"Tiraki" steps out into the world

Hamish McKeich applauses A week ago today my new work for organ and orchestra, "Tiraki", was premiered by the Auckland Philharmonia.

It went fantastically well, I was very happy, as was my fantastic organist, Nick Forbes. The overall structure worked, we developed an exciting organ part and the orchestrations were exactly how I envisioned.

Tiraki organist Nick Forbes taking applause

Thanks to everyone who came to the concert or tuned in live on Radio NZ and provided us with such positive comments about the piece.

Congratulations also goes to the wonderful David Hamilton, Anthony Young, Robbie Ellis, Ben Hoadley and Chris Adams for their superb premieres.

Here is an interview from Radio New Zealand's Arts On Sunday programme on 26th May with Hamish McKeich, Kerry Stevens, Nick Forbes and myself talking about the collaboration and concert (recorded before the concert, broadcast after the concert).

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Auckland Philharmonia to premiere "Tiraki"

I am super excited to have my work for organ and orchestra, "Tiraki", premiered next week by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with the superb Nick Forbes on organ. APO Organ

Organ Spectacular - 8pm, Thursday 23rd May, Auckland Town Hall, BUY TICKETS HERE


  • David Hamilton, Chimera, John Wells
  • Anthony Young, Theme & Variations for Organ & Orchestra, Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
  • Robbie Ellis, Relish in Immature Bombast, Timothy Noon (+ Jono Sawyer drumkit)
  • Ryan Youens, Tiraki, Nicholas Forbes
  • Ben Hoadley, Huia, Indra Hughes
  • Chris Adams, Mahuika, Nicholas Sutcliffe

Here is a collation of various details about my work:


'Tiraki' is a verb meaning 'to clear the sky of clouds'. In it I have explored the different layerings and textures created between the organ and orchestra, illustrating the nature and behaviour of the clouds. The work is structured in three sections and focuses entirely on the programmatic meaning of 'Tiraki'.

The first 'rather angry' section is very dense and fast moving with surprises along the way - representing a storm. The middle 'mysteriously calm' section is the calm after the storm - the music empties out but retains a slightly ominous feel to it. It finishes with a 'pleasantly refreshing' section where the music, and the clouds, gather life and a playful spirit once again.

It has been an absolute pleasure combining the two kings of music - an organ and a symphony orchestra - with an idea that had been simmering away for some time. Huge thanks goes to Nicholas Forbes who has been a superb collaborator and to the Auckland Philharmonia for this opportunity.


1.  You’ve talked about using single-note melodies in the organ part – do you also use a range of organ stops to compare with various orchestral instruments? 2.  What particular ideas did Nicholas bring to the development of the piece? 3.  What do you want listeners to take away with them after hearing the piece?


1.  things you discovered about the Town Hall organ After my first tour of the organ I was absolutely blown away with its complexity and beauty - which of course most people never get to see. While the possibilities are (almost!) endless, it became clear early that I was never going to be able to show off all of it and I needed to stick with the sound world of 'Tiraki' and the stops that supported that.

2.  what you utilised in particular of the organ in your piece There are huge heavily chordal climaxes in 'Tiraki' where the organ can easily overpower the orchestra, then there are light, playful, polyphonic passages where the organ is on par with the woodwinds. So I've utilised the massive capabilities of volume and texture and also the function that goes with that - where the orchestra and organ can really fight each other and develop huge tension, or can work together amazingly well towards a single goal.

3.  how your piece may have evolved as you learned more about the organ I really had no idea how an organ worked before this opportunity. That soon changed, but with loads of experience in orchestral writing, the initial orchestrations are what gave me my first insight into how the piece was going to evolve. I knew I didn't want the organ always in the forefront, but rather let it have moments and then let it sink into the texture and play other functions above that of a soloist. So I think what developed during the process for me was how quickly and easily you could change colours, the extent in which you could change them and how much those changes affected where the organ sat in the overall texture.

4.  what you like most about the organ part for your piece One of my favourite passages is in the middle of the work where the strings have sustained chords mixed with glissandi and the organ has high, clean and clear thematic lines, occasionally highlighted by the woodwinds, over a very low, very breathy and pulsating rumble - such contrasts which are only simultaneously possible on the organ.

5.  what you are looking forward to most about the performance of the piece in May Just to hear a really great concert of new organ music - the pieces are all so different so it's going to be a great night. Us composers have all heard the pieces in various stages during 2012, with different ideas being tried and options explored - so I'm just really looking forward to hearing the final versions, to see how we've all used the organ differently and how we've all tamed the beautiful beast that is the Auckland Town Hall Organ.

See you there!

I survived 2012. This is how it was!

The New Year means it's time to have a look back over the past year and see, through my blog posts, what has taken shape and what I have to say for myself! January started with a very well deserved "Shout-out to VaultPress" after they marvellously got my website back up and running after a meltdown!

3100508059_5c99a0f9e1_zFebruary is the start of the school term and I posted about the preparation work I do for schools.

My typing fingers must have been tired at the end of March - it started with two popular posts, iOS apps for music professionals and Digital music stands vs iPads, following on from, again, two very popular posts I did in 2010.

2012-05-15 APO Open Days 236

Following that were four posts on current projects - "Working on workshops" looked at some teaching workshops I was involved with, "An opportunity to make the floor rumble" talked about my upcoming new work for the Auckland Philharmonia and the Auckland Town Hall Organ. I conducted at the Bay Of Plenty Music School once again and my post, "Bay Of Plenty music school hit Rotorua!", pre-empted my visit there, and finally "Opening up an orchestra" reviewed the first two Auckland Philharmonia Open Days were I ran the "meet the composer" area.

In April I reviewed my time at the Bay Of Plenty Music School in "Making music in Rotorua" and posted photos in "Checking out the pipes" after an inspiring tour of the Auckland Town Hall Organ.

My Confession image May is music month and "A month of New Zealand music" checked out the events me or my music was involved with. It's also 48 Hour Film Festival time and our film this year was "My Confession…".

In June I talked about my involvement with Auckland Symphony's "Night Of The Proms" concerts in "Promenading in the colony" and I posted "Questions for a composer" after answering questions for a student's school assignment.

In July I posted my one word review of each piece from the "Nelson Composers Workshop 2012" where I was very happy to go this year as a mentor.

APO "Tiraki" workshopAugust is KBB Music Festival time and I also posted on the ongoing saga regarding the future of Sibelius in "What the heck is happening with Sibelius!". My piece, Tiraki, started to take shape after another workshop with the Auckland Philharmonia.

September was rather dormant on the blog front but in October I reviewed “What Lurks Among Saints” after being invited by a student I met earlier in the year.

The-Hobbit1In November I had the privilege of "Playing my role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", and I posted about the experience.

December was busy with a number of projects. In "Little pieces of Christmas" I talked about a bunch of Christmas arrangements I did for the Auckland Philharmonia and Auckland Symphony orchestras. I also talked about a film I was involved with, called "Sounds Perfect" and its selection into the Tropfest final in “Sounds Perfect” to be in a final". I then prepared music for some very fine New Zealand singers and talked about it in "Preparing for some legends!".

christmas-musicFinally, no year is complete without a "Merry Christmas" post thanking you for all of your support during the year and the compliments of the season.

Another year ticked off the list, another year doing my absolute dream job - let's get ready for an even better 2013!

Tiraki takes shape

APO \"Tiraki\" workshopThis afternoon the Auckland Philharmonia had their second read-through of my new piece for organ and orchestra, Tiraki. The first workshops were in May and so now the pieces are really taking shape. I initially talked about the project here, but since then I have changed my organist to the wonderful Nick Forbes, who is doing an outstanding job. We've spent a fair amount of time at the organ working on the notes and developing the different colours which we've been saving on the organ's computer. Sounds all very flash, but we lost them all before today's play-through!

The piece is coming along. I'm happy with most of the orchestrations and the general material, but the transitions still need plenty of work and today it really wasn't sounding together so I might have to tweak a few things to help out the listening. It needs to constantly tick along like a metronome and with often just relentless semiquavers and quavers that need to lock together while having the organist miles away, it makes it challenging.

I went through two sharpened pencils writing on the score during the session, so plenty to do. Stay tuned!

Oh, you may like to check out some photos I took of the organ here when I first checked it out.

Checking out the pipes

The Auckland Town Hall Organ is mightily impressive, mind-blowing, even enough to take your breath away! Hours before the first drafts of my APO + Auckland Town Hall Organ composition were due, Kerry Stevens gave me a tour. Amazing. Here are some of my photos. IMG_2700IMG_2702 IMG_2705 IMG_2707 IMG_2710 IMG_2712 IMG_2713 IMG_2727 IMG_2730 IMG_2736 IMG_2740 IMG_2745 IMG_2750 IMG_2751

Here are some facts from the organ's very own website:

  • The Auckland Town Hall Organ weighs 40 tonnes, the pipes alone account for 28 tonnes.
  • Number of pipes: 5391, of which 939 have been restored from the 1911 organ.
  • Largest pipe: bottom C of the 32-foot Open Wood: 9.75 metres high (32 feet) with an interior volume of 2600 litres. The note sounded by this pipe has a fundamental frequency of 16 Hz.
  • Smallest pipe: speaking length 6mm (the pipe itself is quite a bit bigger than this to make it possible to handle!)
  • Lowest frequency note: bottom C of the Pedal Gravissima stop, 8 Hz. (The entire bottom octave of this stop is below the limit of human hearing: it is felt rather than heard).
  • Highest frequency: 17kHz from the Swell Furniture.
  • Loudest stop: equal place to the 16' Ophicleide in the Pedal organ and the Orchestral Trumpet in the Solo. The largest pipe in the Ophicleide rank has a diameter of 349.1mm at the top.
  • The three electric blowers in the basement deliver a wind flow of 209 cubic metres per minute, into 320 metres of wooden wind trunking (the length of three football fields), into 23 bellows loaded with four tonnes of weights, and then into 18 main wind-chests: ready to blow through one pipe or hundreds at once.
  • Most pipes operate on a wind pressure of 3 inches (water gauge). Highest wind pressure: 15 inches.
  • The organ was built by a team of 42 personnel from Klais Orgelbau over a period of 26 months, taking around 27,000 man-hours. The chief designer of the organ was Stefan Hilgendorf.

An opportunity to make the floor rumble

It's not often that you can make the floor rumble but when the powers of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Auckland Town Hall Organ combine, I might just have that opportunity! Auckland Town Hall Organ Facade

I am very happy to be one of the six composers writing a work for these two forces. One of the great things about these APO composer workshops is the process - there are three workshops with the orchestra during this year, followed by the premiere in May 2013. The first is in May and most of us I'm sure will just trial ideas, versions, sections and so on.

The other composers are Robbie Ellis, Anthony Young, David Hamilton, Chris Adams and Ben Hoadley.

My organist is James Tibbles, the Associate Head of Performance at Auckland University and of course one of New Zealand's leading keyboardists.

My piece has a working title of "Tiraki" - a Maori verb meaning to clear the sky, or lift away the clouds. I hope to use this idea to characterise the music and explore different layering and texturing within the orchestra.

Keep up with this blog for updates on the project as it progresses. Also, check out the Auckland Town Hall organ and the Auckland Philharmonia websites.