SOUNDS OF HOME – Guitar Music from Aotearoa New Zealand
Works by Michael Stoop, John Ritchie, Amanda Riddell,
Kenneth Young, David Farquhar, and Bruce Paine
Christopher Everest (guitar)
at St. Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace, Wellington
Sunday, 4th June 2023
(Event sponsored by Jack C. Richards, and SOUNZ (Centre for New Zealand Music)
The most obvious thing to say about Christopher Everest’s guitar recital at St Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace on a wet and windswept Sunday afternoon on a recent King’s Birthday Weekend would be that so many factors contributed to its sparse audience attendance – arriving as I did with ten minutes to spare, and surveying the half-dozen or so people already in attendance I immediately felt sorry for the artist, who would have obviously put a lot of work into the presentation, for what at first seemed sparse reward regarding his efforts.
However, two things then occurred to me, one at the point when the guitarist made his entrance, and the other at some unspecified time when a particular ambience involving both the music-making and its reception brought the thought into my head………
Firstly, I became conscious from the volume of applause that greeted the artist that the audience had at least tripled, if not quadrupled, in the time since I entered the church – and however small the number remained there was definitely a mini-buzz of excitement, one which Christopher Everest most positively responded to upon appearing to play, complimenting all of us upon our forbearance in braving such inclement weather conditions.
Then, at some stage after Everest had begun playing – perhaps it was as early as during the first item that the thought visited me – I was struck by the memory of something that, long ago, a visiting pianist, Frederic Rzewski, whom I’d heard give a recital – again, I think, in St. Andrew’s, and to a similarly sparse audience on that occasion – told a radio interviewer, when asked afterwards whether small numbers of audience members at concerts he gave bothered or annoyed him. Rzewski replied that he thought there was, at every concert, always the “right” number of people in the audience.
I presumed he meant that, whether ten or two hundred people were in an audience, he always made sure that he played “for everybody present”, so that no-one was disadvantaged, least of all the artist, who was, after all, there to communicate with the audience, whether they were few or many. And there in St.Andrew’s was Everest, playing, it seemed, for us all, a few who seemed at that moment the “right” number of people……..
A word about the artist, whom I hadn’t before encountered – beginning his studies as a pupil of Dr. Jane Curry at the NZSM, Everest received a grant to study with the eminent guitarist and pedagogue, Paul Cesarzyck, at Mahidol College of Music in Bangkok, Thailand. Returning to New Zealand, he graduated with First-Class Honours in 2022 from Victoria University, and plans to take up various Masters programmes in various institutions worldwide, while continuing to concertise when he can back in New Zealand as both a soloist and an ensemble member with the New Baroque Generation and the Kowhaiwhai Duo.
So to the concert – whose title “Sounds of Home” suggested a musician suitably well-grounded in music that reflected his place of origin. Everest began with an excerpt from a work by Michael Stoop, who had been one of his composition lecturers at Victoria – the Allegretto movement from Stoop’s Sonatina No. 1. I enjoyed Everest’s voicing of the questioning rise towards the repeated top-of-the-phrase note, a sequence whimsically contrasted with more flowing interludes – making the whole a beautifully reflective piece, touched here-and-there with contrasting timbres.
Next came John Ritchie’s “Whimsies”, three meditations inspired by Shakespeare. The first, “Full Fathom Five” began with slowly rocking rhythmic patternings, suggesting the sea’s action, repetitive notes and chords resonating the “rich and strange” subaqueous atmosphere. “The second “Where is Fancy Bred” features music turning in upon itself, proffering no answer to the question, but implying more fancy, resonating the repetitive melody in different registers towards the piece’s end, with a touch of “Dies Irae” further deepening the mystery. A more energetic “Blow, blow, thou Winter Wind” wasn’t especially “wintry”, more bracingly-textured than bleak and shivery, and of lighter substance, with widely-spaced ritual-like ”knockings” and vigorous strummings – a positive response to seasonal duress, which ends reflectively and philosophically (Shakespeare nay-sayers, take note!).
Further girdles were put around the earth by Amanda Riddell’s work “Vanya’s Lament”, inspired by Anton Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya”, the pieces reflecting an essential mood from each of the four acts of the play – presented as a continuous span, it seemed to me as if the music would work on each listener individually, the titles a “starting-point” rather than an out-and-out description, the sounds by turns quixotic, rhapsodic, wistful and energetic, but seeming to return to a general overall sobriety. The theme of melancholy persisted with the next item, Kenneth Young’s “Three Sad Waltzes”, again allowing the listener free rein in characterising emotions by giving the music plenty of contrast. As with Amanda Riddell’s work, Everest brought out the music’s quixotic nature, contrasting more strictly-organised running passages with improvisatory-sounding sequences, very much the “plan” of the first Waltz. By contrast the other two Waltzes expressed their dance-forms more self-consciously, the second’s gentle melancholy the perfect foil for the third’s rather more “insinuating” progressions of rhythm and melodic shaping, such as a deliciously droll bass line.
Everest described David Farquhar’s Suite as the first big “hit” in the New Zealand classical guitar world . It was written in 1966 for Ronald Burt, whose influence as a teacher pioneered classical guitar composition in this country. Farquhar became especially fond of writing for the instrument, his output including more solo guitar and several ensemble pieces, including a guitar concerto (1992).
A work in five sections, the Suite began with a stately opening Prelude, a kind of ritual processional at the outset, though with the sounds taking on a sensuous element, contrasted with a kind of ”tumble down the hill” middle section, before echoing some of the opening’s more haunting sounds. The following Capriccio, at first restless and exploratory, then took on an almost balladic quality, a strummed accompaniment to a song (with high, harmonic-like sounds in places), before returning to the restless opening.
The Ostinato third movement set repeated notes against discursive, wayward harmonies, creating relationships both combatative and complementary – a “friendly rival” relationship; while the following Rondino seemed to take us some of the way towards the world of Manuel de Falla’s “Three-Cornered Hat” Ballet, Everest excitingly bringing out the percussive element in a piece where rhythm was all-important. Just as telling in an entirely different way was the piece’s Epilogue, a valediction with a sounding gong marking time in between the musings, not unlike a dialogue between reality and fantasy, or reason and imagination – thoughtful and moving…….
Christopher Everest concluded his recital with a work “Seringapatam” (misspelled on the programme cover as “Seringapatum”) by another New Zealand guitarist, Bruce Paine. The piece was written with an historic Auckland homestead in mind, one that came into being through both Scottish and Indian influences, in the latter case from a town of the same name in the Mandya district in the Indian state of Karnataka, the place where the house’s founder, the son of a British Army Lieutenant-Colonel originally from Scotland, was born. The music thus contains both Scottish folk-song and Indian sitar music influences.
The music began in what seemed minstrel-like ways, but with the melody played as if it was “sounded” on an Indian sitar, with the notes having characteristic microtonal “shifts”, giving the folk-song (”The Blue Bells of Scotland”) an additional exotic quality. A more energetic central section evoked something of the exhilarating drive of a characteristic Indian “raga”. The folk-tune then briefly reappeared, and the undulations of the accompaniment gradually faded.
We had, by this time, become totally accustomed to our listening-spaces, and our musician and his instrument, so much so that the concert’s end came as a surprise! In short this presentation had transcended the state of the world outside, so involved we seemed to have become with the music and Christopher Everest’s compelling realisations of it all. Frederic Rzewski had obviously been right all along – “it was, you might say, satisfactory………”