24 Aug 2023

Auckland Philharmonia: In the Elements

From Music Alive, 7:30 pm on 24 August 2023

This landmark concert features the world premiere performance of a new work for taonga puoro and orchestra by Salina Fisher and Jerome Kavanagh.

Jerome Kavanagh joins the orchestra to perform and the conductor is Vincent Hardaker.

Taonga pūoro specialist Jerome Kavanagh

Jerome Kavanagh Photo: Supplied

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis

In 1908 Ralph Vaughan Williams completed a period of tutelage in Paris under Maurice Ravel. Specifically he honed his orchestration skills and it was in 1910 with the tune of the 16th Century psalm, Why Fumeth in the Fight by Thomas Tallis that he first exercised those skills in a full scale piece.

The work's written for a large string orchestra, a chamber-sized string orchestra and a string quartet and these varying forces are used to recall the original Cathedral settings of the Tallis theme. A sense is created of dialogue between the different 'choirs' and the feeling of the large resonant spaces in which Vaughan Williams imagined them being dispersed.

The work premiered before an audience of 2000 at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral with Vaughan Williams himself conducting. It was programmed alongside the highly popular Elgar oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius – a crowd puller since its own first airing a decade earlier.

It was festival tradition to not give applause after works in the Cathedral, so it would have been a nervous and silent descent from the podium for the 37 year old. Responses ranged from bewilderment at this "queer, mad work by an odd fellow from Chelsea" to slightly more perceptive, with one critic commenting on the works "Englishness", but also noting that, "Debussy too, is somewhere in the picture and it is hard to tell how much of the complete freedom of tonality comes from the new French School, and how much from the old English one".

Although unrecorded until 1936, it was a breakthrough work for the composer and is now widely considered his first true masterpiece. It remains a constant audience favourite.

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SALINA FISHER and JEROME KAVANAGH: Papatūānuku for taonga puoro and orchestra

Conductor Vincent Hardaker, composer Salina Fisher, APO Artistic Manager Gale Mahood, and taonga puoro specialist Jerome Kavanagh behind Kavanagh's table of instruments for the world premiere of Fisher's Papatūānuku.

Conductor Vincent Hardaker, composer Salina Fisher, APO Artistic Manager Gale Mahood, and taonga puoro specialist Jerome Kavanagh Photo: RNZ/Tim Dodd

In an interview in the Auckland Philharmonia’s magazine, the Salina Fisher and Jerome Kavanagh gave insights into this work.

Salina Fisher describes this as "…a unique opportunity to hear the many different voices of taonga puoro blended with full orchestra. I’ve been dreaming of the combination of these sound-worlds for a while now, and it's amazing to think it will all come to life so soon! From a compositional perspective, it has been a unique challenge and opportunity to blend notated and non-notated forms of music. There will be very specific cues throughout the piece for everything to line up.

"The approach I’ve taken with the orchestration in this piece is to consistently centre the puoro. The entire orchestral part is written around, and in response to, recordings of Jerome’s taonga puoro that we made together. As well as transcribing them all, I spent time improvising with them with an orchestra in mind. I’ve tried to keep that improvisational feel in finding orchestral textures and harmonies that feel most natural in the way that they support each taonga, as well as ways of shifting organically between them. Many of the textures involve layers of sound inspired by breath."

Jerome explained: "I will be playing 19 different taonga puoro in this piece, ranging from nguru (whales-tooth nose flute) and porutu pounamu (greenstone flute) to putorino and putaatara. As far as I know this is the most extensive use of taonga puoro in an orchestral composition that has ever been created. It is a world first and includes rarely heard taonga like roria and koauau karengo. They have been chosen to support our kaupapa of Papatūānuku and show that these voices connect to each other, back to Papatūānuku/Ranginui and everything in between."

This is the work's world premiere.

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BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes

Benjamin Britten moved to America in 1939 partly for work and partly fleeing in the face of the storm about to burst in Europe.

As so often for those abroad, the experience served to reveal just how tied to his own country he was and the spark for his return came from an article by E.M. Forster about the mid 18th-19th century British poet, George Crabbe. The article's opening words, "To think of Crabbe is to think of England" lead by degrees to Britten's watershed opera Peter Grimes based on Crabbe's The Borough.

The opera premiered in 1945 marking the postwar re-opening of Sadler's Wells.

The Sea Interludes link various sections of the opera. In this concert hall version they are presented in a different order to within the opera.

The first is Dawn which joins the prologue and the opening scenes.

The second is Sunday Morning – a prelude to Act II in which we hear church bells reflective of the Lord's Day.

Next up is Moonlight leading into the third act.

The final interlude The Storm actually appears in the heart of Act I. Prior to this interlude, the troubled Peter has been gazing out to sea at an approaching storm and singing: 'What harbour shelters peace/Away from tidal waves, away from storms?"

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SIBELIUS: Symphony No 7

By the time it was premiered in 1924, this work had been brewing for over a decade and it was longer still before Sibelius decided to publish it under the classification of ‘Symphony - in one movement’.

Sketches for the work reside in the Helsinki University Library. Within these can be seen that it was initially conceived with a traditional four-movement structure. The second and fourth movements were worked out in some detail before Sibelius succumbed to his instincts to follow his ideas rather than force them into a pre-existing form.

"As usual, I am a slave to my themes and submit to their demands", he wrote in 1918.

It’s a satisfying conclusion to his symphonic output in that it brings to an elegant climax his drive for structural and thematic compression.

Also in the sketches, it’s interesting to note that certain themes are named - contrary to the perception that the Symphonies of Sibelius are ‘pure’ or non-programmatic musically. Any explicit narratives remained in the composer’s head, but the grand trombone theme is labelled "Aino" for his wife and several other themes are marked "Ruth": one of his daughters.

The music commentator Donald Tovey poetically compared the work to flight. "An aeronaut carried with the wind has no sense of movement at all. . . . He moves in the air and can change his pace without breaking his movement."

The musicologist James Hepokoski, in the The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians claims the symphony to be "surely Sibelius’s most remarkable compositional achievement. Its ad hoc structure emerges link-by-link from the transformational processes of the musical ideas themselves—a content-based form constantly in the process of becoming."

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Recorded by RNZ Concert in Auckland Town Hall, 24 August 2023
Producer: Tim Dodd
Engineer: Rangi Powick