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Eminent international composer conducts own works for NZSO

Eminent international composer conducts own works for NZSO Hear & Far concert tour

Eminent Scottish composer and conductor James MacMillan will conduct the NZSO in Hear & Far, an annual concert tour that features the best of international contemporary classical music alongside the best of New Zealand contemporary classical music.

Dr MacMillan will conduct two of his own works, his landmark The Confession of Isobel Gowdie and the more recent Woman of the Apocalypse, as well as the world premiere of The Clock Stops, a brand new commission by New Zealand composer Lyell Cresswell. It is the second new work by a Kiwi composer to receive its world premiere in the NZSO 2014 Season.

NZSO Chief Executive Christopher Blake highlights the significance of this tour:

“When you think about the opportunity to hear a composer conduct their own works, it is unusual and special. I think many musicians will get a real delight in seeing a conductor who is realising their own music. And this is quite rare.”

Famous composers who have previously conducted definitive performances of their works with the NZSO include Igor Stravinsky (1961) and William Walton (1964).

MacMillan is internationally acclaimed, and a foremost composer of his generation. He is also active as a conductor. His compositional style combines a multitude of influences but remains accessible. The Guardian has described him as “a composer so confident of his own musical language that he makes it instantly communicative to his listeners.” MacMillan was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2004.

The premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the 1990 Proms with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra attracted great attention. The work is inspired by the story of Isobel Gowdie, a victim of the witch hunt that gripped Reformation Scotland. In 1662, under extreme torture, she confessed to a number of acts of witchcraft and was subsequently burnt at the stake. MacMillan says: “the work craves absolution and offers Isobel Gowdie the mercy and humanity that was denied her in the last days of her life.”

MacMillan’s 2012 concerto for orchestra, Woman of the Apocalypse, references the mysterious character in the Biblical book of Revelation. MacMillan drew ideas from images of this woman:

“Looking through the different artworks over the centuries I was inspired and given visual stimulus by a whole range of different artists. I’m always interested in how either visual images or even just ideas from literature or scripture… can in fact transform into sound.”

New Zealand music is represented in this concert tour by a new work by Lyell Cresswell, one of our great contemporary composers. The NZSO commissioned Cresswell to write a work to commemorate the Canterbury earthquakes. Although the work began as a response to the Canterbury earthquake events, it then took on a wider perspective.

Entitled The Clock Stops, Cresswell’s work is a song-cycle, incorporating poems by well-known Kiwi author Fiona Farrell written for this purpose. The poems are about the history of cities, ancient and modern. Cresswell and Farrell have collaborated twice before, and this reprise of their successful partnership promises a significant addition to New Zealand contemporary music.

“All the music in this song-cycle springs, in one way or another, from the words – from the poems that Fiona Farrell has written for it,” says Cresswell.

NZSO Chief Executive Christopher Blake says of the commission:

“The Clock Stops is connected to the devastation that Christchurch has suffered. Lyell conveys the emotions that we all feel about Christchurch and Canterbury through these compelling settings of poems about cities and their histories.”

The poems will be performed by New Zealander and prominent international opera singer, bass baritone Jonathan Lemalu. Frequently performing on the world’s most important operatic, orchestral and recital stages, Lemalu is one of the leading singers of his generation.

In Hear & Far the NZSO will again bring audiences the finest compositional voices of today from home and overseas.


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