7 February 2023
World New Music Days ISCM/ACL 2022, New Zealand
Andrián Pertout reports from the 36th Asian Composers League (ACL) Festival & Conference/ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) World New Music Days in New Zealand, 2022.
Established in 1973 as a means of promoting art music activities in Asian countries and fostering mutual exchange between these countries, the Asian Composers' League (ACL) is a contemporary music organisation in the Asia-Pacific region currently comprising of fourteen official member countries and regions: Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam (Japan and Malaysia represented by a further two organisations with an associate membership status). The inaugural ACL Conference and Festival took place in Hong Kong in 1973, and since then events have been organised annually or biennially. The International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) on other hand (established in Salzburg in 1922) is an international network with members from over fifty countries devoted to the promotion and presentation of contemporary music.
The Melbourne Composers' League (MCL), an independent non-profit, non-racial, and non-political local organisation that currently represents 94 composers Australia-wide, is the official Australian representative of the ACL with a mission to actively promote the indigenous and art music of Australia in an Asian Pacific context. Since its inception in 1997, the MCL has presented 640 works in concerts, with 45 curated events juxtaposing the music of Australia with that of another country. There were a total of 21 MCL submissions made to the ACL Festival, and CANZ (Composers Association of New Zealand) announced the score selection results in early 2020 with only one single Australian work selected: Ros Bandt, Raptor (2014). The composer selected by the MCL to represent Australia at the Asian Composers League Young Composer Competition was Aidan Charles Rosa from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The host country is wholly responsible for the score selection, while each member country selects a young composer to represent the country at each festival.
I personally travelled to New Zealand as Australian Delegate of the Asian Composers League to attend the 2022 World New Music Days ISCM/ACL Festival, presented by the Te Rōpū Kaotito Puoro o Aotearoa (Composers Association of New Zealand), but only attended the ACL segment in Ōtautahi (Christchurch) between 28-31 August. I was pleased to see the regeneration of Christchurch after its series of devastating earthquakes that had greatly affected Christchurch's central city and eastern suburbs (the Canterbury earthquake sequence included a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on 4 September 2010). It should be noted that the region experienced four major earthquakes and more than 11,200 aftershocks between September 2010 and the end of 2011. Unfortunately, due to New Zealand's international borders opening only two weeks prior to the festival, and because of the requirement of travel visas and the actual time allotment making it impossible to apply in time, there was a very minimal Asian delegation presence at the festival.
The highlight of the first concert, 'Ahiahi', presented on Sunday 28 August at the Great Hall, Arts Centre Christchurch would certainly have to be the extremely moving and passionate introduction (a performance following the 'Welcome to Country') by Māori composer and recording artist Mahina-Ina Kingi-Kaui - an accomplished player and practitioner of Nga Taonga Puoro (Māori traditional instruments). Her solo performance was artistically sensational and a clear demonstration of an abundance of talent. At this juncture I would like to say that New Zealand never ceases to amaze me with its deep respect and love of its First Nations Peoples, which goes way beyond the tokenistic politeness that we encounter in this country of ours. It should be stated that New Zealand has had a treaty with its original inhabitants for over one hundred and eighty years. Other composers included in the opening concert were Nenad Firšt (Slovenia), Youngkwang Yang (Korea), Marcus Jackson (New Zealand - 2018 'ACL Young Composer Prize' winner), and Young-eun Paik (Korea). The second concert of the day, 'Tūtohu', presented at Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret's College featured the Christchurch Youth Orchestra conducted by Helen Renaud performing the music of Ryan Molloy (Ireland), Robin Toan (New Zealand), Richard Tsang (Hong Kong), René Silva Ponce (Chile), and Claire Cowan (New Zealand).
'Te Waipuna' on Day 2 was presented at the Great Hall, Arts Centre Christchurch, and featured the New Zealand String Quartet performing the music of Jae-Moon Lee (Korea), Hiroaki Tokunaga (Japan), Karlo Margetić (New Zealand), Kurt Rohde (USA), and Louise Webster (New Zealand). Karlo Margetić's Ricercar (2017) was certainly the standout piece, with its modernistic language demonstrating an opulence of timbral colour and great contrapuntal interplay that wisely relied on a compositional sensibility for sonic space with a limited collection of pitch materials. Unsurprisingly, the work went on to win this year's ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize. 'Te Hau' - the second offering of the day at the University of Canterbury Arts Recital Room, Arts Centre Christchurch featured 'manu whakatangitangi a ngā taonga puoro' Alistair Fraser (Pākehā) and Bridget Douglas (Section Principal Flute of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) performing the music of Kristian Blak (Faroe Islands), Philip Brownlee (New Zealand), Alice Hoi-ching Yeung (Hong Kong), Gareth Farr (New Zealand), Josiah Carr (New Zealand), and Briar Prastiti (New Zealand). Kristian Blak's (Faroe Islands) Taonga Puoro - Sounds (2019) celebrated the beautiful Māori instruments with highly interesting and evocative soundscapes of nature in juxtaposition with Alistair Fraser's delicate yet solid execution of Blak's exquisite 'notated' musical materials. The third offering on Day 2, 'Te aho horahora' at The Piano: Centre for Music and the Arts featured performers Tim Emerson (piano), Rakuto Kurano (violin, viola, Baroque viola, piano), Mark Menzies (violin), Henry Nicholson (violin), Yifan Yang (piano), and Hugo Zanker (cello) performing the music of Tōnu Kōrvits (Estonia), Mark Bowden (Wales), Anna Weesner (USA), Berislav Šipuš (Croatia), Jia Daqun (China), Jon Lin Chua (Singapore), and Ji-Hyang Kim (Korea). Among the highlights of the night was Tōnu Kōrvits's Stalker Suite (2017) with its harmonically rich textures adorned with melodic lyricism, Berislav Šipuš's Three Short Tales from the Blind Forest (2018) with its dynamically monumental attitude that obliterated the usual notion of intensity, and Jon Lin Chua's Huis clos (2016) with its exposed simplicity that was abstract yet cohesive, and extremely fresh and creative.
The first event of Day 3 'Te Ihutai' was presented at The Piano: Centre for Music and the Arts, and featured the New Zealand Trio performing the music of Michael Norris (New Zealand), Ryle Custodio (New Zealand - 2018 'ACL Young Composer Prize' winner), Callum Mallett (New Zealand), Tabea Squire (New Zealand), Karlo Margetić (New Zealand), Chatori Shimizu (USA), Joe Cutler (UK), and Tazul Izan Tajuddin (Malaysia). Michael Norris's Horizon Fields (2022) - inspired by Antony Gormley's large-scale installation Horizon Field Hamburg - takes Gormley's grandiose visual-spatial themes as the conceptual framework for the development of compositional materials for the trio, delivering a both beautiful and harmonically rich work that blossoms over time into what I would describe as an anomalous example of the new music idiom: a work with a creative vision and artistic ebullience. Wellington-based Norris is a fantastic composer with a superb compositional output that additionally excels as software programmer.
The second offering of the day entitled 'Tūranga hauropi' at the University of Canterbury Arts Recital Room, Arts Centre Christchurch featured performers Tim Emerson (piano), Rakuto Kurano (violin, viola, Baroque viola, piano), Mark Menzies (violin), and Yifan Yang (piano) and presented the music of Anne Cleare (Ireland), Guo Yuan (Chengdu, China), Fani Kosona (Greece), Đỗ Hồng Quân (Vietnam), Charlotte Seither (Germany), Tomás Bordalejo (Argentina), and Mykola Khshanovskyi (Ukraine). Đỗ Hồng Quân's Lonely River (2015) was certainly revealing of a schism between the neo-classical and the dodecaphonism of the mid-1950s, but extremely appealing as an alternative 'new music' voice that effectively represents the historical socio-political connection of Southeast Asia to transcontinental Eurasia.
The third offering of the day 'Tributary' at Charles Luney Auditorium, St Margaret's College featured the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey and presented the music of Chin Ting Chan (Hong Kong), Weerechat Premananda (Thailand), Yohanan Chendler (Israel/Japan), Hisataka Nishimori (Japan), Ramon Santos (The Philippines), and Yimin 'Edward' Wu (Hong Kong). Ramon Santos's DIWA (2018), described by the artist as "a portrayal of one's inner self, with varied and changing moods and feelings, sometimes aggressive, sometimes melancholy and pensive, and sometimes exuberant", left me wondering whether this was a chamber work that should have been performed by the full symphonic forces of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and whether what I heard that night was the composer's intention at all. But in spite of that sense of doubt as to whether it had been correctly executed, the work, which in characteristic fashion celebrates Filipino's unique culture in juxtaposition with 'Western' modernism was as a whole nevertheless successful. The final fourth concert of the day 'Skyward' at Little Andromeda Theatre presented the electroacoustic music of PerMagnus Lindborg (Singapore), Ros Bandt (Australia), Tran Luu Hoang (Vietnam), Reuben de Lautour (New Zealand), Fulya Uçanok (New Zealand), and Tolga Tüzün (New Zealand). The highlight of this concert was certainly internationally acclaimed sound artist, composer, musician, researcher and scholar Ros Bandt performing the tarhu on her own Raptor (2014). Raptor is a creative response to the flight of the Aquila Chrysaetos over the Joshua Tree biosphere, and Bandt's juxtaposition of the harmonic drones of the bowed tarhu with the granulated golden eagle calls provided the audience with a visually captivating extra-musical listening experience with deep philosophical underpinnings.
Day 4, within a concert entitled 'Kōnehu' at the University of Canterbury Arts Recital Room, Arts Centre Christchurch presented the Asian Composers League Young Composers Competition featuring a collection of soloists and music from Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand. As Australian Delegate of the ACL I am personally responsible for not only selecting but also mentoring and nurturing a young composer under the age 30 from Australia as part of their participation in the ACL Young Composer Competition that takes place within the framework of an ACL festival and conference in one of fourteen countries in the Asia Pacific.
The competition has a total of US$1,000 in cash prizes (given to up to three winners), with the winner of the first prize invited to write a new work to be premiered during the next ACL festival (hotel accommodation provided for the duration of the festival). The composer selected by the MCL to represent Australia at the Asian Composers League Young Composer Competition was Aidan Charles Rosa from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music with the work Passacaglia: The Profundity of Absurdity for string trio (2019), which proved to be an engaging and admirable work in the program. The closing concert of the day (and the festival) 'Kōanga' at Ron Ball Studio, Christchurch Town Hall featured Justin DeHart (percussion), Hannah Darroch (flute), Tim Emmerson (piano), Rakuto Kurano (violin, viola, Baroque viola, piano), David McGregor (clarinet), Annabella Zilber (double bass), and Ben Zilber (trombone) and presented the music of Miyuki Ito (Japan), Chris Gendall (New Zealand), Adeline Wong (Malaysia), Bertram Wee (Singapore), Hyunsuk Jun (Korea), and Lily Chen (Taiwan). The highlight of the night was Hyunsuk Jun's Typewriter (2017) for snare and electronics, which according to the composer was "composed using a variety of musical nuances which call to mind a theatrical monologue." Typewriter, with its seemingly restricted and limited scope (a work for solo snare) is an excellent example of a maximisation of the creative potential of your compositional materials, and as a work of art in my mind succeeds because of its perfect balance of complementary organic and artificial musical elements. The programme notes from the festival booklet continue to explain that "the composer dissembles the text 'Three Oddest Words' (a poem by Wislawa Szymborska) and then recombines the words with the rhythm of the percussion. The recombined rhythm progresses in the form of a monologue while imitating poetic breath and tone. Sound samples such as various sounds of a typewriter and breaking wood, processed by Supercollider and Sounds."
The closing concert delivered the results of the ACL Young Composers Competition, and other awards presented as part of the Festival. The ACL Young Composers Competition culminated with three prizes awarded: first and equal second prizes going to Piyawat Louilarpprasert (Thailand), Ka-Shu Tam (Hong Kong/China), and Akira Ito (Japan) respectively. The 2022 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Karlo Margetić (New Zealand) for his work Ricercar (2017) for string quartet. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best musical work by a composer from the host country under the age 35 at each ACL festival. The ACL Hsu Tsang-Houei Memorial Prize (best work utilizing traditional instruments by a composer from the host country) was not awarded in 2022. The ACL Outstanding Performers Award went to violinist, violist, pianist, conductor, composer, writer on music and musicians, and teacher Mark Menzies (Head of Performance, University of Canterbury, New Zealand). I was one of the judges for these awards, along with Chris Gendall (New Zealand) and Chung Shih Hoh (Singapore).
Dependent on the success of funding applications and other unforeseen circumstances, informal proposals for upcoming ACL festivals were made by Israel (October 2024), Japan (March 2025) and Taiwan (2026).
Te Rōpū Kaitito Puoro o Aotearoa/The Composers Association of New Zealand ISCM/ACL 2022: www.iscm2022nz.com
ISCM - International Society for Contemporary Music: iscm.org
ACL - Asian Composers' League: www.asiancomposersleague.org
Melbourne Composers' League: www.melbournecomposersleague.com
© Australian Music Centre (2023) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer with a PhD in Composition from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. His music has been performed in over 50 countries around the world. He is currently Vice-President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (2021-); Member of the Executive Committee (Treasurer) of the Asian Composers’ League (2022-); Australian delegate of the Asian Composers’ League (2007-); International coordinator, PUENTE Festival Interoceánico, Valparaíso, Chile (2019-); Member of the Editorial Board, Eurasian Music Science Journal, The State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, Uzbekistan (2022-); and was Visiting Professor of Composition at Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts, Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (2019).
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