Saturday night is going to be a totally epic night as Synthony kicks off in Auckland. DJ + vocalists + choir + symphony orchestra + an incredible visual feast which I'm not sure the Town Hall has ever seen before.
"Leave your Nan at home, THIS IS NOT AN ORCHESTRA AS YOU KNOW IT or a sit down affair... this an event you will lose your sh*t at."
And yes, the rumours are true, I'll be up the back thrashing the tambourine and caressing the thunder sheet as part of our impressive percussion section.
But, it's been quite a journey leading up to this, and I haven't actually posted much about it, so here's a run down.
July 2016, the journey begins. Peter Thomas calls me and says he’s got a great gig on the horizon. He always does, but this time I knew it was special. He explains the concept and sends me off to watch the Ibiza Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Online, not in person! I watch it. I’m sold. I’m in.
My first real taste of the project was in March when the first two arrangements were done and recorded for the promotional video. Wow, got the feels.
Two arrangements down. Eighteen to go.
For a few years, Peter Thomas and I have pondered doing a project where we could get young secondary school arrangers involved. There is always opportunities for composers, but there are some hugely talented young arrangers looking for experience. We knew this project was perfect, and so we recruited: Tom Lawton, Ki Hoon Sung, Matthew Beardsworth, Sarah Rathbun, Vivien Whyte, Lauren Tantrum, Angeline Xiao and Weihong Yi. Legends. I briefed them and mentored them along the way, sending countless emails of feedback and reassurance.
I also got to work on the rest of the show. Transcribing, arranging, and editing the electronic tracks with DJ Erika Amoore (who along with David Elmsly are the two behind the event). Here's a bit about what I was doing (and yes, this was shot before they knew how to spell my name correctly):
The show launches, and... it sells out. Fast. The absolute boost I needed as I was working day and night to complete the arrangements. Everyone starts getting really excited. Erika and I get interviewed on Radio NZ. What a blast. Have a listen:
The tracks mentioned in the interview were Robert Miles by Children, Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim and Silence by Delerium. Want to know what the other tracks are? No, not likely, come to the show.
So early September arrives and I'm done. The 20 orchestra scores and 580 instrumental parts (who's counting?) are proofread and it's all off to the printer.
Massive shout out to Erika, David and Peter who dreamt up this event, brought me onboard and have all been absolutely wonderful to work with. Special thanks to the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for doing an almighty job playing all the notes.
Three rehearsals down, two to go. If you've got a ticket, you're in for a treat. Bring your best dance shoes. Carb load. You know the deal.
My annual pilgrimage to the KBB Music Festival was a little more exciting this year. Firstly, a new premiere!
Grammar Virtuosi, from Auckland Grammar School, commissioned me to write a new work for strings and percussion this year to mark the anniversary of when Grammar men went to the battle of Passchendaele in the first world war. It's called Foray.
"foray: a sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory"
It's been great popping along to some of their rehearsals and working with them on the piece, once such occasional pictured above. Huge thanks to their director, James Donaldson, and tutor, Boris Kipnis, for their tremendous support of the piece.
Secondly, a bonus performance!
St Cuthbert's College Concert Band and their wonderful director, Sally Tibbles, gave another performance of my piece, Bubble. I wrote this piece several years ago for the Bay of Plenty Music School and it's had several outings since then. It's a cool little piece and I am SO happy it got a performance by this group.
Thirdly, a gold award!
Let's start at the very beginning.
The Rangitoto College Concert Band is directed by the tremendous Beverley Brockelbank. Unfortunately she was away on tour with another school and was unable to conduct them, so I got the call.
Hold the truck! 'Déjà vu', I hear you say? Yes. Spot on. Earlier this year Bev was unable to take them to Hawaii, so I had that arduous(!) task. Reminisce with me here...
So anyway, back to KBB. Bev and I worked together with the group in the lead up to the festival and then I took them through festival week.
They performed SO WELL. Like, completely blew my socks off. And they were awarded with a very shiny GOLD award. Hugely proud. Here are some pics:
Next year I may well be back to my committee duties of managing the website, online entries and honours programme, but I'll do my best to make it another extra exciting one.
Epic. All I can say is, epic. This year as part of the Auckland Philharmonia education programme, a new initiative was their 'Bring It Together' day. This was where students from many of their partner schools, and of very different abilities, came together for a few hours to make music alongside APO musicians.
I was asked to write the arrangements and gosh it was hard work. For every instrument in the orchestra there needed to be three tiered parts to cater for the different abilities: beginner (up to grade 2); intermediate (grade 3-5); and advanced (grade 6+); plus a few additions like cornets, saxophones and baritones.
The programme was:
- Ode To Joy by Beethoven
- Happy Happy from Ren and Stimpy
- Tidal Fragments, a collaboration between Auckland schools
- March Slav by Tchaikovsky
The new piece, Tidal Fragments, was the APO's idea to create a piece from musical contributions 'inspired by the sea' from the participating schools. As I received them, seeing the different tempos, styles, keys, time signatures, timbres, etc, I wondered how I was going to bring them together. Eventually I decided to leave them in their existing state, and have an underlying 'seashore' idea which would tie everything together. Here's the programme note:
Tidal Fragments is made up of individual ideas from Auckland schools - all variations on the theme of water. These ideas have been elaborated and kept as very different ideas (even staying in their original keys) as they come and go throughout the piece - as if evoking different creatures in the water, different people coming and going on the coastline, or fishermen and yachtsmen going about their business. Tying all of these fragments together is an underlying ripple of waves on the coast as the tide moves from out to in.
Kind thanks to Mangere College, Rangitoto College, Avondale College, Baradene College of the Sacred Heart, James Cook High School, New Lynn School, Redoubt Normal School and Sancta Maria College for their contributions.
It's hard to know before you hear the first notes whether it'll be a success or a failure, but it all seemed to work tremendously well. Of course many observations to store away for next time, but everyone left with a smile on their face and I hope with their eyes open wider.
While conducting the wind band at the recent Bay of Plenty Music School I finally had the chance to test using digital scores. I’ve always been intrigued - have already blogged about it twice - but only with a new iPad have I had the chance of taking the full digital leap. Here are my thoughts... GETTING UNDERWAY
An iPad Air 2 sits, charged, ready for action. I already had some of the scores as PDFs which was a great start. Then I scanned the rest using Scanner Pro which kindly then drops the file into my Dropbox. Then in comes forScore - a sheet music reader app and the absolute hero of the equation - I import the files straight from Dropbox and then it’s all ready to go.
WHAT I LOVED
- Magnetic to stand - my iPad lives in an Apple Smart Case and to my surprise it latches itself to a metal stand so you can place it nice and high and it won’t fall off if knocked.
- Markings and highlights - I had loads of fun marking up my score, highlighting and bringing out the important info (see photo).
- Linking - okay, so we’ve got repeats and codas and so on - I set up links so you just click on the spot and it will take you there immediately. Fantastic.
- Metronome markings - not so much during the rehearsal, but while I was looking at a score in downtime, I really appreciated having the built-in metronome set on the tempos for each score.
- Setlist - once I knew the concert order I made a setlist and everything was there ready to go and flows from one score to the next. You can even remove title pages from each score so it’s just what you need.
- Plenty more features to explore in the future - you can bring up an onscreen piano to perhaps play a passage, you can click to record your ensemble playing, and much more.
WHAT I LEARNED
- No auto contrast - we rehearsed in a room with loads of natural light. During a massive climax in a piece the sun went behind a cloud, the room went dark and so did the screen on the iPad... couldn't see a thing. Lucky I knew the score, and I turned off the auto contrast after that.
- Battery life - to be honest, if the iPad isn’t on WIFI then that battery will last for ages. But, I took this for granted and late afternoon I needed an emergency trip back to the motel to pick up the charger.
- The screen size - I understand this will be an issue for some, but it really didn’t bother me. While it is obviously a little smaller than an A4 page, the clarity of the retina display made everything so clear and with the annotation, you can easily highlight what is important or write on the score in any colour of the rainbow. And of course with a quick gesture you can easily zoom in to more closely analyse a chord, rhythm or whatever.
WITH OTHER HATS ON
- As a composer/arranger and general creator of many (many!) scores, I used to print them constantly just to take to rehearsals for reference and to write on. I’d then look at the comments at home before putting it straight into the recycling. Not anymore… used digital scores at a recent rehearsal with the Auckland Philharmonia and it works a treat.
- As a teacher, having a variety of material available to students is important as well as having reference scores and so on. The close integration forScore has with Dropbox (or Google Drive or iCloud Drive) makes this usage even more trippy.
I thought there would be issues, but that the connivence of it would outweigh them. But, apart from those obvious things to consider with any digital device, it’s a dream. It's fast, effective, a little flash, and I think the best thing is that, as I briefly mentioned, I once printed excessive amounts of music at home - but now I print barely anything. Yay, save the planet! I'm a complete convert.
Have you got some little scallywags intrigued by music? And perhaps rainbows? You'd better get them along to the APO's latest concert for pre-schoolers, "Rainbow Connection". I've been working away at the arrangements and it's going to be a great show. Here's what this show is about:
The colours of the rainbow are so pretty in the sky! The Little Rainbow is especially lucky, because he can wear all of them at once. But one sad day the colours disappear and the Little Rainbow just cannot find them anywhere. He asks his friends, the Rainbow Sea Creature troupe and four APO musicians, who each have one colour, to come and help him…
These concerts are an entertaining sing-along, dance-along, conduct-along concert for children, 2 years and older, concluding with a walk through the orchestra to see and hear the instruments up close.
New arrangements I've done include:
- Row, Row, Row Your Boat (as a round for voice, audience and orchestra)
- Splish Splash (for voice and orchestra)
- The Rainbow Connection (for glockenspiel, voice and children's choir)
- Sing a Rainbow (for voice and orchestra)
- Over the Rainbow (for voice and orchestra)
- My Heart Will Go On (for french horn and strings)
Other works on the programme include:
- Vaughan Williams' Sea Songs
- Leroy Anderson's Plink, Plank, Plunk
- Brahms' Hungarian Dance No 5
- Saint-Saens' ‘The Swan’ from The Carnival of the Animals
- Sailor’s Hornpipe
Conducted by David Kay and presented by Kevin Keys, with special guest the North Shore Children's Choir.
10am & 11.30am, Saturday 11 April, Auckland Town Hall. $15. Tickets here.
If you have been following my twitter page you will know that I have just got back from an absolutely wonderful seven weeks in Europe. While most of the time my wife and I were doing our best to elegantly float from historic building to museum to gallery..., we did manage to make the most of the amazing musical offerings that Europe provides. We saw two orchestral concerts - the first being the London Symphony at the Barbican playing Brahms' 3rd symphony and 2nd piano concerto (photo above). Daniel Harding was at the helm with Emanuel Ax on piano. The second was the Czech Philharmonic in Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum. Jiří Bělohlávek conducted Martinů's "What Men Live By" and then Dvořák's Slavonic Dances. Such a thrill to hear Dvořák played in his own concert hall by an orchestra that he conducted the first concert of in 1896. Amazing also to hear how two of the world's top orchestras can sound so completely different.
We of course also snuck in the obligatory West End show - The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. While it certainly impressed we couldn't help but notice a lack of spontaneity and freshness that comes with performing a show every... single... day of the year. However, it WAS great, and we loved checking out West End and neighbouring Covent Garden.
Perhaps one of the most special offerings was my afternoon spent at Abbey Road Studios. Through my work on two of The Hobbit films I met with the legendary Jill Streater - she has worked as music copyist on about 102 films including The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Casino Royale, Alice in Wonderland, The King's Speech, The Chronicles of Narnia and Gravity. I got in touch and she happened to be working on a project at Abbey Road while we were in London. It was so wonderful to meet her in person, chat about music prep, check out the studios and then observe the session. Oh, and I tried really hard not to have a 'crazy-teenage-fangirl' moment in the corridor as I passed Alexandre Desplat. Such an incredible place and so special to be able to spend some time there.
Everything else in this post will seem completely insignificant after the last paragraph, but I will continue... While we may not have seen concerts at these venues, we made sure we checked out the most impressive of the concert halls, including the Berlin Philharmonie - where we missed a Sir Simon Rattle led rehearsal by about 5mins (oh, the heartbreak, seriously), Musikverein and Konzerthaus in Vienna, Royal Albert Hall in London and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Musical instrument museums were in abundance - the one beside the Berlin Philharmonie was particularly impressive, as are the statues of the greats which make a great photo spot. I think we got to Strauss, Schubert, Bruckner, Mozart and Beethoven. We got to some old homes too - Handel's apartment in London, Mozart's apartment in Vienna, and his birth and childhood homes in Salzburg. It seems Vienna and Salzburg have a battle going on about who owns Mozart - either way, he earns both cities a lot of money as you can buy Mozart ANYTHING, from stress balls to underwear, chocolate to coffee, and of course the obligatory coasters and tea towels.
Well, let's leave the commercialisation of music and return to two final experiences that were absolute highlights. We'd been told to head up the hill in Florence to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte where each evening at 4:30pm you can listen to the monks from the adjoining Olivetan Monastery singing in the crypt. While people came and went, we couldn't help but stay for the whole 50mins or so - we were absolutely captivated. Who knows what they were saying, but musically it was incredible.
Finally, in Salzburg on Christmas Eve we waited in the freezing temperatures to get a spot at the Midnight Mass in Salzburg Cathedral. It ended with four soloists singing "Silent Night" (which was written in Salzburg) by candlelight, accompanied by acoustic guitar, and with interludes from the divine organ and church choir. You could have heard a pin drop in the capacity-filled cathedral. Magic. As was every taste of music we had, and the whole trip.
I was delighted to play a small role on the final song on the soundtrack for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. As was the case in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the tremendously wonderful Victoria Kelly was called on to write the arrangement and orchestration for the final track, “The Last Goodbye”, and so I landed the music preparation role.
This time around there was a lot of going back and forth with revisions, tweaks and rewrites so there was plenty more time to enjoy the process, as opposed to the work-through-the-night-marathon of the first film.
So from a combination of audio and MIDI parts I transcribed and prepped the vocals, horns, choir, harp, dulcimer, piano, acoustic guitar and mandolin (both as TAB and notation), and strings for the recording. What a ridiculously amazing job I have.
It was such a pleasure to work with Victoria once again and to be involved in such a special project.
The song is sung by Billy Boyd (who plays Pippin in The Lord of the Rings), who co-wrote it with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens. It was recorded in Wellington and Auckland, and then the orchestra at Abbey Road in London.
Last week I had the pleasure of conducting the premiere of my new work, Rakiura, at the Auckland Town Hall and then at the Bruce Mason Centre. It was tremendously well received and I am thrilled. I initially posted about this project here, when we were asking for help via Kickstarter to bring the project to life. Well, we got there, and in early October I got to work.
With the music following a movie of images I had a task getting my head into the story, so I printed out the book and spread it out on my floor and it all started to come together.
Here's the programme note:
“Rakiura" is a story of life on Stewart Island, Rakiura, a remote island at the southern end of New Zealand. The piece was commissioned to accompany a photographic album and exhibition by Keri Moyle and follows the album’s five distinct sections. Warm strings pay tribute to the beauty of the scenery, woodwinds evoke the magnificent birdlife, foreboding brass builds apprehension as humans arrive and make their mark on the land, and then as humans withdraw the land flourishes once again with its harsh yet tranquil beauty.
The guest conductor and my good friend, David Kay, kindly gave me the opportunity to conduct the work (photo above). It was wonderful to put it together with the musicians and they really did a great job performing it.
A big thank you to everyone who supported the project and to those who came to one of the concerts and gave such a positive response.
Peter Thomas, conductor, did a sublime job bringing the work to life. Here's what the reviewer had to say:
We were privileged to hear the first performance of a brand new work for orchestra composed by the Auckland–based composer Ryan Youens. Titled “Unwrapped”, the programme notes indicated that the work was intended to explore the range of emotions that are experienced when unwrapping a gift - it did not require a vivid imagination to appreciate how much the orchestration conveyed this. This composition was tuneful and the orchestration skilfully managed and well balanced, so that every section of the orchestra had its moment of glory.
I wrote it in a short but intense space of time, it's a short piece (5mins) and I only had a short time hearing the orchestra play it in rehearsal - so it was such a thrill that it was so well received, was such a great interpretation and of course in such a stunning acoustic.
This year the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra have asked several composers to write works for their subscription series - others include Alex Taylor and Louise Webster.
The St Matthews audience are not exposed to a lot of contemporary music so it was important to me to strike a balance in style while retaining musical integrity and weighting. Challenge accepted and perhaps succeeded as shown by one lady who spoke to me after the concert. She said it was:
One of the most listenable pieces of contemporary music I have heard in a long time!
If you missed the concert I am not surprised. Unfortunately the orchestra has not yet included any of the composers or their new works on promotional material or social media posts advertising the concerts. Incredibly sad for me as a composer and of course as a lover and proponent of new music. Embrace new music and give it the respect it deserves!
If they were worried about scaring away their audience then one lady made me smile by saying:
I really wasn't looking forward to it but I thought it was absolutely fantastic!
Thank you to Peter Thomas and the players of the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra for a fantastic premiere.
Had another great time conducting at the Bay of Plenty Music School a few weeks back. Great musicians, excellent music and wonderful fellow conductors made it loads of fun once again. Here are some photos from the weekend - all are by Lawrence Yang.
Here's my original post introducing this year's music school.
Organ Spectacular - 8pm, Thursday 23rd May, Auckland Town Hall, BUY TICKETS HERE
- David Hamilton, Chimera, John Wells
- Anthony Young, Theme & Variations for Organ & Orchestra, Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
- Robbie Ellis, Relish in Immature Bombast, Timothy Noon (+ Jono Sawyer drumkit)
- Ryan Youens, Tiraki, Nicholas Forbes
- Ben Hoadley, Huia, Indra Hughes
- Chris Adams, Mahuika, Nicholas Sutcliffe
Here is a collation of various details about my work:
'Tiraki' is a verb meaning 'to clear the sky of clouds'. In it I have explored the different layerings and textures created between the organ and orchestra, illustrating the nature and behaviour of the clouds. The work is structured in three sections and focuses entirely on the programmatic meaning of 'Tiraki'.
The first 'rather angry' section is very dense and fast moving with surprises along the way - representing a storm. The middle 'mysteriously calm' section is the calm after the storm - the music empties out but retains a slightly ominous feel to it. It finishes with a 'pleasantly refreshing' section where the music, and the clouds, gather life and a playful spirit once again.
It has been an absolute pleasure combining the two kings of music - an organ and a symphony orchestra - with an idea that had been simmering away for some time. Huge thanks goes to Nicholas Forbes who has been a superb collaborator and to the Auckland Philharmonia for this opportunity.
Q AND A WITH SOUNZ
1. You’ve talked about using single-note melodies in the organ part – do you also use a range of organ stops to compare with various orchestral instruments? 2. What particular ideas did Nicholas bring to the development of the piece? 3. What do you want listeners to take away with them after hearing the piece?
Q AND A WITH THE APO
1. things you discovered about the Town Hall organ After my first tour of the organ I was absolutely blown away with its complexity and beauty - which of course most people never get to see. While the possibilities are (almost!) endless, it became clear early that I was never going to be able to show off all of it and I needed to stick with the sound world of 'Tiraki' and the stops that supported that.
2. what you utilised in particular of the organ in your piece There are huge heavily chordal climaxes in 'Tiraki' where the organ can easily overpower the orchestra, then there are light, playful, polyphonic passages where the organ is on par with the woodwinds. So I've utilised the massive capabilities of volume and texture and also the function that goes with that - where the orchestra and organ can really fight each other and develop huge tension, or can work together amazingly well towards a single goal.
3. how your piece may have evolved as you learned more about the organ I really had no idea how an organ worked before this opportunity. That soon changed, but with loads of experience in orchestral writing, the initial orchestrations are what gave me my first insight into how the piece was going to evolve. I knew I didn't want the organ always in the forefront, but rather let it have moments and then let it sink into the texture and play other functions above that of a soloist. So I think what developed during the process for me was how quickly and easily you could change colours, the extent in which you could change them and how much those changes affected where the organ sat in the overall texture.
4. what you like most about the organ part for your piece One of my favourite passages is in the middle of the work where the strings have sustained chords mixed with glissandi and the organ has high, clean and clear thematic lines, occasionally highlighted by the woodwinds, over a very low, very breathy and pulsating rumble - such contrasts which are only simultaneously possible on the organ.
5. what you are looking forward to most about the performance of the piece in May Just to hear a really great concert of new organ music - the pieces are all so different so it's going to be a great night. Us composers have all heard the pieces in various stages during 2012, with different ideas being tried and options explored - so I'm just really looking forward to hearing the final versions, to see how we've all used the organ differently and how we've all tamed the beautiful beast that is the Auckland Town Hall Organ.
See you there!