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Trans-Tasman orchestras mark Anzac centenary

Trans-Tasman orchestras mark Anzac centenary with near simultaneous world premieres

17 March 2015

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra join forces to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings with near simultaneous concerts featuring two world premieres by New Zealand and Australian composers.

The NZSO has commissioned celebrated New Zealand composer Michael Williams to write a new work, Symphony No. 1 Letters from the Front, while the SSO has commissioned Australian composer James Ledger to write a piece for choir and orchestra titled War Music, featuring words by Australian musician and storyteller Paul Kelly.

Waikato-based composer Michael Williams’ Symphony No. 1 Letters from the Front was composed specifically for the 100 year anniversary of the battle of Gallipoli in WWI where many New Zealand soldiers fought and died. This deeply emotional work, written with Napier-born soprano Madeleine Pierard in mind, will touch on other WWI events such as the battles in France and Belgium.

“My great grandfather Arthur Major was killed in the 3rd battle of Passchendaele on 31 August 1917,” Williams said. “I have used some of the letters that he wrote and sent back to his family as the basis for New Zealand actor George Henare’s role of the narrator in this work.”

“The letters I have are to his children, including my grandfather and it is the simple love expressed from a father who was never to return from Europe to his children that I found deeply moving. My family is in possession of the wallet with a picture of his family he carried with him in the trenches and when it was returned, they hadn’t even bothered to clean off the blood and skin. He must have been shot through the heart and the bullet went right through the wallet. I thought about this and came to the conclusion that there were just too many men killed to worry about the state of their personal effects. It also made me realise that the sheer amount of dead must have had a terribly desensitising effect on all those involved… I would have to say that I had to dig very deep in this piece.”

New Zealand’s Minister for Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, said that this musical event is a landmark in this year’s Anzac centenary calendar. She will attend the Auckland concert on 23 April.

“This special event brings together the music of countries united by the memorable events that took place 100 years ago. Performed by talented musicians from New Zealand and Australia, each concert is a fitting tribute to the alliances, comradery, and memory of this nation-defining legacy.

“I look forward to experiencing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra live, especially the performance of our very own Waikato-based composer Michael Williams’ new Symphony No. 1 Letters from the Front.”

NZSO Chief Executive, Christopher Blake, says the NZSO as New Zealand’s national orchestra has provided music for many civic events and important occasions since it was founded in 1946. It is the third consecutive year that the Orchestra has marked this important historical event with a special Anzac concert.

“Society wants the opportunity to acknowledge and thank the people who made sacrifices to protect our freedom. Our concert Spirit of Anzac is for everyone – a musical moment for reflection through which we can mark this significant centenary.”

Australia’s Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, said the Anzac Centenary is a milestone of special significance to all Australians and New Zealanders.

“Through the power of music and the grace of the Gondwana Chorale, the performance of War Music will make an outstanding and important contribution to the Anzac commemorations as we reflect on the service and sacrifice of so many brave servicemen and women.”

Sydney Symphony Orchestra Managing Director Rory Jeffes said the orchestra is honoured to be marking the centenary with this significant commission.

“Anzac Day is such an important day of remembrance for all Australians and is part of our collective identity. We are honoured to be paying our respects to those who fought in Gallipoli in this trans-Tasman collaboration with our neighbours at the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,” Mr Jeffes said.

Australian composer James Ledger’s War Music will be divided into two parts; the first half will be purely orchestral while the second half featuring Paul Kelly’s text will be performed by orchestra and choir.

The NZSO will perform War Music with the New Zealand Youth Choir - an elite group of young singers hand-picked from around the country, while the SSO concert will feature the Gondwana Chorale, which includes choristers from Turkey, France and New Zealand. The singers in both choirs will be around the same age as the soldiers who fought in Gallipoli, acting as a poignant reminder of the nature of war.

“The idea is the whole piece will form an arch,” James Ledger said. “The first half is going to be war-like. It’s going to be very violent and aggressive. The second half will reflect back on the travesty of war.”

Australian Benjamin Northey, who conducted the NZSO’s popular 2014 concert series In the Hall of the Mountain King, will conduct both Wellington and Auckland concerts.


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