Story: Composers

Page 3. Consolidation, 1980s onwards

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From the 1980s composers benefited from the increasing professional status of music in New Zealand. Significantly, not all of these composers found it necessary to study overseas.

Christopher Blake

Christopher Blake established himself in the early 1980s with a series of orchestral works, culminating in Symphony the islands (1992) and Northland panels (2000–7) four symphonic poems. Blake’s rough-hewn, direct style and sense of musical architecture also served him well in his 1993 opera Bitter calm.

Dorothy Buchanan

Dorothy Buchanan wrote sympathetically for young musicians, with an immediacy of idiom that made for effective theatre works. These included short operas inspired by three of Katherine Mansfield’s stories.

John Elmsly

John Elmsly was a fastidious craftsman, with an extensive output. Highlights were the politically aware In Memoriam: Rainbow Warrior (1987) and a series of highly approachable Dialogues for various solo instruments with piano.

Chris Cree Brown

The more radical Christchurch-based Chris Cree Brown drew inspiration from the natural wind sounds of Aeolian harps and created an electroacoustic diary in his impressive 2008 sonic collage, Pilgrimage to Gallipoli. He returned to the concert hall with the subtle variational recastings of Memories apart (2001) and the brilliantly orchestrated Celestial bodies (2004).

Anthony Ritchie

Anthony Ritchie favoured a traditional compositional approach and his music was well represented on concert schedules. Extremely industrious, his output included three symphonies and a 2004 opera, The God boy, based on the Ian Cross novel of the same name. Ritchie’s voice was strongest in fluently expressed chamber music such as the 2006 Clarinet quintet.

David Hamilton

Auckland composer David Hamilton, unlike many colleagues, did not hold a university position. He wrote prolifically, always in an approachable style. Large-scale works ranging from the 1985 Nix Olympica for chamber ensemble to the 2005 Missa Pacifica were influenced by minimalism, and the composer enjoyed an international reputation for his shorter, welcoming choral pieces.

Martin Lodge

Martin Lodge had success with his Symphony no. 1 (flowers of the sea, 1994) and a series of shorter orchestral works (the 1997 Hinterland and the 2002 Aër). Later the Hamilton-based composer extended his interests to film (the 1997 multimedia After Dürer) and a number of works with taonga puoro such as the 2003 Toru.

Returning composers

In the 2010s New Zealand expatriate composers Juliet Palmer, Dorothy Ker and Jeroen Speak returned to take up Lilburn residencies. Palmer, based in Canada, explored collaborative and interdisciplinary projects, while Ker and Speak addressed, with individuality, the potential of intense timbral subtleties.

Eve de Castro-Robinson

The work of Eve de Castro-Robinson is well represented in several CDs of her music. Her 1991 residency with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra occasioned a Triple clarinet concerto, with the timbral invention and quirky wit that were staple features of her style. Four pieces titled Chaos of delight showed her ingenuity with colours and textures using restricted resources. The 2012 LEN LYE the opera transferred these skills to a larger canvas with striking theatrical success.

Michael Williams

Michael Williams, after a number of characterful instrumental commissions, achieved a stage success with his 1998 one-act opera The prodigal child. A full-scale opera, The juniper passion (2008) received a series of performances in Italy in 2013.

Composing a book

A versatile composer and musician, Philip Norman is also an accomplished writer. His 2006 biography Douglas Lilburn: his life and music won the biography section of the 2007 Montana Book Awards.

Other composers

Other composers with distinctive styles who emerged during this time included:

  • Christopher Marshall, a talented composer of highly accessible choral and instrumental music
  • David Griffiths, a leading baritone who wrote well for voice, especially in choral works such as Five Landscapes (1992)
  • Philip Norman, who penned popular stage works such as Footrot Flats (1983) and A Christmas carol (1993)
  • Peter Scholes, the energetic Music Director of Auckland Chamber Orchestra, who wrote explorative scores such as Wireless for clarinet (1987) alongside film scores and ballet music
  • Leonie Holmes, who wrote fluently for specific commission, revealing orchestral ingenuity in Frond (2004)
  • Helen Fisher, who composed an outstanding 1989 choral piece Pounamu and some powerful chamber music, as well as the full-scale multicultural choral work, Taku wana – the enduring spirit (1997)
  • Nigel Keay, who made his mark with music of textural intensity
  • Kenneth Young, an experienced conductor, who wrote some fine, if conservative, orchestral scores
  • Helen Bowater, who took a daring colourist approach in scores like the orchestral Urwachst (2002)
  • Brigid Ursula Bisley, whose music was characterised by emotional intimacy, particularly evident in her eloquent song-cycle Come back safely (1995).
How to cite this page:

William Dart, 'Composers - Consolidation, 1980s onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2024)

Story by William Dart, published 22 Oct 2014