Hinetekakara is the ancestress of Aroha Yates-Smith, the kaikaranga (singer) who provided the idea and the text of this piece. Hinetekakara lived on the shores of Lake Rotorua with Ihenga, her husband or father, an eponymous ancestor of the Te Arawa people, when the land was still being settled after the arrival of the Te Arawa canoe from central Polynesia. The four cadenzas, for bassoon, alto flute, flute, cello and bassoon, and bassoon link improvised sections, in which all the instruments participate. The singer initially invokes, accompanied by putatara (conch shell trumpet), the spirit of Hinetekakara, then addresses rituals following the death of her future father-in-law (with putorino), and then the birth of her son (with pumotomoto, an instrument used to assist at child-birth). A voiceless improvisation on pupu harakeke (flax snail), an instrument presaging danger, is followed by Ihenga’s anguished lament as he finds the murdered body of Hinetekakara by the lake, by the place named for her, Ohinemutu, meaning the end of the woman. Finally, she is farewelled as her spirit returns to the afterworld.
This monodrama for mezzo soprano and chamber sextet, commissioned by Northern Arts UK, tells of the 14th century North of England warrior Henry Percy (Hotspur), seen through the eyes of Elizabeth Mortimer, in a striking ballad sequence written by Fleur Adcock.
Whitehead’s imaginative score combines exotic and arresting instrumental colours, a strong dramatic vocal line (often with flamboyant flourishes) and an admirable overall conception of the mood changes and tonal graduation of the work. (William Dart, NZ Listener)
She has the rare gift of knowing when to us nightmarish vehemences and when to be utterly straightforward and calm. (Roger Covell, Sydney Morning Herald).
These two songs were originally the third and fourth movements of my choral cycle Ports of Call written in early 1992 for the Auckland choir ‘Viva Voce’. When soprano Fiona Ferens approached me requesting a couple of songs for a recital I decided that re-workings of these pieces might prove suitable. The texts are both nineteenth century English ones, and the musical style is deliberately ‘mock Victorian’, even down to a passing hint of a well-known song from that era. The first song tells of the plight of being in Rotterdam while your loved one is still in England, whereas the second one presents the attitude of the foreigner in pre-twentieth century Japan.