David Farquhar & Ken Wilson
David Farquhar (1928-2007)
Elegy for strings (1961)
Performers: Alex Lindsay String Orchestra, David Farquhar (conductor)
Recorded in Radio New Zealand's Wellington studios
21 August 1969
Ken Wilson (b.1924)
Concerto for clarinet and strings (1963)
Performers: Ken Wilson (clarinet), NZBC Symphony Orchestra, Juan Matteucci (conductor)
Recorded in Radio New Zealand's Wellington studios
Introductions by Kenneth Young
Elegy for strings
In previous Resound programmes I've waxed lyrical about David Farquhar; his music, his influence as a teacher and as a promoter of New Zealand music. A Professor at Victoria University until his retirement in 1993 and Founder-President of the Composers Association of New Zealand, he was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004, three years before his death. His compositional output was varied, accomplished and influential.
However, tonight I want to highlight the dedicatee of one of Farquhar’s works: the Elegy for Strings written in 1961.
The inscription on the title page of the score reads "For Constance Scott, in sympathy."
Drawn to the arts by an early interest in drama while studying English literature at Victoria University, Constance Scott dabbled in amateur acting. But it was backstage that she emerged as a major player, helping shape New Zealand's emerging arts scene in pivotal management and administration roles with the New Zealand Opera Company, the Academy of Fine Arts and Downstage Theatre
It was a field that suited her flamboyant personality. She worked with actress Edith Campion's New Zealand Players as a board member, and from 1953 to 1966, she was secretary-treasurer of the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra, the ensemble whose performance of Farquhar's Elegy we will be hearing.
Fellow arts administrator David Carson-Parker described her as possessing an energy, passion and colour that she brought to everything she did. She was over the top and everywhere, popping up at every imaginable Wellington arts function - a galleon in full steam.
She died in September 2008 at the age of 91 - by then known as Constance Scott Kirkcaldie. A prize at Wellington's annual Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards lives on in her name: the Constance Scott Kirkcaldie Award for Outstanding Composer of Music, which has gone to the likes of Don McGlashan, Chris O’Connor, Jonathan Crayford, and three times to Gareth Farr.
But back to David Farquhar's Elegy. In 1937 Constance had married Ken Scott, a political scientist at Victoria University. They had two children, Caroline and Alistair. However the family struck a double tragedy when in 1959 Alastair died of a brain tumour, at the age of 10, and 2 years later Ken Scott died of a heart attack. David Farquhar's response to his friend’s bereavement was to pen one of his most poignant works.
Concerto for clarinet and strings
Ken Wilson was born in Auckland in 1924 and studied clarinet and piano as a child. In 1937 he moved to California with his family where he continued his musical education at high school, also playing in the school orchestra and outside ensembles. When his father died in 1941, he and his mother and brother were compelled to return to New Zealand.
He joined the RNZAF Band in 1942, where he played alongside some notable clarinettists: John McCaw, who went on to an illustrious career in London orchestras, and Frank Gurr, principal clarinet of the NZSO for over 30 years. Wilson was a founding member of the New Zealand National Orchestra from 1946 to 1957. Soon after, he completed a Bachelor of Music, studying composition under Ronald Tremain.
In the early 60s, he went to Indiana University, Bloomington for graduate studies with Bernhard Heiden and Juan Orrego–Salas in composition, and Henry Gulick in clarinet. Subsequently he taught at Buffalo State College in New York.
He returned to New Zealand in 1969 to join the Symphonia of Auckland, and to teach clarinet part-time at the University of Auckland. He moved on to become Head of Woodwind at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne.
After his return to New Zealand in 1981, he was a member of the Wellington Sinfonia, a part time orchestra for opera and ballet before retiring with his wife Elizabeth to Devonport in Auckland where he continues to play in private chamber groups as well as composing and arranging.
I have fond memories of Ken at Cambridge Summer Music Schools in the mid 70s. He was so friendly and totally enthusiastic and ready to help with any performance project you had on the go.
This Concerto was written in 1963 during his studies in the United States. It's in three short movements and is an essay in how to write effectively and idiomatically for strings and clarinet. There's plenty of lively and lyrical solo writing, but Wilson’s not afraid to simply use the clarinet as a textural colour within the strings.
The second movement is a set of four variations on an Adagio theme ranging from spritely and vaguely atonal through to slow, lyrical and tonal.
The third movement is a rather lively and slightly angular piece in 6/8, with a solo cadenza in the middle
The work is dedicated to the composer’s teacher and mentor Juan Orrego-Salas, a Chilean composer who had been a student of Randall Thompson and Aaron Copland. He became an important figure in the history of contemporary Latin American music as a composer and musicologist. Orrego Salas' impact on Indiana University continues through the Latin American Music Centre which he founded in 1961.