SOUNZ's Executive Director, Julie Sperring, asks Natalie Hunt questions about Compass following the NZSO-SOUNZ-RNZC Recordings session in June 2012.
What was the impetus behind your piece Compass? It’s about my internal compass – where was I heading, and what the direction for my life was taking. I’m very attracted to the sea, so the nautical references are very strong, such as the blast at the end of the piece in the brass section, which refers to a sounding signal by ships. The bird song is also a reference to an important influence in my work. (ref other bird pieces – eg for clarinet quartet) Also landscapes, sea and rain I find really evocative.
How did it feel to hear the piece live for the first time? Amazing! Had been away from music for half a year, so hearing the actual instruments play was really cool. Really enjoyed how the cheeky birdsong sections sounded.
The piece has many layers of sound and interesting sonic effects, such as blowing and tapping. How do you imagine those sounds, or combine them in your imagination? I use the piano to compose, but I also take visual cues from the score – I can see if it needs something added, such as an interesting timbre – eg the trombone solo at the beginning.
What have you learned from this experience? The realities of expressing some of my ideas. For example the instructions around the blowing and tapping section will be amended for future performances to ensure the effect I was after.
What are the challenges, mentally and emotionally to go through the process with the NZSO? As I haven’t built up a relationship with the NZSO, it was very tense-making and nerve-wracking mentally. But the players were very nice, and pleasant to me, even about the small errors on the score. I was concerned about how they’d react to the blowing and tapping. I deal with the nerves by compartmentalising and thinking analytically, but it can be difficult answering questions on the spot as there can be so many options.
Hamish is a really intuitive conductor and picked up on issues before she had voiced them. He is also really supportive of expressing musical ‘effects’ required by contemporary music. His approach allows it to happen properly.
What was the idea of the improvising jazz trumpeter at the end? Jazz is a particular musical interest of mine.
Who do you think will enjoy listening to, or playing this work? Probably professional orchestras, or national youth orchestras.
I noticed the use of the purerehua, or bull-roarer. What would be an equivalent instrument for international orchestras? Even though it sounds different to the purerehua, a hose-pipe would do!