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September 24, 2007 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Wellington’s Young and Emerging Composers

Karlo Margetic is young, and he is emerging – fast. Already this Bosnian-born composition student at the New Zealand School of Music is young composer-in-residence with the Auckland Philharmonia, and with the NZSO National Youth Orchestra (NYO).

His new piece “Belt Sander” was premiered by the NYO at the end of August. Frenetically kinetic (like the machine), it ingeniously combined rhythmically loose instrumental lines (think free jazz or sixties serialism) busily woven over repetitive minimalistic ostinati.

The National Youth Orchestra itself showcased the talents of many Wellington (mostly NZSM) performance students, including Blythe Press (violin, Co-Concertmaster), and Jennifer Vaughan (flute), Alexandra Chan (bassoon) and Abbey Edlin (horn). If the 2007 NYO did not quite reach the sustained intensity achieved by its 2006 counterpart, it was probably because Bartok’s virtuosic “Concerto for Orchestra” and the amiable tempi and seductive colours of Debussy’s “La Mer” demanded a different approach from the previous year’s searing Shostakovich Tenth Symphony.

Margetic won the School Chamber Music SOUNZ Composition prize twice, in 2004 and 2005. The 2006 winner and now fellow NZSM student Tabea Squire was highly commended by the judges of the Todd Corporation NZSO Young Composer Award, for “Tiszavirag”, a fetching take on Hungarian rhythms. Joint winners were Aucklander Claire Cowan, with her genial evocation of exotic Arabic and Mediterranean musics, “Incantations”; and Tony Lin (Canterbury) with “Requiem for a Bird”, a colour-and-texture tone poem of dramatic contrasts.

My own choices for top slots were somewhat different. I was most impressed with NZSM third year student Pieta Hextall’s “Perpetual Phase”, an inexorable narrative arc that seemed to triangulate Bruckner, Sibelius and the 21st century as the xylophone danced above solemn brass chords. The autumnal, sophisticated “Les Pavots” by June Dams (Waikato), and “Ino” by Wellingtonian Alexandra Chan (yes, the bassoonist), both commanded attention from first note to last with their expertly managed ebb and flood of tension.

The adjudicators of the NZ School of Music Composers Competition (Douglas Beilman, Paul Doornbusch and Norman Meehan) got it right, though. Post-graduate Tristan Carter’s “…murmur…” stood out as a clear winner. The DVD by the Tasman String Quartet amplified the visceral gruntiness of the unorthodox bowing techniques, while sliding glissandi echoed Xenakis, and the viola’s keening quarter tones might almost have come from the Mexican microtonal pioneer Julian Carrillo.

Prizes were also awarded to student performers, solo percussionist Brent Stewart, and clarinet quartet Andrzej Nowicki, Hayden Sinclair, Justus Rozemond and Karlo Margetic (playing the latter’s rhythmically tricky “Rarefaction Game”).

The 2007 Competition concert embraced an exceptionally wide range of musical styles. There was a song, “Tamaoho”, with guitar, electric bass, drum kit and percussion, sung by the composer Jean Pompey (she rocks!). There was an electroacoustic sound document, “Embellished Reality”, by Anton Killin (another promising sonic arts student, Beryl Matete, was represented on the night by a rather less satisfying instrumental score)

Michael Lemmon’s “Lovesick” was a piece of process/performance art, featuring a kitchen gamelan of bowls and utensils, with the players humming while eating. Ben Woods’ “Human”, too, harked back to the experimental sixties, in its emphasis on the piano sound for its own sake. Simon Dickson’s piano in “Traivallant en Hate”, by contrast, would have been quite at home in a late 19th Century salon.

Of the two second-equal placegetters, Tabea Squire looked towards the Scottish folk-fiddle in her delightfully infectious “Reto Doble” for violin and viola. Carol Shortis, on the other hand, brought us into the cool, elegantly woven world of Renaissance polyphony in “Tangi” for the Baroque Voices choir.

Outside the contest, some NZSM composers have taken inspiration from the even more distant past. First year student Marieke Pratley, in her “Kaif Jeik” for unaccompanied voice, evoked the continuous melodic invention found in ancient Greek and Byzantine art music (Haba’s non-repeating “athematicism” was not entirely new, after all). However her colleague Paula King’s “Fleeting” (likewise for voice alone), which hinted at Hebrew chant, followed more recent classical practice in gradually elaborating on its opening motif, in beautifully poised and paused phrases.

NZSM students also made a strong showing at the 2007 Nelson Composers Workshop (July 1-5). Along with some already mentioned, were Liz Platova with “The Kiss”, an exquisite love-letter for piano; and post-graduate Simon Eastwood with “Peniel” (“where Jacob wrestled with the angel”), a spare, atmospheric yet dramatic tone poem for string quartet — definitely a highlight.

NZSO National Youth Orchestra, Michael Fowler Centre, August 30
Todd Corporation NZSO Young Composer Award, Wellington Town Hall, September 11-12
NZ School of Music Composers Competition, Adam Concert Room, September 14

NZ School of Music (Victoria Campus), forthcoming events (Adam Concert Room, 3.10 pm, FREE):
Composer and NZSM lecturer Dugal McKinnon , Wednesday September 26.
Second year composition students, Wednesday October 10.
Third year composition students, Wednesday October 17.


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