Winning pieces from inaugural guitar composition competition played by Matthew Marshall

2011 New Zealand Classical Guitar Composition Competition

Music by Gareth Johnston, Michael Calvert, Gillian Whitehead, Mike Nock, Michael Hogan, Anthony Ritchie, Campbell Ross

Matthew Marshall (guitar)

Theatrette, Massey University, Buckle Street

Thursday 17 November, 8pm

This recital was the public face of the first New Zealand Classical Guitar Composition Competition which has been organized by Matthew Marshall with collaboration from SOUNZ – The Centre for New Zealand Music – and the School of Creative and Performing Arts of Central Queensland University in Mackay where Matthew is Professor and Dean of the school.

In its first year the competition attracted 20 entries from New Zealand composers – students and professionals, resident both in New Zealand and overseas.

The earlier stages of the competition refined the entries to three finalists and these, along with four existing pieces, were played by Matthew Marshall in this evening’s concert.

The conditions called for pieces for solo, nylon strung classical guitar, with no stylistic limitations. Further, in his introductory remarks Matthew had described the aims of the competition as including an intention to enlarge the repertoire of guitar music in other than the Spanish and Latin American idioms.

The programme interspersed competition pieces with older pieces. The first of the latter was called Pasatanglia by Gareth Johnston, so called because it followed the pattern of a passacaglia in a tango rhythm: that demanded no special discrimination. Though it was garnished with a piquant chromaticism and its style and form derived from classical models, it presented no barriers to immediate enjoyment.

Matthew explained that he had known about Gillian Whitehead’s suite For Timothy of 1979 for some years, but it was only when he received it by mail from the Vice Chancellor of Massey University who had come across it in a second hand shop, that he decided to tackle it. It consists of two folk song movements – one Scottish, the other Northumbrian – framed by a Prelude and a Postlude. The latter offered melodic material and structures of a certain intellectual interest, ideas that were initially straight-forward but which soon took intriguing turns. The folk songs were treated with respect while at the same time being somewhat roughed up.

Mike Hogan lives in Port Vila, Vanuatu. His Two (of four) Studies of 2006 were studies in the Chopin sense: melodically engaging first and technically taxing only secondarily. Matthew uncovered the qualities of these rather slight pieces to offer them real charm. The last of the older pieces was the premiere of a 2009 piece by Anthony Ritchie called Sultry; typical of Ritchie’s music that succeeds in being engaging as well as revealing strengths that are likely to be peeled away and encourage repeat performances.

It goes without saying that Marshall’s  admirable, committed performances allowed them to be heard in the best possible context.

The results of the competition were announced after the recital by the manager of SOUNZ, Julie Sperring.

Third place went to Campbell Ross for his Two Dances, both, rather neglecting Matthew Marshall’s aspiration, in Latin rhythms – rumba and tango. Both were well-written, attractive pieces whose accessibility somewhat belied their sophistication. It earned a $400 prize.

Mike Nock’s Cytokinesis made its impact both through its melodic individuality and the composer’s ability to develop his variety of material in an organic way and through attractive chord sequences. I wondered however whether it had exhausted its inventiveness a couple of minutes before the end. Nevertheless, its sophistication, the way it handled scraps of related melody and its plain musicality clearly merited the second prize of $750.

First prize of $1500 went to Michael Calvert for Fantasia in August, that being the month in which it was composed. Let me quote the judges’ comment: “Fantasia in August is not simply a piece that can be played on a guitar, it is a guitar piece. Broody, moody, provocative, seductive, it drifts from cadence to cadence asking questions without answers. These come in the coda, the most eloquent passage of the work. To this point the musical language has been largely uncompromising. Here it softens, bringing with it a sense of resolution if not resolution itself. It is work of hidden depths that require more than a single listening to appreciate.”

All three pieces will be played at the New Zealand Guitar Summer School in January 2012, and at the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Australia in May 2012
In addition, the winning piece will be played in the Purcell Room in the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2012.  And all three will be published in a volume by SOUNZ.

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