New Zealanders will be the first to hear orchestral music inspired by a nineteenth century conman and a giant of twentieth century literature when the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra premieres two works next month.
Aotearoa Plus will feature Grammy Award winning conductor and composer Bramwell Tovey leading the orchestra from a honky-tonk piano, for the international debut of his orchestral work Time Tracks.
The new music draws on his 2011 opera The Inventor which tells the true story of Sandy Keith, a scam artist turned ship bomber who killed dozens of people in a dock explosion in 1875.
Bramwell Tovey says Sandy Keith’s personality mixed affable charm with violence, and orchestral music is well placed to tell his dark story: “Here’s a man who blew up a ship, killed nearly a hundred people then shot himself, and lived on for five days until he died. His life has high drama, and is full of light and shade.”
The NZSO will also perform the world premiere of New Zealander Christopher Blake’s Symphony - Voices. The work is inspired by TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, one of the most influential poems of last century.
Like the famous poem, the symphony is in five parts and draws on myth, literature, war, opera and popular culture to evoke the complex experiences of human life.
Blake wrote Symphony - Voices with the musicians of the NZSO in mind. He employs a large orchestra including gongs, alto sax, tom-toms and bells in a major work which references Wagner, blues, ragtime jazz and music from his life.
“I had the sound of its wonderful flutes in my head as I wrote, and I’ve been at pains to give the wind, brass, percussion and string sections opportunities to shine. The whole symphony is liberally scattered with solos,” he says.
This is the second symphony to be commissioned for Blake by the NZSO which premiered his first, Symphony – The Islands, 20 years ago.
The NZSO completes the programme with virtuoso pianist Stephen de Pledge performing Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No 2. Premiered only four years ago by the New York Philharmonic, it was described as a “monster concerto” by The New York Times.
Bramwell Tovey is an acclaimed British composer and conductor in demand as a guest artist by major ensembles around the world, including the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics. He made his break as a conductor as a last-minute stand-in for the legendary Leonard Bernstein in 1986. He is Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and is known for his passionate advocacy of music education in schools. This will be his New Zealand debut.
Christopher Blake is widely acclaimed for earlier works including his Tui Award winning classical album Angel at Ahipara, Till Human Voices Wake Us and the opera Bitter Calm. Blake has held a number of senior leadership positions in the arts and the public service. He is presently Chief Executive of the NZSO, a role he occupies in parallel to his composing career. He received a Queen’s Service Order (QSO) in 2012.
Aotearoa Plus is the NZSO’s annual showcase of cutting-edge contemporary music from New Zealand and abroad. An open talk by conductor Hamish McKeich, a champion of New Zealand contemporary classical music, will take place 45 minutes prior to the performances in Wellington and Auckland.
NZSO: Aotearoa Plus
Bramwell Tovey CONDUCTOR
Stephen De Pledge PIANO
TOVEY Time Tracks (Orchestral work from The Inventor)
LINDBERG Piano Concerto No.2
BLAKE Symphony - Voices