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Recent New Works | Archives

Recent new works - a selection
This hasn't been updated for a while so there's a bit of a gap through to 2016/2017 pieces)

Family Matters (2017)

SATB unaccompanied
This short cycle was written to mark the 60th birthday of Auckland conductor John Rosser, whose choir Viva Voce had performed many works of mine over the choir’s 32-year existence. The choir was known for its ‘theme’ concerts, and the final concert in its 2017 season was titled “Family Matters”, hence this cycle of family-related pieces. The four poems that more overtly centre on family members are framed by two more general poems which meditate on life and death.
The title of the first text, by seventeenth century poet Henry King, might be translated as “Such is Life”. The poet muses on the brevity of man’s life, and that we should make the most of the time we have. The final four lines are used as a repeating stanza which underpins the rest of the poem sung by the sopranos.
“Father”, the second text, is by American poet and author Tom Sheehan, and is a simple poem in praise of one’s father. This is followed by one of Margaret Mahy’s best-known short poems, where the poet tells of her sister who is “remarkably light”.
The fourth text is by nineteenth century poet Thomas Hood, whose poem “I Remember, I Remember” has the poet recalling the days of his childhood and making passing mention of his brother. The fifth poem is by contemporary British poet Jacqueline Saphra, and is a humorous listing of all the items used by a woman to make herself beautiful. This “bathroom armoury” and the ‘tricks’ involved might one day be passed on to her daughter.
The final movement sets the well-known poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Crossing the Bar”. Life’s end is likened to setting out to sea, and there is the hope that no sand bar will impeded the journey. The poet describes an accepting and placid approach to death, and retains the hope that he will look upon the face of his “Pilot” when he has crossed the bar.
 

Jalan Pekeliling (2017)

concert band
The title for this work was spotted in Malaysia – it’s a road sign and simply means “circular road”. Musically the ‘circular’ idea is presented by the upper woodwind who are (ideally) placed in a semi-circle behind the other wind players. The musical idea for this group of players consists in large part of cascading ideas which run around the group, and which move from low to high in register.
Included in the ideas requested for this work, was that a small combo of players be featured – a band within a band (alto saxophone, bass, drums and piano). There’s also the makings of a musical fight that breaks out at one point between the tuba and bass player!
Throughout, the music is fun, highly energetic, and infused with jazz rhythms and harmonies. The middle section is a little more lyrical, although here the small combo makes several abortive attempts to reassert control over the music.
“Jalan Pekeliling” was written for Auckland Grammar School Premier Concert Band, and conductor Barry Wasson.
 

Unity (2017)

for counter-tenor, SATB choir and chamber orchestra
The English poet Alfred Noyes is best-remembered for the poem “The Highwayman”, and was also active as a short-story writer and playwright. His poetry follows in the tradition of Wordsworth and Tennyson. He was educated at Oxford University and in 1914 took up a post at Princeton University in the USA where he became a noted critic of modernist writers, particularly James Joyce. Though his early work often evokes fantastic, dream-like, storybook emotions, his later poetry increasingly deals with religious themes.
This setting of “Unity” by Alfred Noyes was written for conductor Elizabeth Lau and her ensemble Wairua Sinfonietta.
 

When Night is Over (2017)

for soprano saxophone, mixed-voice choir and organ
I was introduced to the poetry of Damian Firth by a student, who had chanced upon four of his poems on the internet, when sent off to find a text to set to music. I was immediately struck by the beautiful imagery, and concise spare use of language.
Firth (1941-2013) was a Canadian poet, whose life had sunk into alcohol poisoning and despair, until a remarkable transformation and spiritual awakening 20 years before his death.
When Night is Over
i saw swarming
stars in the black
sky
i stretched plucked
a few felt their
brilliance cut
the flesh creating
bright blossoms
of blood across my
wrist
will the stars
awaken me when
the night is over
with their brilliance
and deafening
silence.
(Damian Firth (1941-2013)– text used by kind permission of Red Oak Media)

 

The Dark and Shining Tide (2016)

for SSAA choir, flute, percussion an string quartet (or string orchestra)
This short poem is by Dunedin-based poet Elena Poletti. I had known Elena in my days at university and we were flatmates for a year. I’d lost touch with her for a long time, until I became aware of her poetry though her collaboration with Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie. She then kindly sent me some of her poetry.
The starting point for this work was the ‘ocean drum’ - an instrument like a large tambourine filled with metal beads. When moved around, a convincing imitation of the rise and fall of ocean waves is created. Elena’s poem seemed ideally suited to this instrument, and this setting is the result. It is a lullaby text. Much of the accompaniment is quite repetitive and rhythmic, with the accompaniment also aiming to depict the rise and fall of the ocean swell.
“The Dark and Shining Tide” was written for Cantare (Westlake Girls High School, Auckland) and conductor Fiona Wilson. For this year’s work, the request was for a piece that had an ensemble accompaniment. So, the work has an accompaniment for flute, percussion and string quartet, which could also be played using string orchestra.
 

American Triptych (2016)

for children’s choir (SA), SAATBB choir and ensemble
This short cycle sets three American texts. In a general sense, they all relate to the subject of music, and in the case of the second and third pieces, the art of singing.
The setting is for children’s choir (heard only in movements 2 and 3), mixed-voice choir and a small ensemble.
“American Triptych” was awarded 1st prize in the Stockton Chorale’s composer competition 2016 (Stockton CA, USA)
 

A Call to Arms (2013)

solo baritone, SATB, piano
“A Call to Arms” was commissioned by Cantando Choir of Hamilton to mark ANZAC Day 2014. The selected texts speak of those who were intimately involved with the war, and the poets themselves were the participants and observers. They range from a poem about the soldiers marching off to the start of the war, through to a ‘perfect epilogue’ at the end of the war. In between are a short poem about Anzac Cove, a poem describing the laughter and song that accompanied the march towards the hell of Flanders, and a poem whose sub-text suggests deeper bonds formed between the men on active duty - even if that could not be openly acknowledged. The final movement uses Robert Bridges’ “Hymn in War Time” (sung to the well-known Tallis’s canon) as a counterpoint to the soloist.
 

Anthem for Doomed Youth (2013)

solo tenor, SATB, chamber orchestra
“Anthem for Doomed Youth” was written for a ‘war and peace’ themed concert to be performed on ANZAC Day 2014 by Auckland Choral. This work was written to follow another contemporary piece - an incomplete requiem setting, and the request was for something simple and beautiful to complement the more angular and dissonant requiem. The work is broadly in three sections, with a faster middle section where the text refers to the sounds of war, and the bugles “…calling for them from sad shires”. The scoring of this work matches that of the requiem, hence the unusual forces: three wind, percussion and strings. Of particular note is the percussion part which picks up on the reference to bells in the opening line of the poem - surely one of the most evocative of sounds.

A Traveller's Prayer: Ka u ki Matanuku (2013)

Composed for 2 mixed-voice choirs (or SATB choir with unison choir), this work was commissioned for Sing Aotearoa 2013. The text is an anonymous poem printed in the well-known volume “100 New Zealand Poems” (edited by Bill Manhire) where it is simply titled “Charm”. Matched with it is a Maori translation (the original version of the poem recorded in the mid-1800s), so the two languages sit side by side in the piece. The poem talks of arriving in a new place – a “resting place” where thanks can be given to the “spirit of the earth”.

St Luke's Magnificat (2013)

SATB, organ (or piano)
Composed for the Community of St Luke (Remuera, Auckland), this setting of the traditional English transaltion is a straight-forward work within the scope of a church choir.

In Flanders Fields (2013)

SATB, piano
This setting of “In Flanders Fields” was written for a commemoration of the Passchendaele battle in October 2013 at which members of Auckland Choral were to sing. A request had been made for music which referenced the war and, if possible, Flanders. Not finding a suitable piece, I offered to write a new setting of this well-known poem. Originally for solo voice, it was re-scored for mixed-voice choir.

A Blessing of Light (2013)

solo baritone, SATB, piano
Composed for Taupo Choral Society, this short work sets a text which combines several traditional blessings around the theme of light.

The Kingston Flyer (2013)

string orchestra
Written for Grammar Virtuosi (Auckland Grammar School) this short work sets out to create a musical picture of the well-known South Island steam train The Kingston Flyer.

Chimera (2013)

organ and symphony orchestra
"Chimera" came out of a composer workshop over 2012 2013 where composers were matched with organists to create new works for organ and orchestra.

Concertino for Oboe and String Orchestra (2012)

oboe, string orchestra
This work consists of a traditional three movement form: fast-slow-fast. The first movement has elements of Baroque period writing in it, including a short fugal section based on the opening melody. The second movement, “Memorial”, is a slow and poignant movement written at a time when New Zealand was experiencing a number of tragedies – the Pike River mining tragedy and the Christchurch earthquakes. The final movement, “Hoe-Down”, is a complete contrast, being a purely fun and rhythmic piece of writing suggesting the music of the old time western USA.

The Necessary Rain (2012)

soprano solo, SATB, orchestra
This piece is the second work of mine which draws on the poetry of Bill Sewell (1951-2003), specifically his “Erebus” cycle. It follows on from “Breaking the Quiet” of 2008. Both works set texts relating to the crash of an Air New Zealand sight-seeing flight in the Antarctic on 28 November 1979. The ‘necessary rain’ of the title is the rain that always seems to accompany times of great loss and sadness. It “…does not discriminate but has a preference for death and death’s rituals”. The poem includes passing references to the Tangiwai rail tragedy (1953), and the sinking of the ferry Wahine (1968).

The Son of the Virgin (2011)

SA, piano
This text, originally in the Catalan dialect, is generally associated with Christmas. It tells of giving various gifts - things that would have been familiar to the writer of the text - to the infant Jesus: raisins, olives, figs, sweet honey etc. There is a metaphorical hint of the events of Easter in the last lines. “The Son of the Virgin” was written for a choir workshop with students of Ascham School (Sydney, Australia) when they visited St Mary’s College in Auckland as part of their tour to New Zealand in 2011.

Shine Out, Fair Sun (2011)

SATB, piano
The poem “Shine Out, Fair Sun” is generally deemed to be by an anonymous author, although it has also been credited to George Chapman (1559?-1634). It contrasts the heat and light of the sun with the winter landscape, calling on the sun to “…make this winter night our beauty’s Spring”. “Shine Out, Fair Sun” was written for Choralation (conductor: Rowan Johnston), the mixed-voice choir of Westlake Girls’ and Westlake Boys’ High Schools.

Something Told the Wild Geese (2011)

SATB, piano
A setting of the short poem by Rachel Lyman Field (1894-1942) which tells of the geese that, in spite of still seeing the golden fields of summer, can feel the urge to begin their winter migration. Something tells them that frost and snow are on the way and it is time to fly. Even though the summer sun is on their wings, there is “winter in their cry”.

Escape at Bedtime (2011)

SA, piano
From Robert Louis Stevenson’s collection “A Child’s Garden of Verses” this fantastical poem tells of a child’s impressions of nighttime and the “thousands of millions of stars” which appear to be chasing him or her. Even when packed off to bed, the sight of the stars remains in the child’s mind’s eye. Several star constellations are named in the poem. “Escape at Bedtime” was commissioned by Sydney Grammar School for the school’s music tour to New Zealand in 2011.

Song in Summer (2011)

SA, piano
A movement from "Down on teh Farm" setting a Ruth Dallas poem about the constantly changing colours of the flowers in a summer meadow.

The Shop of Dreams (2011)

SAB choir, piano
This cycle of pieces sets lullaby texts, although in a couple of instances I have taken this idea quite liberally. The cycle’s title comes from the first text, by American Mary Jane Carr, where it is imagined that a shop on a hill sells the dreams that we experience at night. The second text, by an unknown poet, addresses itself to the little fish in the ocean who can rest now that the boat’s crew is asleep and fishing is done for the day. One challenge with this cycle was to avoid it becoming terribly soporific! So the third text comes from one of my favourite American poets, Jack Prelutsky. If you dream of chickens,. there might be unexpected consequences! The fourth poem, an anonymous text from America, likens the baby’s bed to a boat sailing the skies - a not uncommon metaphor. The fifth text, again anonymous, is a lullaby describing the elements of the natural landscape in autumn. Each of the animals has its particular place to sleep but “…my baby's nest is her little bed”. The sixth text is by popular New Zealand poet and author Margaret Mahy. Again there is a dramatic change of mood. In Mahy’s poem the house is full of the noise and clatter one associates with a household full of children, yet baby is somehow managing to fall asleep amidst the “racket and rumpus”. The final text is by nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti and returns to the familiar world of traditional lullabies. Here, the audience is also invited to join in the music, and the cycle ends gently and quietly! “The Shop of Dreams” was written for Pakuranga Choral Society for a concert conducted by the composer in May 2011.

Down on the Farm (2011)

SAB choir, piano
This short cycle sets five poems by New Zealand writers. The texts all deal with aspects of farming or typical farm landscapes. The first is a witty story of a rather vain and fussy cow called Belinda, who wanted to enter the cow beauty show. Arriving late, she had to be content with being given some money by the man at the gate, for her own manicure set and a mirror. The second text is a brief Ruth Dallas poem about the constantly changing colours of the flowers in a summer meadow. The third text is about a dog whose owner realises that a small garden was not where the animal desired to live - he wanted to roam the hills as a sheep dog. ‘Drought’, the fourth text, is a short poem describing the landscape during a hot dry spell of weather. The final text tells of beginning a new farm on land that has been let go to ragwort and fern. “Down on the Farm” was written for performance by Mercury Bay Community Choir (Whitianga) in a concert conducted by the composer in May 2011.