All three SOUNZ Contemporary Award finalists this year are former finalists, but they take us in very different directions in contemporary classical music
Celeste Oram is a New Zealand composer and vocalist now based in San Diego, who aims to create work “in which performers and listeners explore sonic and social histories, micro-cultures, and utopias.” This year she is a finalist for her work a loose affiliation of alleluias – a concerto for improvising violinist and three voices, commissioned by the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. The piece takes inspiration from pop song structures and the mechanisms of breathing, while intertwining glimpses of material from contemporary works like Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble,redemption by serpentwithfeet, as well as choral works from the 12th and 17th centuries.
The genesis of Assemblage is truly collaborative, with composer Alex Taylor (also now San Diego based) working with visual artist Simon Ingram, to bring together the sounds, movements, and inspirations of a painting robot (who is part of the performance), with an orchestral composition. Commissioned by conductor Marc Taddei and premiered by Orchestra Wellington, the piece draws on many of the gestural elements of the robot – gradients, curves, expansion and contraction, and much of the work is built on a series of slow-moving chromatic harmonies – creating a constrained quality to the sound. But like a rubber band being pulled, there’s always the potential for that energy to snap or release.
Commissioned by the NZSO, Michael Norris’Mātauranga (Rerenga) is a work for orchestra, taonga puoro and live electronics which reflects on Captain Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific and his arrival in Aotearoa. Norris (who has been a finalist six times, and won the award three times) recognised the many issues surrounding Cook's arrival in New Zealand, and the piece is not so much a celebration as an evocation of a moment in time. “I'm not just thinking of the cultural collision between Cook and the local iwi and tangata whenua, but I'm also thinking of a kind of sonic world. What were the seascapes that Cook was experiencing during those long days of endless voyaging around the South Pacific? What were the birdscapes or the gentle lapping of the waves on the shoreline of these places where Cook put down his anchors?”