Help to kickstart Rakiura

Rakiura photo 1 My exquisite wife Wendy and I walked the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island over New Year. It was absolutely amazing - the scenery and wildlife was breathtaking. A highlight was when a Stewart Island Brown Kiwi (Tokoeka) walked across the track in front of us in the middle of the afternoon - it was beyond amazing. I stored these memories away and didn't expect much would come of them...

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Soon after, in February, I got an email from Keri at Signs of Life Photography with an idea... a very cool idea. She spent three weeks as a photographer for the Department of Conservation on Stewart Island taking photos! The best of these have developed into a stunning album called Rakiura: Seeds in the Sand and to release it Keri is combining this beautiful photography with a Kiwi composer (that's me) and a real-life, full-size symphony orchestra. How? By commissioning a brand new piece to be performed by the Auckland Symphony Orchestra as part of their October 26th (Auckland Town Hall) and November 2nd (Bruce Mason Centre) concerts which are also the two launch events for the album. Peter Thomas is at the helm of the concerts and was pivotal in getting me involved with the project.

Check out the video here:

What I really love about this book is that it isn't just photography - there is a story that binds everything together. Keri says:

Tide in...

"It’s a story of the tenacity of life, of design and purpose, of the importance of perspective, and of pain and decay. But over and over, again and again, it’s a story of hope. We see the processes of repentance and repair in the conservation activities, and finally from the land itself, from the life that is inherent within it, we see renewal."

...tide out.

So, a great story and a great project. BUT, we need your help! There is a lot of money involved with producing this high-end product, commissioning a new piece and of course working with a symphony orchestra.

VISIT HERE to read the entire story and to see how you can help our Kickstarter campaign so that the final costs can be met so this fantastic project can come to life.

Thank you in advance, you are all wonderful!

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"Kiwi in Appalachia" in Christchurch

Charles Luney Radio New ZealandHad a wonderful time down in Christchurch at the Chamber Music New Zealand National Chamber Music Finals on the weekend. The Appalachian Octet from Diocesan School for Girls won 'Best Performance of a New Zealand Work' earlier in the year performing my work, 'Kiwi in Appalachia', and so were invited to perform it at the finals bash and also have it recorded by Radio NZ Concert. It was also good to spend a day checking out Christchurch and seeing what it's like a few years on! Here are some photos from the day... Looking forward to the NZCM Competition finals tonight. Here\'s the Appalachian Octet rehearsing my piece today.

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CMNZ Finals 2

Appalachian Octet wins best performance of a NZ work

Appalachian Octet I am so proud of the Appalachian Octet from Diocesan School for Girls who has just won the National Award for the Best Performance of a New Zealand Work at the 2014 NZCT Chamber Music Contest with my piece Kiwi in Appalachia.

The musicians are:

  • Gwyneth Nelmes, violin
  • Debbie King, viola
  • Breeanah Mcbain, flute
  • Christine Li, violin
  • Rachel Sun, clarinet
  • Rebecca Brimble, bassoon
  • Clarissa Wei, bass clarinet
  • Hannah Kang, piano

As I briefly talked about in this post, it's a standalone piece commissioned for this group but it's also to be used in conjunction with my arrangement of Copland's Appalachian Spring. My programme note says:

Kiwi in Appalachia is derived from the chamber version of Aaron Copland’s seminal work, Appalachain Spring. It has been re-scored and sections from the original have been arranged to create the first part of the work. The second part is a new work composed for this group as a response to Copland's work. It is inspired by and uses motifs and ideas from the original in a new way.

They have worked so hard and have done an incredible job, so a very well deserved award for them. They will now travel to Christchurch and perform it at the National Finals of the NZCT Chamber Music Contest on the 1st - 2nd August. Gosh I might just have to book a flight too!

Here's a video of the piece, recorded at the Raye Freedman Arts Centre on Sunday 8th of June at the Auckland regionals. 0'00" - 6'46" is my arrangement, 6'47" - 11'16" is my original work. You'll get better audio if you watch it in HD.

According to the Chamber Music NZ website, during June 2014...

...507 secondary school ensembles of between three and eight musicians including 19 octets and involving close to 2000 students, took part in the District Rounds of the 49th NZCT Chamber Music Contest.

You can see all of the award winners here.

Amazing stuff, what a great festival.

Plenty of music for Music Month

LBCConcertBandCAMP Well it's the last day of NZ Music Month, so that's a good excuse to post about a few projects I've been working on lately. I've been a bit quiet online in recent months so here's a good chance to make up for that.

Picture This! is a new work I've written for the Long Bay College Concert Band. They won gold at the KBB Music Festival last year so a new work had to take shape! I spent last weekend with them at their rehearsal camp and had loads of fun. Look out for Picture This! at this year's festival.

My friends at Diocesan School for Girls have commissioned two new works for their groups:

I ask of you no poetry is for their award-winning elite choir, St Cecelia Singers, and is written for SSA choir, handbells and organ (with text by Madeleine Ballard). Kiwi in Appalachia is for their chamber ensemble consisting of flute, Bb clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, 2 violins, viola and piano (cello part also available). It's a standalone piece but for this group was written to be used in conjunction with my arrangement of Copland's Appalachian Spring. I'm hoping to get along to see some rehearsals soon and will post some performance dates when available.

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I have also just written Unwrapped for the St Matthew's Chamber Orchestra which was premiered last Sunday. I've written about it here, check it out.

Back in April was the 48Hour Film Festival and although we didn't get far this year with our film, On The Rocks, it was great to work with the guys from Sideways Productions once again. The music turned out nicely (finally, I got to use almost all strings!) and I later arranged it into a one movement work - listen here:

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Another film by these guys that I did the music for, Sounds Perfect, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival during May - I posted about it here, check it out.

ASO PromsIn conducting news I had a great weekend down at the Bay of Plenty Music School working with the concert band. I was so happy with the standard they reached - read about my weekend here. I'm also currently working with the Auckland Symphony Chorus - preparing them for the Auckland Symphony Orchestra's hugely popular "Night of the Proms" concerts at the end of June. Great to have "Song of the Lonely Mountain" as part of the programme - a song I did the preparation of for "The Hobbit" movie two years ago.

That's all for now. A few other projects on the go, but I'll save those for a future post!

A premiere unwrapped

SMCOUnwrapped This afternoon the St Matthews Chamber Orchestra gave a superb premiere of my new work for orchestra, Unwrapped, in a packed St-Matthews-in-the-City here in Auckland.

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.

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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.

"Sounds Perfect" at Cannes

I am deeply honoured that Sounds Perfect, a film that I wrote the music for and that has already appeared at a number of festivals, has now been selected for the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival in France this month. SoundsPerfectCANNES

The film, an adults-only comedy, was made for the inaugural Tropfest NZ Festival in 2012 and was a finalist, winning several awards. It has since gone on to play at about seven festivals around the world.

Dave Dobson is a self -proclaimed 'audio enhancement engineer' in the film industry. While his uninspiring workmates are happy to churn out the same clichéd slaps and squelches film after film, Dave hears a higher calling.

I put the music together in a matter of hours (they got it to me a day before it was due) and it definitely isn't characteristic of any other writing I've done but it makes me laugh and serves the film well.

It's amazing how we creators just do what we do and then sometimes a film just gets picked up and has a life of its own.

Cannes takes the cake, but it is also about to screen in the:

  • Wet Your Pants Comedy Film Festival in Indianapolis
  • Iron Mule Comedy Series in New York
  • LA Comedy Ninja Film Festival

Congrats to the Sideways Team (www.sidewaysproductions.co.nz). Bring on our next project!

Music school magic!

BOPMusicSchool I am just back from working with the concert band at another superb Bay of Plenty Music School. What a great weekend - there is something so great about gathering at the beginning of a weekend, meeting new people, working hard and presenting a wonderful concert together on Sunday before returning for another week of the real world.

I had a really fantastic group this year including a solid contingent from Auckland University which gave great depth to our woodwinds in particular. We ditched the easier pieces and launched into the challenging repertoire and with fine results - our set at the concert was so tight and I think the most technically advanced and polished performance since I've been conducting the group.

Our concert set was:

  • Stalter – Ignition
  • Shostakovich – Folk Dances
  • Berlin – Alexander’s Ragtime Band
  • Kahelin – Clown Act

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There was also some wonderful results in the orchestra (David Adlam) and choir (Peter Watts), as well as some impressive combined performances - which I was most happy to hand the baton on for this year and feature only in the percussion section!

The combined works were:

  • Mendelssohn - Hebrides Overture
  • Mozart - Requiem (excerpts)
  • Copland - Hoedown
  • Brahms - Symphony No.3

Congrats to the Taupo organising committee for a very fine job, thanks to all the players for your efforts and I hope to see you all again next year!