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Dr Anthony Ritchie, President of the Composers Association of New Zealand

Composition in New Zealand is healthy at present, at least in terms of performances and recognition. I want to focus on three different indicators of this: the international scene, the orchestras, and New Zealand Music month.

Let me start with New Zealand Music month, which was in May, because here we see a good cross-section of composition occurring. One of the features of the month was a concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra entitled "Made in New Zealand", with all New Zealand music on the programme, and in particular the premiere of Ken Young's Symphony No.2. Ken is one of New Zealand's foremost conductors, but he also writes eloquently for orchestra, and it was great to have this new addition to the repertoire. Another notable premiere was John Psathas' Kartsigar, for the New Zealand String Quartet, a work based on transcriptions of Greek music, blended with jazz and contemporary elements. There were two premieres at the Wanaka Arts festival plus a concert of New Zealand piano music by Michael Houstoun, a premiere by Maria Grenfell to launch a new educational body, called MENZA, or Music Education New Zealand Aotearoa. There were also new works by David Hamilton, and James Dunlop premiered in May. Anthony Ritchie's CDPiano Preludes were released, and received their premiere on radio in May. Along with many broadcasts of New Zealand music, a new series for radio was produced, called He Ara Puoro (A Pathway of Song), about traditional Maori instruments, introduced and played by Richard Nunns. The National library hosted an exhibition to celebrate New Zealand contemporary art music, including historic scores from the library's collection. All of this is a strong indication that New Zealand composers are very active.

A second indicator of health is the programming by New Zealand orchestras in 2005. In the past, some orchestras have had a reputation for being conservative in their approach to programming, with one former manager describing New Zealand composition as "the kiss of death for a concert". However, this year over 40 works by 25 composers have been programmed by the professional orchestras alone, including 11 new works. There are numerous works also being performed by educational, community and youth orchestras. It is great to see the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, our premiere orchestra, increasing its programming of New Zealand music. One of its recent initiatives is to commission composers to write short concertos for each principal player in the orchestra, lasting about 10 minutes each. In 2005, five composers are having works premiered, while more are in the pipeline. Likewise, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra has upped its amount of New Zealand content, with an all New Zealand programme presented early in August, during the Christchurch Arts Festival. They are including works by Psathas, Farr, Cree Brown, de Castro Robinson, Southgate and Ritchie in their schedule, following on from a fine New Zealand premiere of Psathas' View from Mt Olympus in February. This shows a turnaround from the bad old days in Christchurch when New Zealand music hardly featured at all. The Auckland Philharmonia, and Wellington and Southern Sinfonias all continue their high level of support for New Zealand music. The Auckland Philharmonia have a long-established composer-in-residence, and this year it is Ross Harris, who has completed a symphony among other things. 

The Centre for New Zealand Music, or SOUNZ, has played an important role in encouraging the performance of New Zealand orchestral music, and other genres. For example, they initiated the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/SOUNZ orchestral readings, where composers have an opportunity to have their music played through and rehearsed in an informal situation, without the pressure of a concert performance. This is also an chance for the orchestra to discover previously unknown repertoire, and there are often works by both younger and older composers. For example, in February the workshop featured pieces by David Farquhar and Dorothy Buchanan, two of our most established composers, alongside the emerging talents of Chris Watson and Jeremy Mayall. In July, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra also held their first young composers workshop, with students from universities and high schools around the country having the chance to hear their music played by our leading orchestra. 

The third indicator of our health in composition is the international scene, which has been very busy recently. Michael Norris and Phil Brownlee had works performed at the ISCM festival in Zagreb, in April, while several composers were represented in the Tower New Zealand Voices tour of Germany, late last year. This leading choir was competing at the 9th International Chamber Choir Contest. Likewise, the National Brass Band of New Zealand competed at the World Championships in the Netherlands in July, winning third place with performances of newly commissioned works by Ken Young and Anthony Ritchie. One of the most interesting events was held in California on May 15, in a garden in Santa Cruz. The largest collection of New Zealand plants outside our country is to be found in the Ed Landels Garden at the University of California, and so a celebration of 'Culture, Music, and Botanical Diversity of New Zealand' was arranged. All day people could wander through the gardens enjoying recordings of New Zealand birds along with Glass Music by Lilburn, Aeolian Harp Sounds by Cree Brown, and electroacoustic works by Whitehead, Farquhar, Body, Harris, Cousins, and Brownlee, along with some traditional Maori music. There was also the chance to sample New Zealand food with a hangi, and New Zealand wines. The Maori music at this event was presented by Richard Nunns, as part of his world tour for taonga puoro (traditional Maori instruments). He also visited centres in Germany and Poland, and will also feature with the New Zealand String Quartet during their American tour later this year, performing Gillian Whitehead's work Hine-pu-te-hue

I mentioned earlier how the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has been performing more New Zealand music than before. In August they toured London, Snape Maltings, the Netherlands, and finally onto the World Expo in Japan, where they performed a concert featuring Lilburn, Farquhar, Harris and Farr. The New Zealand String Quartet was also at the World expo, performing Jack Body's Three Transcriptions. 

These three areas I have outlined-New Zealand Music Month, New Zealand orchestras, and the international scene-are just a prominent tip of quite a large iceberg. It is not possible to summarize all the individual compositional activity that has been occurring in the last twelve months in New Zealand, but I would like to mention one composer in particular, because it has really been his year. I am talking about John Psathas. At the time of my report last year John had just had his music performed to billions of people world wide, at the opening of the Olympic Games. For this, and other career highlights, John was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit by the government. This award followed on from his artists Laureate award earlier in 2004, and coincided with him winning both the SOUNZ Contemporary Award for his dazzling Piano Concerto, and the Tui award for Classical album of the year, for his CD entitled Fragments. This likeable man has gone from strength to strength, with a stunning New Zealand premiere of his View from Mt Olympus performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in February, plus a new CD calledZeibekiko, released by the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble. Another new work of John's called Mal Occhio was premiered in Kansas, America, in May. John has made the transition from national to international figure, and his star continues to rise. His music is eclectic in style, with elements from Greek and New Zealand music mixing convincingly with a strong Minimalist streak. The pitch elements are often quite simple in his music, allowing for rich complexity in rhythm and texture. There is an openness and freshness about his music which beautifully reflects the new 'sound' in New Zealand music, contrasting with the more introverted styles of New Zealand music from before the 1990s. In an interview from earlier this year, John said: "New Zealand is in such a unique position. Isolated as we are, we have been bombarded almost simultaneously with music genres ranging from electroacoustic and European art music to jazz, rock and ethnic musics. Without the weight of historical precedent we have the freedom to be as eclectic as we like. The resulting hybridisation isn't contrived here as it has been elsewhere. The crossovers have been happening at a cellular, 'DNA' level and the result is a fantastic array of musical styles and genres."

The Composers Association of New Zealand has continued to offer composers opportunities and provide a network. There is no better example of this than the Nelson Composers Workshop, held in June. Students and tutors came from all around the country to discuss and rehearse new pieces. It is an excellent chance for young composers to make a name for themselves and meet their peers, and more established composers also. This year 31 composers had pieces played by top professional performers such as the New Zealand Trio. 

So far I have painted an optimistic picture of New Zealand composition in terms of performance opportunities. What about the opportunities for composers to earn a living from their craft? This picture is not quite so rosy. Creative New Zealand, our Arts council, still works within quite restricted budgets to help fund composers for commissioned works. In the latest round, for example, just seven new composition projects were funded, and of these only three were for what can be described as 'art music' projects. The cut-off point for funds is too low, and many composers are consequently being discouraged from applying. Organisations such as the Composers Association and SOUNZ are continuing to lobby for increased funding from the government. However, Creative New Zealand has contributed a significant sum towards the establishment of a composer-in-residence at the New Zealand School of Music. Gillian Whitehead has been chosen as the second resident composer, and Douglas Lilburn's house was bought (after a significant campaign to save it) for use as the composer's residence. The National Youth Orchestra has also been responsible for establishing a new composers residency, with the first recipient being Robin Toan, a promising young composer. These new residencies are a boost to composers and it is hoped more might be established, possibly in overseas locations. A new foundation has also been set up in the last year, helping to fund composers' study abroad. The Edwin Carr Foundation, as it is called, was established after the death of one of our leading composers, with the first recipient being Dylan Lardelli who will be studying with Dieter Mack in Germany and Stefano Bellon in Italy.

In April this year the New Zealand government announced that $5,500,000 would be given to support export growth of the New Zealand music industry. The Associate Minister for the Arts, Judith Tizard, said the funding "�recognizes the depth of talent in New Zealand and the huge potential of the New Zealand music industry which makes a unique and valuable contribution to New Zealand culture. This success is demonstrated by the popularity of New Zealand Music month and the dramatic increase of New Zealand music content on radio". However, none of this money appears to be aimed at art music. The New Zealand Music Industry Commission gets a large slice of the pie, as does New Zealand on Air, both of which deal with commercial, popular music. While record companies and organisations like SOUNZ do what they can to promote New Zealand art music abroad, it is a struggle to be heard without proper funding. 

One of our poets, R.A.K.Mason, once described New Zealand as being "fixed at the friendless outer edge of space". We are an isolated country, with virtually nothing between the city I live in, Dunedin, and Antarctica. Therefore our desire to communicate with the world is very hungry indeed. So we have a strong need to make our music heard abroad, at festivals such as this one. The isolation has been eased somewhat in the last fifteen years by the Internet, and this tool is about to enhanced. The New Zealand Music Centre has just started the process of digitizing their collection of New Zealand compositions, so that the scores and recordings may be accessible to people worldwide. This is a huge and ambitious project, but will help reduce our isolation musically, and will be a great tool for promulgating our art. Already SOUNZ has an impressive website and database, and this will be enhanced greatly with the digitization project.

Dr Anthony Ritchie
President, Composers Association of New Zealand




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