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NZSO To Perform Promising Teenage Canterbury Composer’s Work

Promising young composer University of Canterbury (UC) student Thomas Bedggood can’t wait to hear his orchestral composition Smoking Mirror | Tezcatlipoca performed live by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), next month.


So far the 19-year-old violinist has only heard his creation on composition software, which he says simply cannot compare with the sound quality of the 28 parts played live together by a professional orchestra.

“It’s electronic, so it doesn’t really sound anything like a real orchestra. Until you hear your work live, it’s pure imagination,” he says.

Smoking Mirror was selected for this year’s Todd Corporation Young Composers Award. Bedggood was also recently awarded the 2020 Dame Malvina Major Foundation Christchurch Committee’s Cecily Maccoll High Achiever Award.

Bedggood is in the final year of his Bachelor of Music degree with a double major in performance (violin) and composition and will continue studying Honours at UC next year.

“I took composition as an interest paper and I did well, so I kept going and now things are really coming to fruition,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to hit these opportunities this early.”

The NZSO award has already opened doors, allowing the music student to join an NZSO composing programme of a South American exchange, working virtually with lecturers and professional musicians in Colombia and Argentina to write a collaborative piece, which will be performed in December.

Also through the NZSO, Bedggood had the chance to join workshops with visiting Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth­Bedoya, Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, who has conducted many ‘upper level’ American orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, along with orchestras internationally including the NZSO.

Bedggood wrote the under five-minute long Smoking Mirror in a month. The process sounds relatively organic, but was “quite intense” at times, he says.

“Orchestral writing, because of obviously the massive range of factors you work with, is a combination of thinking in the microscale of a few different parts and the relationships some instruments have with each other, and then zooming out and thinking on the macro level and thinking ‘where is this going?’ And then building up the small parts into a mosaic.”

Bedggood is intrigued to hear Smoking Mirror as intended for the first time.

“Without having heard it live, I think that it’s me starting to play with texture and colour in sound. For instance I use harmony but it’s quite extended and it’s my own harmonic intuition, or what I feel. There are melodies, maybe they’re catchy – I don’t know! I am trying to paint using sound and using different sounds to play with shape and colour. I am mildly synesthetic, so I see shapes when I hear music, so I’m trying to work with that.”

UC’s Head of Performance Professor Mark Menzies describes Bedggood as “an awesome student in our School of Music, who has contributed generously to our lively community with his resplendent creativity and charismatic personae”.

“It is wonderful he is gaining national attention for his evolving career and creative output,” Professor Menzies says.

Bedggood says UC has given him an excellent start in developing his passion for music.

“The composition department is under [Senior Lecturer] Reuben de Lautour; he is very open-minded and incredibly supportive. His specialisation is in electronic and acoustic music and I am on the acoustic side, but he has amazing skills and knowledge to give in any area. We are also lucky to have many other wonderful staff; Professor Mark Menzies who is my teacher is also a composer, so we are lucky with all the areas we can get tuition in.

“As students we want to learn but it’s important that we also have an individual, creative voice and that’s what is special about UC – they really try to help you develop that.”

Despite a fascination with paleobiology and history, Bedggood realised at age 15 that music was what he enjoyed most.

“Composition is an amazing way to express myself creatively and I also love performing and creating the sound.”

Read more: UCME profile Thomas Bedggood.

NZSO: Thomas Bedggood – Smoking Mirror

“Smoking Mirror is inspired by facets of Nahua culture and legends – the term ‘smoking mirror’ refers to ancient local mirrors of polished obsidian, which give all reflections a dim, smoky, ephemeral quality, glazed with red auras thanks to the composition of the volcanic glass. Smoking Mirror is also the translated title attributed to the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca; amongst his many other aspects, Tezcatlipoca’s prime symbolism was for change achieved through conflict or massive upheaval, something that can be reflected on whilst considering current international affairs in 2020. The work seeks to display a dark and murky palate, with coiling and roiling textures serving as a backdrop for artefacts and events that emerge and climb out of the work’s various textures.”

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