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Eve de Castro-Robinson & John Elmsly

Eve de Castro-Robinson (b.1956)
Knife Apple Sheer Brush (2006)

Performer: Mette Leroy (flute)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand at the University of Auckland Music Theatre
28 July 2007

Eve de Castro-Robinson
Undercurrents (1987)

Performer: Patrick Barry (clarinet)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand at a New Zealand International Arts Festival concert in the Ilott Theatre, Wellington
5 March 2004

John Elmsly (b.1952)
Sonata for alto saxophone and piano (1977)

Performers: Debbie Rawson (alto saxophone) and Susan Melville (piano)
Recorded by Radio New Zealand in Studio One, Broadcasting House, Wellington
25 September 1996

Introductions by Kenneth Young

Knife Apple Sheer Brush and Kaleidoscope

Aucklander Eve de Castro-Robinson is a composer, but she's done much more for New Zealand music than simply writing it. Aside from teaching at the University of Auckland for some years now, she's been Secretary of the Composers' Association of New Zealand and Convenor of the Nelson Young Composers' Workshop, and she currently serves as Chair of the Composers' Advisory Panel of SOUNZ, Centre for New Zealand Music.

She's been a finalist three times for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, winning it twice. Her works are performed and broadcast widely throughout the world.

During the 25 or so years I've known Eve de Castro-Robinson, I've noticed a predilection for solo, unaccompanied instruments. In fact I did some calculations and discovered that this particular penchant represents precisely a quarter of her output. We have pieces for bass clarinet, cello, soprano, a vocalising pianist, percussionist, tenor sax, snare drum and double bass amongst others. I haven't heard all of these works, however those I have listened to embrace the idiomatic soul of the particular instrument - she does more than tossing off a show piece.

In tonight's programme we’ll hear two pieces for solo wind instruments: one for flute, and one for clarinet.

Knife Apple Sheer Brush is a 2006 work, written for vocalising flutist, and it incorporates  three rather quirky texts by Len Lye. This celebrated New Zealand artist, sculptor, filmmaker and poet – among other things – is a strong influence in de Castro-Robinson's work in recent years, and right now she's working on an opera with Len Lye as the subject for première in 2012.

Eve de Castro-Robinson experimented with all manner of techniques for the flute involving speaking, hissing, singing and vocalising, and chose what worked best to go in the piece. She told me she thought vocalising to be a perfect sonic extension of the physical approach to playing the flute.

The second of Eve's works we'll hear this evening is Undercurrents; a work for solo clarinet written in 1987 while she was a composition student at Auckland University. Eve dedicated it to her father, who played clarinet in the Otago Capping Band before she was born – as an aside, he played alongside the future Prime Minister and President of Fiji, Ratu Kamisese Mara. Eve occasionally heard her father play the clarinet during her childhood, and it left her with a great affection for the warm, slightly melancholic, insinuating tone of the instrument.

For me, this piece represents an early example of her idiomatic integrity I mentioned earlier, bringing out the nature of the clarinet. It has a vast range of expression with regard to dynamics, register and mood. It's a work which, as the composer herself said, sounds completely different every time it's played, due to its inherent freedom and semi-improvised passages.

More about Knife Apple Sheer Brush on the SOUNZ website

More about Undercurrents on the SOUNZ website

Sonata for alto saxophone and piano

One of Eve's colleagues at the University of Auckland is John Elmsly, who is Associate Professor and head of composition. He's director of the Karlheinz Company, the university's admirable contemporary music ensemble founded by John Rimmer in 1978. He was also President of the Composers Association of New Zealand for three years, and remains a member of the committee.

A graduate in mathematics and music from Victoria University of Wellington, John studied piano with Barry Margan, composition with David Farquhar and began delving into electroacoustics with Douglas Lilburn. Postgraduate study from 1975 to 1978 sent him to Belgium, where he obtained a First Prize in composition from the Royal Conservatory in Brussels, and worked regularly in the studios at the Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music in Ghent. While he was there he had several pieces broadcast by Belgian radio.

The work of John's we'll hear was written during this period - it is a Sonata for alto saxophone and piano. It was composed at the request of students in the saxophone class at the Brussels Conservatory and performed in their diploma recital programmes.

It's in three movements: the first a relatively straightforward sonata form with splendidly idiomatic writing for the solo instrument; the second, a brooding recitative supported by a layer of harmonies from the piano. The finale is a perky Allegro Vivace which employs a variety of time signature changes to add a certain hesitancy to the overall flow of the work.

More about Sonata for alto saxophone and piano on the SOUNZ website