26 Oct 2007

John PSATHAS: Planet Damnation

From Music Alive, 7:30 pm on 26 October 2007
John Psathas

John Psathas Photo: Gareth Watkins / Lilburn Trust / Wallace Arts Trust

This concerto by John Psathas is one of a series commissioned by the NZSO for their section principals.

Psathas says: "I've always been drawn to the timpani because of their duality; they can be both powerfully percussive and melodically expressive. Having been an admirer of Laurence's playing for many years, I was looking for an opportunity to create a work that featured the timpani (and in particular, Laurence) in a solo role. A number of my recent concerti for other instruments (particularly the piano concerto 'Three Psalms' and the saxophone concerto 'Zahara') have had very important and active timpani parts."

The title 'Planet Damnation' is a reference to a chapter in activist-journalist Robert Fisk's book The Great War for Civilisation. Psathas mentions the fact that the music is very militaristic in parts - possibly reminiscent of action-movie or war-movie soundtracks.

"In 'Planet Damnation' I wanted very much to allow the timpani to sing - in their own unique way - and there are passages in the piece where the timpani really do find their melodic voice, playing lines that one could sing along to."

But Psathas also goes on to say that: " Writing for the timpani in a solo role made it possible to create a piece that was dynamic and full of powerful energy. After all, the timpani is one of the very few instruments which is not in danger of being drowned out by the orchestra. So, although the work is short, it is very intense much of the time. I was keen to create something that felt massive, and almost overwhelming....  There is nothing in the repertoire for timpani that is as challenging for the performer as this work"

Recorded in Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert