodwind of sorts) and the new colours created by combining various solo stops with the orchestral winds. I was also keen to explore the quieter end of the organ’s dynamic range and the many subtle shades of sound that are possible, resisting the temptation to let the organ “roar” except in one or two climactic moments.
When I think of a piano trio, I immediately think of a transparent interplay of lines. This has something to do with the fact that the instruments that make up the modern piano trio are not particularly homogeneous, unlike say, a string quartet. It’s as if somebody had strewn some line drawings of simple three dimensional objects on a photographer’s lightbox, all on top of one another, resulting in an unexpected and strangely beautiful assemblage.
Mahuika for organ and orchestra was, like several of my pieces, given a title in its infancy. In the way that a child grows into her name over time, Mahuika has developed a particular character during the process of writing. The work is not programmatic, but the origins of its name have come to influence the work: Mahuika, a Maori fire goddess, is awakened into her full terrifying extreme, utilising the full range and capacity of both the Auckland Town Hall organ and the Auckland Philharmonia. Mahuika evokes the sense of a young teenage goddess full of ideas and vitality but without the opportunity to yet develop and explore them fully.
The work has the potential to mature into a full-scale organ symphony of around 30-40 minutes: if anyone is in a position to fund her to grow further please contact me to discuss.
Shifting Shadows (2012) is inspired by Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie 1 (1964), in which the sounds of a tam-tam are manipulated in real time by the movement of hand-held microphones and through electronic filtering and diffusion of the amplified sound.
In my work three traditional Javanese gamelan instruments – gambang (xylophone), slenthem (metalophone), and rebab (spiked fiddle) – are activated by an array of household materials to generate sounds. In live performance I intend for additional ‘players’ to create other layers of sound using a microphone as a musical instrument. The recording attempts to convey this layering of sound.
The character of Shifting Shadows was inspired by the idea of the ‘familiar spirit’, which in old European folklore is a supernatural entity, sometimes taking the form of an animal or human figure, to assist witches and other cunning folk. The sounds used in Shifting Shadows are eerie, intimate and gestural, giving the impression of an unknown creature.