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2012 SOUNZ Contemporary Finalist Interview with Kenneth Young




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How important do you think the the SOUNZ Contemporary Award is to contemporary music composition and composers in New Zealand?
I think it is very important that NZ composers have an increased recognition within the framework of the Silver Scroll Awards.

What does being a finalist of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award mean to you?
When you first complete a work it is personal to you. No-one else is aware of it. You then let it go and hope someone out there will listen and recognise what you were trying to communicate. Being a finalist says to me that someone listened, and that is enough.

What are you currently working on?
I’m doodling with sketches for a 3rd Symphony

As you have composed for and conducted many Australian ensembles, can you comment on the importance of composers and performers collaborating with those who are ‘over the ditch’?
It has been enlightening and exhilarating for me over the years to have conducted and promoted NZ music in Australian and perform and record Australian composers. Unfortunately I perceive very little interest from any of the New Zealand orchestras in performing Australian music even though there is a vast array of fabulous work for NZ audiences to discover. The one exception to this was the Asia Pacific Festival a few years back where I was able to perform music from both countries in the same programme. Having said that, there is a much greater degree of collaboration in the chamber music field between the two countries. The Trans Tasman Composer Exchange is a valuable project initiated by the NZ and Australian Music Centres and it will hopefully lead to even greater levels of cross fertilisation on both sides of the Tasman.

Was the creation of this work a collaborative process with the ensemble? Did you have their particular performers in mind when writing this piece?
Paul Dean, the clarinetist in Southern Cross Soloists is an old friend and collaborator whom I very much had in mind when writing the piece. The others are known to me through reputation and the many recordings of theirs that I possess. However, I was given pretty much free reign over what I was to write.

Are you working with any ensembles to present the NZ premiere?
Presently not, however I think an approach to friend and colleague Hamish McKeich of Stroma fame is probably imminent! We shall see.

Comments from Tania Frazer, the creative director of the Southern Cross Soloists, for whom the work was written for and premiered by:
It's very exciting that Ken's piece has been nominated. We found it to be a very powerful piece in the performance- and it was very well received by the audience.

Originally the idea for the commission came from our then Artistic Director, Paul Dean (who is now Artistic-Director Laureate and AD of ANAM).
Although colleagues over the years, Paul performed the Copland Clarinet concerto in Hobart with the Tasmanian Symphony with Ken conducting, and then later they met at many festivals, composer forums and performances over the years.

Paul became aware of Ken's compositions when he listened to a recording of Ken's 2nd symphony- which was very impressive. They discussed a commission for SxS over a few years. It seemed a good match to add guitar, as Southern Cross Soloists were performing with Slava Grigoryan and Ken had written a piece for Slava's guitar ensemble Safire.

Ken envisaged the work as four short miniatures and wanted to make use of our unusual ensemble. He cleverly devised the work to utilise both delicate textures and full use of our forces, which used the ensemble to the best advantage and provided Ken (and the audience) with a wide palette of colours.

This is one of the first commissions for SxS that included our new line up of violin and this piece really highlighted the unlimited possibilities for the ensemble. In fact, Ken's piece inspired Paul to write his own work for SxS, which we premiered in July this year.

Ken cleverly used the voice as another instrument instead of just as a soloist. This is something we try to encourage from composers as Margaret Schindler, our soprano, has the unusual ability to sing modern music and work as an instrumental member of the ensemble. Ken was in contact with members of the ensemble during rehearsals, but due to problems of distance, he could not workshop the piece with us. However, we found the instrumental writing to be very good for our instruments and very few changes were necessary. The ensemble were able to do an open rehearsal of the work for the public, as part of the 2011 Open House day at Qpac. For this, we rehearsed the work in an open foyer space on a Saturday afternoon with pedestrian traffic coming through. Many people listened to the work and found it very interesting.

The concert was sold out (380) which was very rewarding.

We were aware of the relationship of the music to the earthquake that had shattered so many lives in Christchurch and found the music to be both relevant and moving.

SOUNZ Contemporary Award (2012) Four Questions, No Answers was a finalist for the 2012 SOUNZ Contemporary Award