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.
The inscription on the north face of a sundial in the garden of Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, reads ‘I number none but sunny hours’. On the south side it says, ‘So passes life. Alas! How swift’.
The music of Alas! How Swift is fast, with a constant speed of 138 beats per minute. Around this constant, underlying tempo, however the speed sometimes quickens and sometimes slows. Even the moments of relaxation are underpinned and, perhaps, ruffled by persistent movement. The impetus for the music comes from fast repeated notes on the solo trumpet. The energy engulfs the whole orchestra.
Notes taken from Cresswell: The Voice Inside, NAXOS 8.570824
In 1909 Alice Adcock, a lively and adventurous young woman from Manchester, was on her way to New Zealand. She was 23, and had recently developed TB, for which there was then no cure. Somehow she persuaded her widowed father to let her travel alone to the other side of the world in case a healthy climate would save her life. (It worked – she lived for another 50 years). The family kept her entertaining letter describing shipboard life, and a few postcards from her have also survived, but most of what we know about her time in New Zealand comes from her father’s letters to her, of which he kept copies, or from family tradition. On her arrival in New Zealand, Alice went into service, travelling widely, much to the consternation of her father. As housekeeper (and the only woman) on a farm in Makarora (a remote settlement on Lake Wanaka) she became pregnant to an unknown man, but was ‘rescued’ by marriage to a local farmer, Charles Pipson, shortly before the birth of her daughter. In 1911, her beloved father died; in 1912, Alice and Charles had a son and the following year, pregnant again, Alice took her children back to England to visit her family. Tragically, while she was away, her husband died suddenly of typhoid fever. Alice hurried back to Makarora to claim her inheritance, but left the two babies with her brother Sam and his wife (who were shortly to emigrate to New Zealand) and took only her eldest child, the illegitimate one, with her. This outraged her sisters-in-law, who saw it as an insult to their dead brother; they sent her away from the farm empty-handed. Once again she had to take a housekeeping job, this time in the North Island. In 1914, Alice and her brother’s family met up again, and Alice began a new life. (Fleur Adcock – abridged) The music of Alice is text-driven, ranging between a language at times extremely simple, as was the basic musical language of the settlers, and at times quite complex, evoking a storm at sea, or the unease of the settlers in a new environment, or Alice’s reaction to the problems which beset her. The piece is held together by various referential motifs. The initial idea, which perhaps suggests the instability of the sea, is also present in the bell-like sounds marking Charles’ death, music associated with a storm at sea is later associated with mental stress, while music suggestive of the movement of shipboard lice later underlies Alice’s traumatic encounter with her sisters-in-law.
There are eight sections, which often merge into one another: 1. in a letter to her father, Alice describes shipboard life; 2. in New Zealand, she compares her past life and hopes for the future; 3. a dialogue between father and daughter, expressed through their letters; 4. in Makarora, Alice discovers she is pregnant; 5. Alice hears of her father’s death; 6. in England, she learns of her husband’s death; 7. back in Makarora, Alice is turned away by her sisters-in-law; 8. turning her back on the South Island, Alice looks forward to her new life with her brother’s family in the north.
While writing this piece, I was drawn again and again into the thought that, although this is a true story, set in a particular place at a certain time, it has the resonances of a universal myth, known to all of us who live here. Our forebears, or we ourselves, have crossed the seas to begin a new life, with unforeseen and unimaginable difficulties and felicities, whether ten years, a century or a millennium or so ago.
Blood Lilies was written in November/December 2007. It is a rondo built around the text of a poem from the composer’s poetry collection In an Auckland City Garden (published by Heartbreak Publishing in 2006.
“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!”
In 2008, in place of the usual request for composers to submit works for a reading session, the Auckland Philharmonia and New Zealand Opera combined forces to offer composers a chance to write a work for solo voice and orchestra. My proposal was to write a piece towards a possible opera project base on the crash of an Air New Zealand sight-seeing flight in the Antarctic on 28 November 1979. At the time it was the world’s fourth worst aviation disaster, killing 257 passengers and crew.
In searching for a suitable text, I turned initially to the report of Royal Commission, and Justice Peter Mahon’s own book on the events. Justice Mahon headed the Royal Commission which exonerated the pilots, and laid the blame for the accident at the feet of Air New Zealand. The original crash investigation had blamed the pilot error, but the Royal Commission found that a combination of a change of co-ordinates enetered into the computer without the knowledge of the pilots, and the phenomenon of “whiteout”, caused the crash.
Erebus: a poem by Bill Sewell was published in 1999. It is an extended poem in thirty-four sections, and covers not only the events of the crash, but also the aftermath and its effect on New Zealand society. Breaking the Quiet is the sixth section of the poem and describes the isolation and quiet of the crash site, the crash itself, and the scattered personal effects. Amongst the effects is a diary “…dedicated to the glory of God” who had “…looked away at the wrong moment”.
These dances are extracted from a larger work, “Songs and Dances of Death & Desire”, conceived as a tribute to the life and personality of Carmen Rupe, Maori transvestite, high-club owner, exotic dancer, drag queen, Wellington mayoral candidate, etc.
This suite of cabaret dances (intended to be danced by a young male Maori, representing Carmen Rupe), comprise ‘character pieces’ based on quotation and pastiche, a process of assuming new personae, donning masks, musically speaking. Just as the dancer adopts various characters, the guitarist transforms his instrument variously into a flamenco guitar, an African mbira (thumb piano), an Arabic tar (long-necked lute), a Hawaiian slide guitar, and an electronic disco machine.
The Concerto was written in January 2006 as fulfilment of a long standing promise to write a piece for saxophonist Simon Brew. What began, in concept, as a modest “concertino” grew into a five movement “grand” concerto of nearly 30 minutes, which makes it, according to Simon, one of the longer concertos in the Alto Saxophone repertoire; I’m still not quite sure how it happened, it just kept on growing.
The Concerto was commissioned by the Wellington Youth Sinfonietta, is dedicated to Simon, and was premiered in May 2006. The first two movements, including some revisions, were later presented at the NZSO-SOUNZ Readings on 6 November 2006.
The first movement is an accompanied cadenza for the saxophone which outlines the major thematic material for the concerto. This movement reoccurs, in modified form, as the central episode of the last movement. The second movement is in traditional concerto sonata form. The Concerto unashamedly follows classical structures throughout. Avant-garde it ain’t!