New Zealand Music for Woodwind: Ken Wilson, John Elmsly, Douglas Lilburn, Natalie Hunt, Ben Hoadley, Jeremy Mayall, Anthony Ritchie
Peter Dykes (oboe), Deborah Rawson and Peter Scholes (clarinets), Ben Hoadley (bassoon), Reuben Chin (saxophones), Kirsten Robertson (piano)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 16 March 2016, 12.15pm
An annual series of New Zealand Music for Woodwind, instigated by Ben Hoadley, had its eighth iteration with this concert. The enterprise and enthusiasm of wind players in introducing the audience to both new and older woodwind works by New Zealand composers is to be commended.
The occasion made for an interesting programme. Sadly, due to another commitment, I missed the first item, Ken Wilson’s Duo for clarinet and bassoon; doubly sad because Ken was a former neighbour, and good friend. I know from his widow that this work was recently recorded by today’s players, Peter Scholes and Ben Hoadley, in Auckland. Such was Ken’s modesty that I didn’t know until reading today’s programme note that he had a doctoral degree in composition from Indiana University, though I knew he had studied there.
Next we heard a premiere performance, one of three to which we were treated. This was an extraordinary work, by John Elmsly, currently Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards Composer-in-Residence at the New Zealand School of Music. He wrote One mouth, two voices in collaboration with brilliant young saxophonist Reuben Chin, currently undertaking post-graduate study at NZSM.
The work required Chin to play both soprano and alto saxophones at the same time. There were several short sections of the two saxophones being played, described in the programme note by Elmsly as the ‘choruses’, interspersed with ‘verses’ played alternately on the solo instruments.
Such was the complexity that Chin needed the score to be on three music-stands – he had no spare hands for turning pages! According to the programme note, ‘the party trick’ of playing both instruments simultaneously is not unknown, but it seems an astonishing feat. Coupling both instruments is interesting, but of course, there is a limit as to what notes can be played on each instrument, with only one hand apiece.
There were a lot of effects in the piece, but also fine melodic sequences. The solos exhibited exemplary playing, and delicious soft passages on both instruments. This contrasted with the almost raucous quality of their loud notes. The ‘choruses’ tended to be loud, and featured standard chords, as required by the limited notes available. It was an effective work, well worth hearing again.
A short and sweet Canon for two clarinets by Douglas Lilburn followed. It was notable for attractive interweaving of the two instruments. Two “Clarinet Duets in Red and Black”, Ladybug and Muchacho (Spanish for servant or maid), by young Wellington composer Natalie Hunt, a clarinettist herself, were really delightful. The first of the two short pieces was a wonderful dance for the insect (ladybird, if you prefer). One could see the insect hopping and flying around in what seemed a random fashion. The second was a premiere performance, and revealed superb writing for the instrument, bringing out its sonority and lyrical qualities in a very satisfying way. Played by two leading clarinettists, the pieces were a pleasure to hear.
Today’s bassoonist also composes; Ben Hoadley’s brief duet for two clarinets, was lively and fun, titled 10.10.10. To an organist that reads like the metre of a hymn tune, but in fact it was inspired by the film documentary One Day on Earth, filmed over a single 24-hour period in every country, on 10 October 2010.
Jeremy Mayall, recently Mozart Fellow at Otago University and now teaching at the Waikato Institute of Technology, wrote The Effect of Bundled Sticks on Sound for bassoon and effects pedals, which also had its premiere at this concert (the bassoon is the bundle of sticks). Ben Hoadley’s expertise as a bassoonist brought out the beauty of the instrument. I was not sure that the pedal effects (recorded sound, some of it recorded live from the instrument) added to the attractiveness, though they did to the volume and resonance, not to mention adding sundry extraordinary extraneous noises. The composer’s note says ‘…at its essence this piece is an exploration of sound’.
The final work (that made the concert rather too long) was Anthony Ritchie’s Sonata for oboe and piano. An energetic allegro vivace opened the work, with both Peter Dykes (NZSO associate principal oboe) and pianist Kirsten Robertson (née Simpson) all over the place on their instruments, at considerable speed. Its spiky changes were spirited and exciting. The adagio middle section is described in the programme note as ‘featuring a soulful oboe melody’, though to me, the oboe’s biting tone, particularly in the St. Andrew’s acoustic, belied this description somewhat, especially if auditorily compared with the saxophone. It was a tuneful sequence, though mostly (as with the rest of the sonata) fairly loud. The last section, maestoso-mesto-allegro, was musically diverse, but to me became a bit tedious with repetitions; I thought shorter would be more satisfying.
It was marvellous to have a group of such expert players all performing in one concert, and to hear new and not-so-new New Zealand music.