Burt Munro, what a bloody good kiwi. And what a bloody good character to write a piece about. So I did. As part of my APO Communities Composer position I put together MUNRO for this year’s APO Discovery Concert.
[The APO Discovery concert is a showcase of orchestral music for about 2,000 lucky secondary school students]
The piece was premiered today at the Auckland Town Hall by the Auckland Philharmonia, conducted by Tianyi Lu… the first day of NZ Music Month!
Herbert James "Burt" Munro (Bert in his youth; 25 March 1899 – 6 January 1978) was a New Zealand motorcycle racer, famous for setting an under-1,000 cc world record, at Bonneville, 26 August 1967. This record still stands; Munro was 68 and was riding a 47-year-old machine when he set his last record.
Working from his home in Invercargill, he worked for 20 years to highly modify the 1920 Indian motorcycle that he had bought that same year. Munro set his first New Zealand speed record in 1938 and later set seven more. He travelled to compete at the Bonneville Salt Flats, attempting to set world speed records. During his ten visits to the salt flats, he set three speed records, one of which still stands.
In short, he’s a typical kiwi guy expressing exorbitant amounts of ingenuity, determination and optimism.
From the programme note…
Thanks to APO Connecting for commissioning this work, and to Tianyi and the players of the orchestra for giving such a committed performance.
If you’re interested in some more reading on Burt, this is a great little article from a few years back:
The 48Hours film-making weekend is always one to look forward to and this year we struck 'mystery' as our genre - good fun. Compared to previous years, the team was cut to only four crew and rightfully so one of those was a composer! This year we managed to make the Auckland finals and the guys picked up an award for best editing. Yay.
The film has very little dialogue and so I managed to create a single piece of music to last the whole film. Here's how it was looking in Logic:
With merely hours to compose the music, there's always things you wish you'd had time to do, but generally I'm reasonably pleased with the results. The goal was to keep an intensity throughout the film, matching a few key moments, but also to create an underscore which leaves enough room for the viewer to ponder their own mystery. Have a listen:
Epic. All I can say is, epic. This year as part of the Auckland Philharmonia education programme, a new initiative was their 'Bring It Together' day. This was where students from many of their partner schools, and of very different abilities, came together for a few hours to make music alongside APO musicians.
I was asked to write the arrangements and gosh it was hard work. For every instrument in the orchestra there needed to be three tiered parts to cater for the different abilities: beginner (up to grade 2); intermediate (grade 3-5); and advanced (grade 6+); plus a few additions like cornets, saxophones and baritones.
The programme was:
Ode To Joy by Beethoven
Happy Happy from Ren and Stimpy
Tidal Fragments, a collaboration between Auckland schools
March Slav by Tchaikovsky
The new piece, Tidal Fragments, was the APO's idea to create a piece from musical contributions 'inspired by the sea' from the participating schools. As I received them, seeing the different tempos, styles, keys, time signatures, timbres, etc, I wondered how I was going to bring them together. Eventually I decided to leave them in their existing state, and have an underlying 'seashore' idea which would tie everything together. Here's the programme note:
Kind thanks to Mangere College, Rangitoto College, Avondale College, Baradene College of the Sacred Heart, James Cook High School, New Lynn School, Redoubt Normal School and Sancta Maria College for their contributions.
It's hard to know before you hear the first notes whether it'll be a success or a failure, but it all seemed to work tremendously well. Of course many observations to store away for next time, but everyone left with a smile on their face and I hope with their eyes open wider.
Last week I had the pleasure of conducting the premiere of my new work, Rakiura, at the Auckland Town Hall and then at the Bruce Mason Centre. It was tremendously well received and I am thrilled.
I initially posted about this project here, when we were asking for help via Kickstarter to bring the project to life. Well, we got there, and in early October I got to work.
With the music following a movie of images I had a task getting my head into the story, so I printed out the book and spread it out on my floor and it all started to come together.
Here's the programme note:
“Rakiura" is a story of life on Stewart Island, Rakiura, a remote island at the southern end of New Zealand. The piece was commissioned to accompany a photographic album and exhibition by Keri Moyle and follows the album’s five distinct sections. Warm strings pay tribute to the beauty of the scenery, woodwinds evoke the magnificent birdlife, foreboding brass builds apprehension as humans arrive and make their mark on the land, and then as humans withdraw the land flourishes once again with its harsh yet tranquil beauty.
The guest conductor and my good friend, David Kay, kindly gave me the opportunity to conduct the work (photo above). It was wonderful to put it together with the musicians and they really did a great job performing it.
A big thank you to everyone who supported the project and to those who came to one of the concerts and gave such a positive response.
I am so proud of the Appalachian Octet from Diocesan School for Girls who has just won the National Award for the Best Performance of a New Zealand Work at the 2014 NZCT Chamber Music Contest with my piece Kiwi in Appalachia.
The musicians are:
Gwyneth Nelmes, violin
Debbie King, viola
Breeanah Mcbain, flute
Christine Li, violin
Rachel Sun, clarinet
Rebecca Brimble, bassoon
Clarissa Wei, bass clarinet
Hannah Kang, piano
As I briefly talked about in this post, it's a standalone piece commissioned for this group but it's also to be used in conjunction with my arrangement of Copland's Appalachian Spring. My programme note says:
Kiwi in Appalachia is derived from the chamber version of Aaron Copland’s seminal work, Appalachain Spring. It has been re-scored and sections from the original have been arranged to create the first part of the work. The second part is a new work composed for this group as a response to Copland's work. It is inspired by and uses motifs and ideas from the original in a new way.
They have worked so hard and have done an incredible job, so a very well deserved award for them. They will now travel to Christchurch and perform it at the National Finals of the NZCT Chamber Music Contest on the 1st - 2nd August. Gosh I might just have to book a flight too!
Here's a video of the piece, recorded at the Raye Freedman Arts Centre on Sunday 8th of June at the Auckland regionals. 0'00" - 6'46" is my arrangement, 6'47" - 11'16" is my original work. You'll get better audio if you watch it in HD.
According to the Chamber Music NZ website, during June 2014...
...507 secondary school ensembles of between three and eight musicians including 19 octets and involving close to 2000 students, took part in the District Rounds of the 49th NZCT Chamber Music Contest.
This afternoon the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra gave a superb premiere of my new work for orchestra, Unwrapped, in a packed St-Matthews-in-the-City here in Auckland.
Peter Thomas, conductor, did a sublime job bringing the work to life. Here's what the reviewer had to say:
We were privileged to hear the first performance of a brand new work for orchestra composed by the Auckland–based composer Ryan Youens. Titled “Unwrapped”, the programme notes indicated that the work was intended to explore the range of emotions that are experienced when unwrapping a gift - it did not require a vivid imagination to appreciate how much the orchestration conveyed this. This composition was tuneful and the orchestration skilfully managed and well balanced, so that every section of the orchestra had its moment of glory.
I wrote it in a short but intense space of time, it's a short piece (5mins) and I only had a short time hearing the orchestra play it in rehearsal - so it was such a thrill that it was so well received, was such a great interpretation and of course in such a stunning acoustic.
This year the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra have asked several composers to write works for their subscription series - others include Alex Taylor and Louise Webster.
The St Matthews audience are not exposed to a lot of contemporary music so it was important to me to strike a balance in style while retaining musical integrity and weighting. Challenge accepted and perhaps succeeded as shown by one lady who spoke to me after the concert. She said it was:
One of the most listenable pieces of contemporary music I have heard in a long time!
If you missed the concert I am not surprised. Unfortunately the orchestra has not yet included any of the composers or their new works on promotional material or social media posts advertising the concerts. Incredibly sad for me as a composer and of course as a lover and proponent of new music. Embrace new music and give it the respect it deserves!
If they were worried about scaring away their audience then one lady made me smile by saying:
I really wasn't looking forward to it but I thought it was absolutely fantastic!
Thank you to Peter Thomas and the players of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra for a fantastic premiere.
And just like that, another year is coming to an end.
Thanks so much to everyone who has supported me in some way this year - that may have been with work, with ideas or just with conversation.
It has been an incredible time of music making for me with many wonderful opportunities, inspiring people to work with and some stunning ensembles and musicians to bring the music to life. Some of these include:
Auckland Philharmonia, New Zealand Symphony, Auckland Symphony, Christchurch Symphony, Auckland Youth Orchestra, St Matthew's Chamber Orchestra, Manukau Concert Band, Victoria Kelly, Neil Finn, NZTrio and Horomona Horo, Tecwyn Evans, Michael Norris, Leonie Holmes, John Rowles, Ben Hoadley, Val Landi and Scott Hunt (USA), Bluebird Avenue, Fatcat & Fishface, Alexandros Pappas (Greece), Sideways Productions, Elizabeth Mandeno and David Kelly, the Polkadots, the KBB Music Festival and The Big Sing.
Next year is going to be a big year and absolutely business as usual so get in touch to get me involved with your projects - either as a music preparer, typesetter or editor, or as an arranger and orchestrator.
To leave you with some music, earlier this year I received the New Zealand Symphony recording of my original work, Rakaia. Auckland Symphony commissioned it in 2007, the NZSO workshopped it in 2008 and then this is their recording from 2010:
Last week I finished my new work for soprano and piano, Papatūānuku - based on a stunning NZ poem by John Waterman. I am hugely blessed to have written it for Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano) and David Kelly (piano). Here are the details...
The Committee would like to invite you to our final concert for the year: 'Shorts and Suites'. This will be an all vocal concert featuring new and recent song cycles (with piano accompaniment) by Auckland composers, plus a selection of vocal microscores. It will take place on Friday 22 November at 7.30pm, and the venue will be the Maclaurin Chapel on Princes St (next door to the ClockTower). With funding from Auckland Council Arts Alive, we have been able to engage some very fine local performers for this concert.
Helen Bowater, A Rough Sea for the Crossing, Claire Scholes (mezzo)
Anthony Young, Night swimming, Te Oti Rakena (baritone)
David Hamilton, No Other Heaven, Steven Rapana (tenor)
Ryan Youens, Papatūānuku, Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano)
Plus a selection of vocal microscores (1 minute works), recently commissioned by The Committee in a 'call for scores'.
Elizabeth Mandeno - soprano
Claire Scholes - mezzo
Steven Rapana - tenor
Te Oti Rakena - baritone
David Kelly - piano
THE DETAILSShorts & Suites
Maclaurin Chapel, University of Auckland, 18 Princes St
Friday 22 November 2013 at 7.30pm
Tickets: $17/$10 on the door only
Listen to Anthony Young from The Committee talk about the concert on Upbeat:
Please invite your friends and and family - the more the merrier!
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.
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).
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.
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.
Q AND A WITH SOUNZ
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?
Q AND A WITH THE APO
1. things you discovered about the Town Hall organAfter 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 pieceThere 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 organI 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 pieceOne 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 MayJust 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.
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!
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!".
Finally, 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!