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By Dr Anthony Ritchie, President of The Composers Association of New Zealand

The past 12 months have been encouraging for New Zealand composers. Several of our composers have been doing well on the international stage, most notably John Psathas, who contributed music for the Olympic Games in Athens. This was a tremendous honour for John, who's Greek heritage made it particularly appropriate that he should be commissioned to write this music. He was responsible for composing and arranging all the orchestral music for the opening and closing ceremonies, including fanfares and processionals to accompany the arrival of the IOC President, music for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron and so on. He also composed the soundtrack to the entire flame sequence of the ceremony, and arranged the National Anthem of Greece, the Olympic Hymn, and music by Shostakovich, Debussy and Mikis Theodorakis. John Psathas has been our most high profile composer in recent times, having several overseas performances of works and plenty back home as well. Works such as the Piano Concerto and View from Olympus have been very favourably received.

Another high profile composer is Gareth Farr who has been working in residence with the Australian Song Company this year, as part of the first Trans-Tasman Composer Exchange. James Ledger, as Australian composer, will come here in November to work

with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. This fostering of good relations between New Zealand and Australian composers is long overdue.

Gillian Whitehead continues to have music performed overseas on a regular basis, and also won her third SOUNZ Contemporary Award in October, with her work for soprano and orchestra entitled Alice. Overseas performances include a piano piece in the Wigmore Hall, London, with Stephen de Pledge, and a work for bassoon premiered by Ben Hoadley in Melbourne, Australia.


Young New Zealand composers have been doing well with international competitions also. Dylan Lardelli won the Asian Composers League's Young Composers prize in 2003, with a work called Four Fragments which was played in Tokyo. This has been followed up by Chris Gendall winning in 2004, with his work Sweet Nothing for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, to be played during this festival. Anthony Young was selected to have his work The Farewell played at the Australian Composers Orchestral Forum, by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. There are four other composers involved in this initiative, including 1 Malaysian and 3 Australians, and it is organised by the Centre for NZ Music along with the Australian Music Centre.

At home, Michael Norris confirmed his position as one of New Zealand's leading younger composers by winning the Douglas Lilburn Prize for 2003. His composition Rays of the sun, Shards of the moon was first performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and soon after the orchestra also performed Norris' 1st symphony.

We have also had several prominent composers visiting New Zealand in the last 12 months, including Chinary Ung, Alison Isadora and Alejandro Iglesias-Rossi at the Nelson Composers Workshop, and a group of Korean composers and performers at Victoria University. The Koreans were reciprocating a visit to Soeul by NZ composers in 2003.

The Composers Association of New Zealand also became a member of the International Society for Contemporary Music in 2003, in Slovenia. At this conference a presentation on the state of new music in New Zealand was read by Neville Hall, and John Rimmer�s Kakapo Reborn was performed. This is a signal that New Zealand intends increasing the presence of our composers on the world stage, and we hope the benefits will be mutual. Dorothy Ker and Jerome Speak, both based in London, had works performed at the ISCM festival in November.

The Centre for New Zealand Music (SOUNZ) continues to actively support NZ composers in many different ways. Two highlights recently were the release of SOUNZfine Volume 5, a CD of NZ music, and also the CD Lontano, with works by NZ women composers. The head of the Centre for NZ Music is Scilla Askew, who has served for 10 years. She has been honoured this year by the Composers Association of NZ with their highest award, the KBB Citation for services to NZ Music.

At the national level one of the most significant events during the year was the release on CD of the collected electroacoustic works of Douglas Lilburn. Lilburn, who died in 2002, was our first recognised composer and a pioneer in electroacoustic music during the 1960s and 70s. These works have been on LP records for many years, but release onto CD was long overdue. Lilburn was the first composer in our country to try and establish a NZ identity in his music. Arguably he came closest to this goal in the electroacoustic works, which draw on enviromental sounds in many cases for their inspiration.

Sadly we lost two older and long-serving composers recently: Edwin Carr and Peter Crowe, following on from 2003 when Hirinui Melbourne died. Both were significant composers, with Carr contributing four well-crafted symphonies, ballet scores, and other instrumental music.

The International festival of Arts in Wellington attracted many top performers from overseas. Held in February and March, the festival included concerts of music by Jack Body and Eve de Castro-Robinson, a new opera by Anthony Ritchie, Velocities II, and several other NZ works. Ritchie had a second new opera, The God Boy, premiered at the Otago Arts Festival during 2004. Another significant event was the 09-03 Festival of Contemporary music, held in Auckland. The works of over 20 'cutting edge' composers were performed over a period of three days, including visiting overseas composers Liza Lim and Richard Barrett. Another sign of closer ties between NZ and Australia was the presence of Elision, a fine ensemble from across the Tasman. There were also fine concerts from NZ contemporary music groups such as Stroma and 175 East, who continue to spearhead the promotion of new music in this country.

A new residency for composers was established at Victoria University, with the support of Creative NZ. The first composer appointed for this residency is English-born James Gardner. This lifts the number of composer residencies in NZ to three, including the Composer-in-residence with the Auckland Philharmonia, and the Mozart Fellowship at Otago University. However, it still lags behind the five reseidencies that were in existence a few years ago.

While the present government in New Zealand seem to have been supportive of the arts, in fact things have not improved that much in the last few years. This was shown in a survey by the Arts Council of NZ, which stated that artists earn on average about $20,000 per annum. The number of government-funded commissions given to 'classical' composers in the last year totalled 16. These 16 commissions added up to just over $110,000, along with another $15,000 for the new composers residency in Wellington. This is not a large amount when we consider the number of composers working in New Zealand. Consequently there are very few composers making a living from composing only. As Michael Norris wrote recently: "NZ composers still face the struggle of acceptance, by the media, the government, and the institutions that ought to be nurturing us."

There seems to be a steady increase in the amount of NZ music performed and recorded by professional groups around the country, coupled with good coverage from Concert FM, the national classical music radio channel. An example of this is the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra who are commissioning and playing more NZ works than before. Responding to criticism, Chamber Music NZ has scheduled more NZ music in 2004, including the first nationwide tour by Stroma. Developments in opera are promising also, with Michael Williams' opera The Prodigal Child touring NZ, others receiving premieres, and more in the pipeline. The New Zealand Youth Choir continues to impress not only by its high quality of performance but also by its comittment to NZ music, as seen in its recent tour to Russia where it performed various NZ works.

Compositions that involve the fusion of cultures continues to feature in New Zealand programmes. Richard Nunns, an expert in the restoration of Maori instruments and performance, continues to form collaborations with composers. A recent example of this was March - Hine Te Kakara for bassoon, taonga puoro and voice by Gillian Whitehead. This was performed in the Tamatekapua meeting house in Ohinemutu with George Zukerman of Canada, Richard Nunns and Aroha Yates-Smith. In August of this year, the music-drama Ahua by Keri Hulme and Anthony Ritchie received its second performance in the Christhurch town hall. Lasting an hour and a half, the work incoporates music by a Maori kapahaka group.

New Zealand composers continue to be extraordinarily active both nationally and internationally. There has been a recent surge of interest in the popular media for the arts, and it is my hope that this will bring New Zealand composers some long-overdue recognition. At the annual Composers Workshop held in Nelson, New Zealand, I was staggered by the breadth and variety of young composing talent on offer. There were all sorts of pieces being played, from the most experimental to the blatantly tuneful. From all of this one could see the beginnings of strong compositional styles emerging. With good nurturing in the years to come, New Zealand music will make its mark at home and abroad.

Dr Anthony Ritchie




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