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Michael Norris wins the 2019 SOUNZ Contemporary Award


SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music is delighted to announce that Wellington composer Michael Norris has won the 2019 SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha with Violin Concerto ‘Sama’.

Michael said “Thank you. This is an amazing honour, and I’d like to thank both APRA and SOUNZ, particularly Ant, Victoria and Diana, for being such fantastic advocates, and for giving contemporary concert music a great platform and visibility in New Zealand. There’s some incredible music being written here in Aotearoa, no more so than by my co-finalists Chris and Chris — your music is continually pushing new boundaries and you’re both constantly inspiring to me.

Composing large orchestral works can sometimes just be a hard, hard slog, but this piece was unusually fun to write from beginning to end. This is largely thanks to the inspiration of my fabulous musicians, especially my incredible soloist, Amalia Hall, who has more talent coming out of her little finger than most of the rest of us can even dream of.

Thanks to Orchestra Wellington, particularly Music Director Marc Taddei, whose bold visionary programming is being repaid by Wellington audiences with incredible houses. It was a pleasure to work with you and your awesome players.”

SOUNZ Chair Elizabeth Kerr presented the Award at the 2019 APRA Silver Scroll Awards held at Spark Arena in Auckland on Wednesday 3 October.

The SOUNZ Contemporary Award, celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, recognises New Zealand compositions demonstrating outstanding levels of creativity and inspiration and has been presented in collaboration with APRA AMCOS NZ since 1998.

This was Norris’ sixth nomination for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha, which he won in 2014 with Inner Phases and again in 2018 with Sygyt. The Wellington-based composer, software programmer and music theorist teaches composition, sonic arts and post-tonal music theory at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music and is editor of Wai-te-ata Music Press. He is also the Co-Director of Stroma New Music Ensemble.

Violin Concerto ‘Sama’ was commissioned by Orchestra Wellington, featuring soloist Amalia Hall.

“When I was phoned up by Marc Taddei from Orchestra Wellington to commission a new violin concerto featuring Amalia Hall, I was glad for the opportunity, but when I then subsequently heard her play the Bartók Violin Concerto, I knew immediately that this was going to be something very special and important to me.”

Inspired by the Mevlevi Sama Ceremony of Turkey, the work depicts the vast realms of earth and sky, and the visual spectacle of the whirling dancers who act as conduits between them.

“The Violin Concerto ’Sama’ started life when I was thinking about the way in which music can be used to suggest directionality or abstract types of movement — such as the movement of bodies, the movement of biological organisms, even the movement of celestial objects. I was particularly interested in this idea of ‘centripetal’ motion: orbiting, circling, vorticality, whirling, spinning. I had already explored these kinds of motion in other works of mine, particularly the Deep Field series in which instrumental sounds are processed and ’spun’ around a circular eight-channel array by computer.”


SOUNZ Executive Director Diana Marsh said,
“Once again the winning work, Violin Concerto ‘Sama’ demonstrates the high quality of New Zealand composition which the SOUNZ Contemporary Award has been recognising for 21 years. Michael’s virtuosic work is very complex and extremely engaging. Ngā mihi nui, and congratulations, Michael."

The winning work was selected, through an anonymous process, by a judging panel of independent industry representatives including an international judge Lyell Cresswell (UK/NZ) and New Zealanders Justine Cormack, Ross Harris, Gretchen La Roche and Ronan Tighe. This year, 57 works were entered by 44 composers, demonstrating the high quality of New Zealand composition through compelling, fascinating works representative of a broad range of styles.

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