New Sounds – SMP Ensemble, Magda Mayas, Tony Buck and Hermione Johnson



Mitchell McEwen (flutes), Andrzej Nowicki (clarinets), Dylan Lardelli

(guitar), Carolyn Mills (harp), Claire Harris (piano), Antony Verner

(violin), Andrew Filmer (viola), Charley Davenport (cello), Jeremy

Hantler (taonga puoro).

DYLAN LARDELLI: “Musical Box”;

PHILIP BROWNLEE: “He rimu pae noa”; “As if to catch the fleeting tail of time”;

SUN-YOUNG PAHG: “ThresholdIng”,



Adam Concert Room, Wellington.

Saturday 26 February 2011


St Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Saturday 26 February 2011


Two Works

Adam Art Gallery, Wellington

Sunday 6 March 2011

After funding was withheld from leading NZ contemporary group Stroma

for this year, the senior-student/recent-graduate ensemble SMP was

left to carry the torch for new “concert” music – at least for
Wellington. Thankfully, some money was made available by Creative NZ
for “Interiors I”, the first of two presentations exploring subtleties
of tone colour and aspects of player interaction.

All but one piece featured the versatile Dylan Lardelli on guitar, and
all but one (a different one) were written by recently-emerged New
Zealand composers. Lardelli himself is one such: he starred in his own
2009 “Musical Box”. This delightful dance of harmonics from guitar,
Carolyn Mills’ harp and Andrew Filmer’s unexpectedly resonant viola,
was joined by Jeremy Hantler on taonga puoro: soft contrabass-clarinet
kakapo booms blown across the hue gourd, mouth modulated infrasonics
from the spinning porotiti, and (in a change of mood at the end) the
piccolo register of the bone koauau. There was a sense of timelessness
here, which Lardelli has evoked before, nowhere more successfully than
in “Aspects of Theatre”, premiered by SMP Ensemble under Lucas Vis in
March last year. There was an absence of development, which was not
however a deficiency: as also in Holloway’s “Sillage”, the sounds were
sufficient unto themselves.

Lardelli seamlessly integrated the traditional Maori instruments into
the world of western classical ones. So too did his fellow graduate
from Victoria University (NZ School of Music), Philip Brownlee. The
2009 “He rimu pae noa” began with Jeremy Hantler whirling the
dove-voiced poi-a-whio-whio gourd, while simultaneously playing the
nguru (with mouth). The albatross bone putorino, heard first in flute
mode, announced the climax with its trumpet voice, while Claire
Harris’s brittle, sparkling piano displaced Lardelli’s otherwise
ubiquitous guitar. Hand cupped “speaking stones” (Phil Dadson style)
led this well-shaped piece back to its beginning.

I found Brownlee’s “As if to catch the fleeting tail of time” (also
from 2009), less successful, despite the precision playing from SMP.
Here Lardelli’s guitar solo (and it can be played as a solo) was
magnified by the ensemble: blended tonally with the harp, its attacks
extended by Charley Davenport’s cello. I found the succession of
separated events overlong, compounded by the lack of the sense of form
and direction found in Morgan’s “Unfold” and Brownlee’s own “He rimu
pae noa”.

I had a similar feeling about the only work not written by a New
Zealander. Sun-Young Pahg is a Korean living in Paris, and her
“ThreshholIng” (2007) was an alternation of slow, spacious passages
with more agitated sections.

Rachael Morgan’s “Unfold”, on the other hand, unfolded, simply and
beautifully. Another graduate of VUW/NZSM, Morgan has been a recipient
of the Edwin Carr Foundation Scholarship which has taken her overseas.
Beginning with the guitar softly bowed (yes, bowed) near the bridge,
“Unfold” grew gradually with string tremolandi and flute pitch bends
to an understated climax (where the guitar strings were struck with
what appeared to be a dulcimer hammer), before returning to the sotto
voce opening.

Aucklander Samuel Holloway is one of our most exciting
recently-emerged composers. In his somewhat Webernian 2005 trio
“Stapes”, he managed to make a piano sound microtonal by using quarter
tone pitches on the violin and cello. The long-held tones of “Sillage”
(2010) belong to the time-suspended world of his recent string quartet
“Domestic Architecture”, which made a feature of the pulsing beats
between sustained micro-intervals. These scores are dangerously close
to minimalism – dangerously, because Holloway has publicly expressed a
distaste for minimalism. However, his idiom here is far removed from
the frenetic repetitions of Philip Glass (which, I think, Holloway had
in mind), and more akin to the “holy minimalism” of Aarvo Part, and
the prolonged soundings of LaMont Young. In “Sillage” (the word means
a wake in water or a waft of perfume) Lardelli’s bowed guitar
established a harmonically rich tambura-like drone (unobtrusively
detuned over the course of the piece) above and around which the
timbres of alto flute, clarinet, viola and cello merged and emerged.
Atmospheric as this realisation was, the instrumentation (apart from
guitar) is variable: a different version will be heard in SMP’s next
concert (“Interiors II”, Adam Concert Room, Friday March 11, at 7pm).

Interiors (in this case the inside of the piano) was very much the
theme of the recital by German musician Magda Mayas. Perhaps
paradoxically, there was greater ebb and flood of tension in these
extrovert, improvised interactions with percussionist Tony Buck, than
in many of the  more fully composed offerings from SMP. I caught only
the last one-and-a-half sets (and missed the contribution from Sound
and Light Exploration founder Daniel Beban altogether) because –
crazily – there were two concerts of enterprising new music scheduled
for the same evening.

Sound and Light Exploration member and regular performer at their
Frederick Street venue Fred’s, Hermione Johnson, had two works played
at the Adam Art Gallery. The reprise of a  multi-instrumental piece,
originally premiered in October to open the Designs for Living
exhibition, took advantage of the disparate spaces of the Gallery:
violinists Chris Prosser and Tristan Carter on different floors, Jeff
Henderson on sax in a side room, Nell Thomas on the mezzanine with her
theremin, Gerard Crewdson prowling with spooky unpitched staccatos on
the trombone, and Johnson herself barely audible on accordion in a
distant corner. The second item was rather more, well, dramatic.
“Drama Studies” was improvised – brilliantly – by Johnson, on a
spectacularly prepared piano (not only the classical Cage bits of
metal and wood, but also a network of wires strung from the ceiling).
After a long first half that was like Stockhausen on speed – something
of a marathon for both pianist and listeners – the rewards came as
Johnson began to use varying slabs of texture and changes of tempo,
culminating in a galaxy of attacks  mixing standard and altered tones.
A tour de force, never to be heard in quite the same way again.

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