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8 April 2008

Trans-Tasman Composer Travelogue

Colin Bright Image: Colin Bright  

Colin Bright reports on his experience with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra as 2006 Trans-Tasman Composer Resident.

With two days between rehearsal day and concert day, I finally got around to some sight-seeing this trip, including Rotorua’s boiling pools of mud and sulphurous springs, Lake Taupo and the treacherous coast west of Auckland with its beaches of fine black sand. The surf was not particularly good, messy but enjoyable nevertheless, though the rips did make hard work of it. Piha is that infamous beach where they regularly drag bodies from the surf.

Previously, I’ve suggested that ‘if there is a discernable sensibility in common with Australian and NZ composers that reflects our ‘place’ in SE-Asia and the Pacific, maybe it is a directness of expression – a brashness – and less concern with elegance.’ But the landscapes could not be more different. Whereas Australia has a sense of ‘timelessness’ or ‘permanence’ – stasis, New Zealand is, by contrast, in ‘real time’. The history of volcanic activity is evident almost everywhere, and Auckland Harbour has an island that emerged only 500 years ago! And Rotorua is a constant reminder of what is occurring beneath the visible stability of land masses.

The premiere of Surf Symphony (28 Jan 2008) by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the highly competent Hamish McKeish took place on Auckland Harbour at an outdoor stage on a wharf, adjacent to where the Rainbow Warrior was sunk in 1985. The orchestra was invited to perform as part of the Aquatica Festival, Auckland’s annual celebration day.

I usually find first rehearsals something of a tortuous experience, listening for how closely the actual sound resembles the sound that was in your head, and generally assessing how well (or not) the piece is working. Although I left the rehearsal with some doubts, I decided to wait for the performance before trying to make any changes. Fortunately, the performance of the piece sounded much more convincing and the outdoors aspect did seem to suit the music, which was pumping through a huge PA. The intense sun also seemed appropriate for the music, though a moderate wind had everything that was not tied down flapping, particularly the players' music!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my part of the Trans-Tasman Composer Exchange, having connected with a number of NZ composers during my three trips to NZ. It was also a pleasure working with the APO and management, who have a strong commitment to new music, and are renowned for their adventurous programming.

About the Trans-Tasman Composer Residency Program

The Composer Exchange Residency is a collaborative project between SOUNZ, Centre for New Zealand Music and the Australian Music Centre, which aims to increase musical collaborations between the two countries. Each year a composer from one country is given the opportunity to spend between six weeks and two months with a leading professional performing ensemble in the other country. This year, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra will host New Zealand composer and conductor Kenneth Young, who already has a considerable history with the orchestra. Young will work closely with the players to write a new work which the orchestra will perform in their main season in 2009. While in Hobart he will also be a mentor for the Australian Composers School and give guest lectures at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music. Young will return in December to conduct the TSO in a recording for ABC Classics of his own Saffire Concerto for guitar quartet and orchestra.

The Trans-Tasman Exchange is funded by the Australia Council and Creative New Zealand and managed by the Australian Music Centre and SOUNZ, Centre for NZ Music. The Centres undertake a role of identifying composers and ensembles who would work fruitfully together to perform and create music by both the resident composer and other Australasian composers. Together, the music centres work to ensure that promotional opportunities resulting from the Exchange increase the understanding and appreciation of music from their respective countries.

Further Links

Related Articles

Trans-Tasman Composer Residency Exchange - Colin Bright (www.resonatemagazine.com.au/article.php?id=120)

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Colin Bright was the 2006 Trans-Tasman Composer Exchange Resident hosted by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.


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