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Orange Resource


2012 SOUNZ Contemporary Finalist Interview with Michael Williams

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Interview

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To borrow or hire parts please email SOUNZ directly at info@sounz.org.nz. Please note that only library members in New Zealand and Australia can borrow or hire parts.

About

How important do you think the the SOUNZ Contemporary Award is to contemporary music composition and composers in New Zealand?
Given that so much focus is on popular music, the SOUNZ Contemporary Awards is one of the only forums where we can make people aware of alternatives and in that sense its very important.

What does being a finalist of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award mean to you and librettist John Davies?
Well, we were a bit excited to be a finalists actually. Most of the time composing is a lonely and isolated business and I never really know whether what I have written is an old pile of rubbish or is capable of making an impact so I suppose it must mean someone thought it was ok. John and I have invested a huge amount of time and emotional energy to this work and it is very nice to have some recognition. What are you currently working on? I'm working on a piece for Harp and backing track for NZSO Harpist Carolyn Mills which is really exciting. We are hoping there will be a CD project involved and also the chance of a performance at the International Harp Convention which is I think in 2014.

What were the challenges around including choreographed elements, and the multimedia aspect of The Juniper Passion?
John Davies (librettist) and I had discussed how the multi-media aspects of the opera might work well before we started writing it. Very early on we wanted to approach it a little differently from traditional opera by including contemporary dance as an integral part of the story telling, video images instead of sets, various effects etc. WIth all that in mind, it certainly influenced the way I approached the composition as one has to keep on eye on what the finished product might look like. The libretto was cut from 5 acts to 3 and a few scenes as well. For the most part this was done during the composition process, when I was looking at the overall shape, length and drama. Its not easy to ring one's librettist and inform them that entire acts and scenes had been cut. Fortunately John was very good about it and we didn't have a single argument! The last major cut that I made which was the very end scene and I think close to John's heart but I did not think worked, elicited a deafening silence on the end of the phone and he said in his quiet way "mm I need to process this" or something like that. He rang the following day and said "I get it, you're right, its a beautiful way to end it" Peace restored and a very relieved composer.

Do you believe multimedia elements will play a larger part in the composition of new music?
I very much enjoy using multi-media elements and they will certainly continue to feature in my music. WIthout wanting to pander too much to the public's taste or fashion, it is clear how people experience music now will often have some sort of visual stimulus attached to it and perhaps it might be one way of tapping into a wider audience. Also, I am very interested in what is happening from a technical perspective with video especially interactive elements which work so well with music drama, dance etc.

Tell us about the full scale production of this opera, scheduled for performance next June in Cassino, Italy.
I still find it a bit unbelievable really. This has been one of those cases of being in the right place, right times with the right people and as it happened with the right CD. So we will be doing a full production next year in Cassino at an ancient Roman Amphitheater on the side of Montecassino itself as well as performances in Rome and Frosnione. . We will be taking with us a troupe of dancers and vocalists, all of whom were on the CD which is wonderful. The Italians will be providing the orchestra, venues etc so it is a real NZ/ Italian project. There are some amazing people working on the production at the moment with John Parker doing design, Moss Paterson from Atamira choreography, Mike Knapp, lighting and Sean Castles doing the video work. I am really thrilled to have the same cast as on the CD going to Italy. Such a wonderful group of people and Pene and Amitai Pati have been so much in the news lately its marvelous to have them on board. We also have a contingent of people in Italy who I am more or less in constant contact with working on the project as well.

How closely did you work with John Davies to create musical language from the text?
Once I started composing, I just did my own thing really. Of course I was in contact with John regularly to let him know what I was up to and to get his perspective on characters but I tended to develop the musical language on my own. I needed to personalize the characters and decide for myself what they might be thinking or what their inner motives might be and this very much informs the musical landscape. There are a number of subtexts in this work which are more often than not of a philosophical nature and I have tried to codify these within the musical language.


SOUNZ Contemporary Award (2012) The Juniper Passion was a finalist for the 2012 SOUNZ Contemporary Award