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 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.”
Originally, A Jazz Burlesque was composed as a piano solo. It was later arranged for accordion trio, then for accordion orchestra. This string arrangement followed for the all female string ensemble ‘String Silhouette’.
A message to Han Cho (the Yangzhou magistrate) for orchestra was inspired by the Chinese poem, A message to Han Cho by Du Mu (803-852AD, China) in the Chinese Tang dynasty. In this poem Du Mu expresses the sadness of the magistrate yearned for the day to return to his distant love. This orchestral work contains musical ideas influenced by the Eastern culture and utilising Western orchestration to imitate the sound of Chinese instruments (Chinese zither and vertical bamboo flute) to purposely maintain the cultural connection with the original tenor of the poem. To achieve this synthesis I experimented with the pronunciation of the poem in Mandarin, and then compose the melodic lines to suit the four-line poem which became the theme of the music. The image of a fair lady plays the flute under the moon on the Twenty-Four Bridges is a traditional Chinese painting specially selected for this particular poem.
青山隱隱水迢迢, From mist the green hills emerge and afar the river flows,
秋盡江南草木凋. grass still grows in Jiangnan, yet the end of fall is close.
二十四橋明月夜, Over the Twenty-Four Bridges the bright moon glows,
玉人何處教吹簫. where the fair lady teaches the flute no one knows.
This orchestral work with mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists was commissioned anonymously for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and is inspired by “Macbeth” Act IV Sc III. The text is by Patrick McGuire and the work is in seven movements.
A Musical Party was commissioned by the New Zealand Accordion Association (NZAA) to commemorate their 30th anniversary in June 2001. The weekend and Musical Party was dedicated to Silvio De Pra, honouring him for his outstanding contribution to the accordion in New Zealand. He has chaired the Accordion Examination Board of NZ Inc. since its inception in 1972 and been chief examiner since 1992.
A Musical Party was premiered by a massed accordion orchestra and conducted by the composer, Gary Daverne. It was later revised and arranged for solo accordion and symphony orchestra, which is the version that appears here.