21 September 2016

GRID, Darmstadt and Jenny McLeod

Recently I was in Germany, attending the Summer Course at Darmstadt, an intensive new-music festival for composers, performers, academics and music writers. While I was there, it was virtually impossible not to become aware of the outstanding work being done by GRID, a research project led by composer Ashley Fure, to document and critique gender representation in the Darmstadt archives. Fure had compiled a range of imformative statistics, perhaps the most glaring of which is that in the first twenty years of Darmstadt (1946-1965), only eight works by female composers were included in the programme. That's out of a total of 1362 works programmed in those years: slightly less than 0.6%. With the help of many other researchers, Fure also aims to document and rediscover the work of those in many cases now relatively little-known female composers. 

[You can read more about GRID, which has grown into a substantial feminist movement, here https://griddarmstadt.wordpress.com/]

One of the few female composers (and one of the few composers from the Southern Hemisphere) represented at Darmstadt in the early years was New Zealander Jenny McLeod, who having studied in Europe with Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen was appointed Professor of Music at Victoria University of Wellington at the age of twenty-nine. While I was in Darmstadt Jenny’s name came up, and I asked her a few questions via email. ­

Alex Taylor: What brought you to Darmstadt in 1965? What was your experience of the course like?

Jenny McLeod: I had been awarded a two-year NZ Arts Council scholarship to study music as a post-graduate in Europe (1964-66) and had already spent my first year at the Paris Conservatoire in Messiaen's class. (It was I who had chosen Europe - in those days it was for me the only place to go, and Messiaen was the main teacher to draw me irrevocably.) Time was precious and I didn't want to waste any, so it was important to take in as much as possible during the summer as well.  I wanted to meet the European avant-garde head-on, come to grips with it and understand it.  After the year with Messiaen I had already spent three weeks in Basel on an early summer course with Boulez (along with a bunch of my other Messiaen ex-classmates and several of their friends, all French) - then some of us moved on to Darmstadt, and also moved on the following autumn to Stockhausen's class in Cologne.

I had also bought somewhere (maybe from Ivan Whitehead - [New Zealand composer] Gillian's father, a music-seller, used to offer a brilliant range of contemporary music scores and literature at the Cambridge [NZ] summer schools at St Peter's School in Cambridge in the early 'sixties) all the (English) issues of 'Die Reihe', which I had been reading.  I was puzzled by certain passages here and there. Imagining that by going to Darmstadt I would be at the 'heart of the avant-garde', so to speak, and that there I could learn all I needed to know, when I got there, I began asking various people if they could tell me the meaning of these various passages that had stumped me.  To my severe disappointment, nobody could tell me a thing - nobody else understood the meaning of these puzzling passages either! (not that I could even tell you now exactly what these passages were).  But for me, it was rather like a case of the 'Emperor's New Clothes' - what was all the fuss about then? My first experience, really, of a musical 'scene'. 

I think now I had probably expected eloquent and inspiring discourses based on some sort of unimaginably superior rationale, from high musical beings who were somehow leading the rest of us confidently into a new world. (At least, this was the sort of impression I had more-or-less been given by Freddy Page, who had earlier encountered Darmstadt, and particularly Boulez also.)  But that was not what I found at all.  The Darmstadt concerts were okay, can't now remember any of the music I heard, and the only workshop I can now remember was a highly entertaining flute workshop by that native virtuoso Italian flautist Severino Gazzelloni.  

The workshops I encountered later in Cologne, during Stockhausen's course - given by conductor Michael Gielen, and members of Stockhausen's ensemble, Siegfired Palm, Christoph Caskel, Aloys Kontarsky - were much more serious affairs where we had to do some work, especially for Gielen.  By comparison the Darmstadt 'workshops' were more or less for musical tourists, I surmised.

And that year at Darmstadt (1965) Boulez one evening gave what was for me a very unexpected talk, especially after his extremely engaging and successful course in Basel - I have never heard or read anything else like it from him, ever at all (you can find it reprinted in Orientations, I seem to recall).  He was actually quite depressed, and was finding his life as an avant-garde composer difficult, let alone having to stand up and speak about it - and he said so!  It was a totally surprising acknowledgment from one of the two most distinguished leaders of the avant-garde, and I never forgot it.  Later on I would take it more as a warning of what to expect myself, now and then.  The strangest thing of all perhaps was the fact that none of the rest of us ever discussed this talk at all.  Not a sound, not a word from anybody.  Into the black hole.

AT: What was the significance for you of having For Seven performed at Darmstadt (and conducted by Bruno Maderna)?

JM: I had nothing to do with organising the later performances under Maderna - the Stockhausen Ensemble and/or Stockhausen himself must have arranged all that.  In fact I think I did not even find out until afterwards, and nobody ever sent me any reviews.  I also very much regretted never meeting Maderna (a man and composer much loved by all who knew him, but who seven years later was already dead too soon).  

But I was very glad that the Ensemble had got the whole piece together finally, so that [percussionist, Christoph] Caskel eventually learned his whole part. At the Cologne premiere, he left out a few voices in his solo vibraphone part because he hadn't had time to learn them properly. He explained to me at the time (as an excuse?) that I had enlarged the performing technique of the vibraphone, with my extensive use of three and four sticks. Happily this did not prevent H. H. Stuckenschmidt, the wellknown writer on contemporary muisc, from giving this first performance of the piece a good review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

I think it must have gone down reasonably well at Darmstadt or they would hardly have played it again at the 1966 Berlin Festival.  On this latter occasion, [lecturer and pianist] Freddy Page was actually present and was astounded to find a piece by me on the programme! (Back in Wellington and covering his own sabbatical absence by teaching for him at Victoria, I hadn't warned him of this because I didn't know myself).  There were a bunch of Polish composers there in Berlin also, and when Freddy later went to Warsaw and met some of them (as he later related to me), they asked him if he knew me.  "I was her teacher," he related gravely - and after that, he said, everything went "swimmingly" in Warsaw, they couldn't do enough for him.  This would partly also have been because after Stockhausen's course had finished in Cologne, I had sought out Lutoslawksi's address in Poland and had sent him a score of For Seven asking him if he would teach me.  And he showed it to others there, so they had already seen a score in Warsaw before they heard it at the 1966 Berlin Festival.  

What would have interested them, I think, would have been the way I combined quite highly-wrought serialism with the more amorphous style of the Polish school (and this I got from Boulez's ideas in connection with Jeux [see Die Reihe} of 'background' and 'foreground.')  But anyway, Lutoslawski contacted me and we arranged to meet in the inner-city lobby of his hotel when he was passing through Cologne.  There in a quiet corner, surrounded by high glass outer walls, we had a sort of 'tutorial' together poring over my score, whereupon Lutoslawski told me he 'couldn't teach me anything' - whereas I believe on the contrary he could have taught me heaps.  But it was not to be, in any case, as the time turned out to be too short, and he was already too committed elsewhere.

Some years later, Aloys Kontarsky (who had played the piano part) visited New Zealand and at Judith Clark's house one evening I met him again, for the first time since Stockhausen's course in Cologne.  He was quite excited to see me again and told me that For Seven had gone really well at Darmstadt and Berlin.

Later still, in about 1993 or 4, when I was in Amsterdam and staying with my composer friend Peter Schat, during the Netherlands Opera season of his opera about Tchaikovksy, Symposion (for which I had translated the poet Gerritt Komrij's original Dutch libretto into English), we met on the street one evening the grand old man Walter Maas, 1945 founder of the Gaudeamus Foundation, and with dear old Walter was one of the organisers of the Darmstadt Festival (whose name alas I have forgotten).  But I was very surprised and chuffed to find that this gentleman still remembered my name and the 1966 performance of For Seven most enthusiastically (nearly thirty years later). He then promptly also invited me to write another piece for Darmstadt (which I never got around to, however).

But in 1966 Darmstadt had quite a world reputation as the top avant-garde festival, and Stockhausen's Ensemble, with its collection of virtuoso soloists, was the top avant-garde performing group in the world.  So despite my rather disappointing experience in 1965, I still felt it was a feather in my cap to be performed there, especially as the first composer from the South Pacific.   

AT: How do you more generally see the relationship between New Zealand music and the European Avant-garde? At the time, and now?

JM: It's not something I think about much any more, though I found I had to recently, when writing some extended commentary notes for the CD booklet accompanying my 24 Tone Clock Pieces (Rattle Records). At the time, there was a fairly tenuous relationship between NZ music and the European avant-garde.  Robin Maconie was in Messiaen's class the year before me, and also moved on to Stockhausen's in Cologne - but he had stopped composing, and he didn't go back to NZ for about the next thirty years.  He had a very bright, interesting and encyclopaedic mind, however, and he very soon started writing about (later becoming the world authority on) the work of Stockhausen, who even put him in charge of his website. Before Robin and me, only Ron Tremain, of the preceding NZ generation, had studied in Europe with the Italian 12-note composer [Luigi] Dallapiccola. (Gillian Whitehead studied with Ron at Auckland University, and I with him also, for a couple of years running, at the Cambridge (NZ) Summer School in the early sixties.) The others, such as [Douglas] Lilburn, [David] Farquhar, Bob Burch, Ted [Edwin] Carr had all studied in England when they were younger, and were temperamentally and psychologically miles away from Schoenberg, Webern and Boulez even, let alone Boulez or Stockhausen.  Fred Page was right into the 'New Music' however, and he kept going on sabbatical to Europe, and hearing more, and coming back to NZ and talking about it - also trying to play it.  Douglas [Lilburn]'s 1961 Third Symphony was ostensibly a 12-note work - but mostly (I believe) because he felt pushed into this by Fred the critic, in love with Boulez. Clearly it was not an experience he enjoyed very much.

I remember in my early years at Cambridge hearing Maconie (dressed in a long night-shirt, with bare feet, sunglasses and a funny little cap) giving from memory a concert performance of Webern's piano variations, Op. 27.  It was the first avant-garde music I had ever heard, and at first I thought it was a joke - until Robin came back and played it again, and I recognised it as the same piece. It was at Cambridge again in January 1963 that the celebrated cellist John Kennedy (father of Nigel, who would emerge later) played to the composers' class a tape recording he had made recently of Messiaen's Quattuor pour la fin du temps, which completely blew my mind.  This was the first time Messiaen's music had ever been heard in NZ, even on a recording.  After that, for me, I couldn't possibly have gone to England to study, I knew I had to get to Paris.  Meanwhile Gillian, whom I now knew because she had spent her honours year at Vic (escaping from Auckland, where apart from Ron Tremain there was little love for contemporary music, and the senior students had come into rather distressing conflict with silly old Charles Nalden, the then professor).  Gillian, whom I would describe as an 'independent' later took herself off to Sculthorpe in Sydney, and eventually to Peter Maxwell Davies in the UK. When she did go to Europe, she didn't go anywhere near any of the avant-garde centres, but (like Janet Frame) went to Portugal instead, and later lived for a while in Orkney, in as remote a location as you could think of.

I always felt that NZ was a good place for a composer to be, because from the edge of the world you can get a pretty good view of what is happening in the rest of the world whilst simultaneously remaining far enough away not to be caught up too much in partisan groups and fashions.  In order to find oneself as a composer it is necessary to meet and break through all kinds of resistance and obstacles.  At the edge of the world these are more likely to be inner than outer obstacles - apart from the never-ending obstacle of ignoranceand pretence in high places.  But over the years there proved to be plenty of partisan reactions in NZ also.  Nowadays (though I haven't really kept up with it all so much - too busy) I would say our best composers can hold their head up with confidence in any company, whether they actually live here or not.

Our greatest composer in my view is [Scotland-based] Lyell Cresswell, who holds his own brilliantly anywhere, and whose multiple influences have all long been assimilated into a powerful individual voice. The old avant-garde has spread across the world, though has by no means 'swallowed it up' - all the post-modernist movements have followed likewise, and there is still room for everyone.  Messiaen, Boulez, and Stockhausen are dead, and people these days are asking where all the 'great composers' are anymore. The eternal search for the 'masterpiece', manifesting itself only among a handful of mighty spirits, was already a hangover of the nineteenth-century romantic aesthetic. This has subsided perhaps into a more substantial wave of honest artisans rather than partisans - since there are now also a lot more composers than there used to be, and many of these are indeed very gifted, and there are many, many more different voices - which is all right and good, if you ask me. The main difference now is probably that the European avant-garde syndrome is no longer new - in fact it is kind of old, even old-fashioned.

AT: From Ashley Fure's empirical research it seems like Darmstadt was overwhelmingly male-dominated - did that have an impact on your experience in darmstadt and perhaps more generally in your involvement with the European avant garde?

JM: You know, I seem to have gone through most of my life with my head in some sort of (mc)cloud?!  It simply never entered my head that my gender could possibly have anything to do with my work - and none of the people I met, great or small, ever seemed to question this either (or if they did, they never did so to my face). To me what mattered was obviously the quality of the work.  

Perhaps I was a surrogate male? I was always a bit of a tomboy as a kid, getting around building huts in my father's old khaki shorts, or excavating around the piles in the basement and collecting horseshit to grow mushrooms. As the oldest, I was the boss - my two younger brothers were my devoted slaves in mischief, at which we were rarely ever caught (there was the smoking club under the stairs and the nudist club up in the roof).  Girls often struck me as silly, their conversation bored me, and though I always had at least one close girlfriend, we never talked about 'boys' or 'clothes' or 'make-up' - mostly we laughed a lot.  Also, at school and university I always found things relatively easy, was normally top of my class everywhere I went, so this became my own expectation of myself (being not interested at all in what my parents might have expected of me, since I hardly agreed with whatever they thought about anything).  I never questioned that I could do anything I set my mind to - and neither apparently did anyone else.  If anyone had ever suggested to me that I couldn't do something I wanted to simply because I was a girl, I would have been outraged!  

Consequently I found the later women's movement initially rather hard to relate to. I didn't care to be described as a 'woman composer'.  Surely (if I am one) we are just 'composers', I thought - and we are all a mixture of male and female in any case, just like music itself.  Only later did I realise I must have been exceptional (since when young we tend to think that other people are just the same as we are).  I never really changed, however: I still think like this.

13 June 2016

Review: NZTrio at Q Loft


Justine Cormack, violin; Ashley Brown, cello; Sarah Watkins, piano

Q Theatre Loft, Sunday 12 June 2016

John Musto, Piano Trio
Chris Watson, Schemata – Three Views of an Imaginary Object
Elliott Carter, Epigrams
Alexander Zemlinsky, Piano Trio in D Minor op. 3

Review by Alex Taylor

NZTrio has been able to attract and sustain a substantial and committed audience over its lifetime as an ensemble. It’s my view that that has a lot to do with the trio’s programming: there is always a huge (sometimes bewildering) variety of styles, and always something to suit any tastes. Sunday night was no exception: the late Romantic Alexander Zemlinsky, the jazz borrowings of John Musto, and the post-Webernian modernism of Elliott Carter and Chris Watson.

For me the potpourri approach to programming succeeds on paper: it gets people interested and builds an audience from different corners of taste and experience. But I think it’s less successful in practice; personally I find it more satisfying to be able to draw connections across a whole concert. So it’s pleasing to see that the second and third concerts in NZTrio’s Loft series, GLOW and FLARE, have a more tangible sense of focus.


John Musto’s Piano Trio showcased NZTrio’s characteristic precision and skill as an ensemble, the strings gliding elegantly over a piano-driven groove. Works built on ostinati and rhythmic patterning can often become rather earnest and wearing, but Musto’s trio mostly swung seamlessly from section to section, never jarring or forced. Nevertheless it was a relief when pulse-laden material gave way to spacious harmonic play in the second movement; this was Musto at his most sophisticated, with hints of Schoenberg and Thelonious Monk. Sarah Watkins gave us a dazzling opening to the finale with coruscating ascending scales, heralding a return to clean and compact showpiece.

NZTrio are generally masters of the pointed attack, and conversely of the more delicate feathery textures, but for me, this kind of jazz-heavy work needs a weightier, more grounded groove to lift it beyond merely a collection of stylish rhythm changes. Championing as they do the works of composers that draw on jazz and popular musics, the trio could polish further their impeccable technique with a deeper understanding of phrasing and articulation in those genres.

Having been written more than a hundred years before anything else on the programme, Zemlinsky’s youthful D Minor trio felt a mite out of place here, its closest cousin the neo-Romantic Musto. Pushing against the already fraying edges of Romantic tonality, Zemlinsky invoked Strauss in his relentless harmonic oscillations and lyrical intensity. In the intimate loft acoustic, the opening strains were rather strident, but the work itself is already unavoidably lush and dense, and the trio did well to sustain the line and drama through all Zemlinsky’s harmonic tangents. By the end of the three substantial movements I was in need of a palette cleanser.

Earlier, Chris Watson packed all the tension and surprise of a full-length work into three minutes of shudders and scurries with Schemata, guiding the ear through the corridors and crevices of an imaginary object. Here Cormack, Brown and especially Watkins were flexible but articulate, all the detail of phrasing in the score conveyed with impressive conviction.

On paper Watson’s Schemata and Elliott Carter’s Epigrams seem like a natural fit side by side in the programme, but in performance they revealed their differences in tone and temperament. If Watson’s Schemata had all the tactile finesse and shade of architectural sketches, Carter’s Epigrams were craggy, cryptic hieroglyphs.

At the age of 103 Carter neither wasted nor repeated a single idea; Epigrams is an unapologetic series of statements without ornament. That’s not to say that this is insensitive music; the hard edges – and stoic resistance to groove – threw into relief the more lyrical and fragile elements. Duets of glassy harmonics and tight scrambles of pizzicato were interwoven with raw blocks and dots of sound. Where Watson followed the tiniest inflections and curves, the instruments hanging and sliding off one another, in Carter’s work they felt brutally at odds, irretrievably perpendicular or parallel.

20 May 2016

Review: Karlheinz Company

Review: Karlheinz Company

University of Auckland School of Music, Sunday 15 May 2016

Eve de Castro-Robinson, Director

Callum Blackmore, voice
Stephen de Pledge, piano
Alex Taylor, conductor, voice
Jonathan Dunlop, harpsichord
Rachel Song, piano
Amy Hsu, organ
Cynthia Hsu, harp
John Coulter, Irazema Vera, Clovis McEvoy, John Kim, microphones
Matt Ball, tenor saxophone
Clare Hood, Amy Jansen, Stephanie Dow, Nathan Hauraki, Ben Kubiak, voices
Elizabeth Holowell, Stella Kim, violins; Julie Park, viola; Martin Roberts, cello

Gyorgy Ligeti: Continuum
Jack Body: Turtle Time
Pierre Boulez: Notations (selections)
Alex Taylor: vis-a-vis
Anthony Young: Leave Your Light On
Steve Reich: Pendulum Music
John Grant: Queen of Denmark
Clovis McEvoy: Change Blindness
Eve de Castro-Robinson: Cries of Auckland

Review by Jay Greenberg

If there was an overarching theme to the Karlheinz Company’s annual concert, Turtle Time, on Sunday, it was nostalgia.  In her spoken introduction, Eve de Castro-Robinson, the Company’s artistic director, made reference to the 1960s, describing it as an anarchic and experimental decade when “anything was possible”, whereas the present day had lost that spirit. The programme included three works from 1968, a pivotal year in both music and history, along with a series of tributes to two of 2016’s musical casualties—Pierre Boulez and David Bowie—and also featuring thematically unrelated but emotionally appropriate interpretations of USA songwriter John Grant by Alex Taylor and a recent de Castro-Robinson work by a gaggle of School of Music students and staff.

György Ligeti’s Continuum for double-manual harpsichord, the first of the three 1968 works presented, was characteristically described in the programme notes as bristling and somewhat abrasive. That description certainly applies to many of the surviving contemporary accounts, such as Elisabeth Chojnacka’s first recording for Philips in the 1970s. It was a surprise therefore to hear such a lyrical and fluid performance, whether due to harpsichordist Jonathan Dunlop or the instrument itself. Ligeti’s three-and-a-half minute piece, in perpetual motion, moves from stasis on a rapid, overlapping G-Bb tremolo to encompass a wider range of notes, gradually climbing into the high register to end once more in stasis on a high Fb. In Dunlop’s hands it sounded less mechanistic and more expressive, bringing out the sense of an unbroken “continuum” of sound quite strongly but without some of the clarity necessary to bring out the work’s duality of tiny, detached individual sounds vs. the effect of a seamless whole.

Jack Body’s Turtle Time, which lent its title to the concert, was the “main event” not only for its duration but also because it had apparently gone unperformed in Auckland since its premiere, according to de Castro-Robinson’s opening remarks.  It was also in its way a commemoration, Body having passed away on the same day as last year’s Karlheinz Company concert. In both scoring and material Body’s work could be described as proto-Boulezian—the ensemble of piano, harpsichord, harp and Hammond organ recalling works such as Répons and Sur Incises, except that they would not appear until 1980 and 1998 respectively. The material, moving between free, isolated gestures and more continuous ensemble passages, is practically a distillation of the Darmstadtian trends of its era, recalling Boulez mostly in its sonic vividness and sensuality. At the same time, to this ensemble (conducted energetically and effectively by Alex Taylor), Body added a recitation of a poem by New Zealand poet Russell Haley—prerecorded in his original conception, but here delivered somewhat bombastically by Callum Blackmore. This recalls the role of the speaker in Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II (1965) and Sinfonia (1968), among the first of Berio’s works to incorporate collage-like techniques and therefore part of the great aesthetic diversification of the European avant-garde following the breakup of the Boulez-Nono-Stockhausen trinity.

In uniting these two musical “directions” of the 1960s Body’s work practically stood in for Darmstadt itself, as Ligeti represented the Central European avant-garde and Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music would later represent the New York School. Whilst it was among the most effective works on the programme—and the use of an important New Zealand poem poached a number of literary figures from the Writer’s Festival events of the same day—there is a sense in which Body’s work felt like a survey of musical techniques that took his fancy rather than a genuinely personal work. Indeed, it was only shortly thereafter that his encounter with Indonesian classical music paved the way for his departure towards a new, totally idiosyncratic style. It must be added that both the Boulezian icy, glittering, almost “neo-Debussy” style of the instrumental music and the use of recitation are devices that have become somewhat dated in the intervening forty-eight years. The five Boulez Notations that followed, played with panache and a full range of piano colour by Stephen de Pledge—the oldest works on the programme, written in the 1940s, though among the most appealing—were in turn followed by an additional “Notation” in the form of Alex Taylor’s vis-à-vis, a tribute to Boulez, which brought the widened range of expression and greater concentration on isolated gestures of Boulez’s mature music. Nonetheless there was not a sense that one had travelled very far from 1945 in musical terms; nor is there such a sense in Boulez’s own work of the 1990s and 2000s.

The first half then concluded with de Pledge’s performance of another tribute, Anthony Young’s Leave Your Light On, commemorating David Bowie. Though beginning in the kind of stasis that had dominated the programme so far, the piece built up its tiny, simplistic ostinato ideas to a climax that gradually faded into piano resonance. It was also the first piece of the evening to introduce diatonic, tonal harmonies, and to make explicit the sense of retrospection. One thing that certainly was not evoked during the concert was that anarchic and experimental spirit of the 1960s; perhaps the performances allowed listeners to recollect and reflect upon the era, like a memory of a vanished childhood, but in and of themselves they had little of the visionary and immediate, or for that matter the experimental and fun. For example Reich’s Pendulum Music, which followed interval and required the complex assembly and disassembly of four speakers and four hanging microphones, was conceived as both “kind of funny” (in the composer’s words) and as homage to John Cage. Sonically the most arresting of the items presented, based entirely on the feedback caused by the microphones approaching the speakers as they swing across the stage like pendulums, it dates to Reich’s most experimental period and before he turned to writing for conventional instruments. The fun, however, was transmuted into gentle irony by the presentation, the four performers picking up and releasing their microphones with infinite care before seating themselves gravely on the fringes of the stage; a performance more ritual than “happening”.

Once the stage had been cleared Alex Taylor returned to perform John Grant’s Queen of Denmark as singer and pianist. As another lyrically driven work it served as parallel to Turtle Time in the first half, though in this case without much musical content to enhance or detract from the text. Taylor’s singing voice, warm and grainy with tinges of hoarseness and vocal fry, superbly suited the song in both style and substance.  A second tribute to David Bowie, Clovis McEvoy’s Change Blindness for solo saxophone, gradually moved from key clicks and fully voiced sounds with special attention paid to the liminal states in between the two, all within a one-minute fragment of great kinetic energy—resembling the bass line of, say, a rock song. The work, which calls for a degree of improvisation, was tossed off with great dash and bravura by Matt Ball. Unlike Young’s Bowie tribute, which was based on a specific song, McEvoy did not make clear if any of the rock musician’s compositions were meant as inspiration. The exuberance of the performance also marked the only real break in the predominantly nostalgic tone of the concert.

The closing item, de Castro-Robinson’s Cries of Auckland for vocal sextet and string quartet, looked back explicitly to political protests of the 1980s onwards: the bulk of its texts recall the anti-apartheid unrest against the 1981 South African national rugby union tour, gradually morphing into 21st century protests against global capitalism. Through presenting this work at the culmination of the programme de Castro-Robinson presumably intended to draw a link between her experiences as a politically engaged New Zealander and the political upheavals and revolutions that swept the rest of the world in the 1960s. The text and music were better integrated than in the other two textual works presented, with the protest slogans used almost more as sonic objects than semantic ones. Imitative writing between voices and strings set up a fairly dense climax, incorporating traditional tonality as a “found object” and finally bringing in a bass drum and megaphone to signify a breakdown of musical order. In the performance, all six vocalists left the stage at this moment. Despite its promise of noise and political defiance, this proved to be a basically retrospective and nostalgic piece as well; the defiance more remembered than actual, the noise more comfortable than disturbing. To some extent the performance styles chosen by the vocalists played into this as well; beginning and end contrasted Nathan Hauraki’s belted, half-spoken tenor with Clare Hood’s quasi-lieder recital soprano, and the use of more “classical”-style singing throughout the piece clarified the relationship of voices to strings but in some respect did disservice to what had been, essentially, shouts of hundreds of people in unison. The music’s final dissolution gave an impression of looking back from a great distance.

A successful concert with a highly positive audience response, filling the University of Auckland’s Music Theatre close to capacity, Turtle Time was certainly enjoyable from a musical point of view, and gave Aucklanders the chance to hear music rarely if ever performed in this country and a taste of contemporary NZ composition. At the same time, as homage to the 60s it was problematic. One wonders if that “anarchic, experimental” spirit might not be better served by presenting works that are truly cutting-edge and boundary-pushing, that retain the old view that “anything is possible”—as have occasionally featured in past Karlheinz Company concerts—rather than an evening of memories, retrospectives and tributes.