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Glen Downie discusses 'light speckled droplet'

SOUNZ recently caught up with Glen Downie, the 2019 NZSO NYO Composer in Residence, to talk about his new piece 'light speckled droplet'. The work features the NYO and the New Zealand Youth Choir, conducted by James Judd, in Wellington on July 5 and Auckland on July 6. See here for event details.

Congratulations on being appointed the 2019 NZSO National Youth Orchestra Composer-in-Residence. How do you feel about being chosen for this residency?

It's a real honour to be chosen to write something for the NZSO NYO. I've been to many of their concerts over the years and the standard is always extremely high, and so much enthusiasm is brought to the performances, that to be a part of that experience is a great feeling. Also with the addition of the National Youth Choir, it was a really special opportunity.

What are you particularly looking forward to during your time with the NYO?

For me live music is really important, and to be able to attend multiple rehearsals over the week and hear the two performances, experiencing these sounds I've been imagining within the two amazing venues, will be great. Also, the talent and joy of music making that these players will bring will be really fulfilling.

Extract 1: bars 1-17 (winds and percussion) Extract 1: bars 1-17 (winds and percussion)


Can you tell us about your new piece for the NYO, the evocatively titled 'light speckled droplet'?

I think the title captures some aspects of my aesthetics which are evident in this piece, which is a certain delicacy and lightness, even when the textures are dense they tend to be quite transparent and light. I also like the idea of refraction and reflection that you get with droplets, subtle shifts and shimmers of colour, which relate to the way timbre and pitch shift/react throughout the orchestra and choir.

We understand it relates to an older piece 'kaleidoscopic terrain' from 2014. What was it about this previous piece that lent itself to further development?

That piece was a piece I was really happy with and wanted to extend for a while, because it was so short (2'30''). So I wanted to expand it, sustain it's atmosphere. ‘light speckled droplet’ is in two parts. The first part directly relates to ‘kaleidoscopic terrain’, in that it keeps the same feel, but has been expanded from within at certain points, like multiple galaxies expanding and pushing out from multiple directions. It also newly incorporates the choir and starts to expand a bit more harmonically, but still very subtly.

The second part takes the harmonic material from the first section, but explores new aspects of it and allows the choir to slowly take over, becoming more lyrical, compared to the beginning which is more pointillistic.

Extract 2: bars 157-172 Extract 2: bars 157-172


What other projects do you have coming up? Are you working on anything particularly exciting?

This is probably the main thing at the moment. I recently completed a semi-improvised 12 piece jazz band piece which I performed with the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra, which was heaps of fun.

Genevieve Davidson is playing a piece I wrote for her at the Melbourne International Saxophone Festival later this month [June 2019] (which also incorporates xylophone!).

I will also be doing some improvisations around late July with some visiting guests, and I'll be presenting some music on the 16th of August at St Paul's Cathedral [Wellington] for their lunchtime series.


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