for two spoken word artists and symphony orchestra [ 12′] 2017
Lyrics by Zaccheus Jackson
Commissioned by NYO Canada
Premiere: NYO Canada, conductor Jonathan Darlington with Zoey “Pricelys” Roy & Lindsay “Eekwol” Knight, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, July 22, 2017

Zaccheus Jackson’s words are fierce and fiery, veering from humour to tragedy in one sentence. His performances are musical — rhythms and rhymes which flow and hurtle, their political sophistication revealing Zaccheus’ grasp of the big picture. He was a poet who saw injustice in the world around him and called it out with energy and brilliance. Zaccheus’ uncompromising vision was a huge inspiration for me — everyone needs to hear this lesson in Canadian history.

Zaccheus raced through this poem at lightning speed, clocking in at around two minutes. In stretching out the journey to twelve minutes, we get the chance to linger with the genius of his words, allowing them more time to sink in and do their transformational work. I hope hearing this piece will open your ears and your heart to Zaccheus’ words and to the voice of his generation.

Thank you to the NYOC for inviting me to be part of the Unsilent Project and for supporting the creation of this new work. And many thanks to Falen, Zoey and Lindsay for their generosity and fearlessness stepping into a new world.

Solid Gold

soprano + / 1.1.1 / pf.perc / str [15′] 2013

Commissioner: Orchestra Wellington
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: soprano Madeleine Pierard with Orchestra Wellington and conductor Marc Taddei, The Opera House, Wellington, September 8, 2013.
Program note:

Solid Gold riffs on mainstream culture’s obsession with the Number One Hit. Challenging the straitjacket of copyright law, I take as my starting point the titles of over 30 years of number one pop songs. Cracking open this shared archive of pop memory, I hope to unearth the heart of the love song. Collaging selected titles into new and original lyrics, my creative quest echoes the sentiment of British-American band Foreigner’s 1984 hit “I want to to know what love is”. In this maelstrom of romantic yearning, what does love mean? And who exactly is the singer? Is (s)he “Venus, Jezebel, Lady Madonna — Lola, Nikita, Sylvia’s Mother”? Or is gender itself in question? Fernando? Pinnochio? Nelson Mandela?

permalink / 2.2.1 / timp.2 perc.hp / str [12′] 2004

Commissioner: Windsor New Music Festival

Funder: Ontario Arts Council

Premiere: The Windsor Symphony with conductor John Morris Russell, Capitol Theatre, Windsor, January 16, 2004.

Recording: The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with conductor Kenneth Young, Recorded by Radio New Zealand Concert FM, September 8, 2011.

Program note:

Writing Swerve began as an exercise in reading. A poem caught my ear and lulled me with its rhythm: lilting and stalling, flowing and overflowing the bounds of the line. Just as there are an infinite number of readers, so are there infinite ways of reading a poem. I wanted to capture these subtle variations of interpretation. The words which constitute poetry can be simple and familiar, but new meanings jump out unexpectedly from one reading to the next. I imagined a piece of music which travelled with the reader: pressing forward, pausing, repeating, circling back…a process of rereading in which certain images start to resound, gaining clarity with each recurrence. Poetry doesn’t reveal itself on the first reading. It is not until we reach the end of the music that we begin to understand what captivates us.

permalink / / timp.2 perc.hp / str [12’] 2003

Commissioner: l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Funder: l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Premiere: l’Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal with conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, October 9-20, 2003, Montréal.
Program note:

Two birds inspired this piece: Tchaikovsky’s Swan and Stravinsky’s Firebird. Buzzard is dedicated to my father, a high-speed pilot who loved Stravinsky’s music as passionately as that of Gil Gilberto and Dave Brubeck. A real buzzard…

“And as to you Life, I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths;”

—Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass (1900)

Stitching in the Ditch
permalink / timp.2 perc.hp / str [12’] 2001

Commissioner: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand, July 19, 2001.
Program note:

1. When I walked into St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig last October, the space was filled with the sound and smell of sawing wood. Beneath the sawing came the rumble of a single giant organ pipe. A sign demanded complete silence: the organ was being tuned. Shhhhh! My mind jumped to other wood being sawn, other trees being felled — for canoes, sailing ships, houses, concert halls, violins…

2. It’s so far from Christchurch to Auckland…what we need is to cast off the South Island from its moorings, sail it north-east, nudge the two islands together and stitch them up nice and snug. An ambitious project, and very very noisy.

Secret Arnold
permalink / / timp.3 perc / str [5’] 1999

Commissioner: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Funder: Creative New Zealand
Premiere: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Samuel Wong, Auckland Town Hall, New Zealand, May 5, 1999.
Program note:

In his Second String Quartet op.10, Schoenberg stepped outside the four corners of the quartet and created a sublime part for soprano. In the last movement she sings ‘I feel air from other planets’. Just as Schoenberg opened a door for classical music with his Second String Quartet, Jamaican dub started the sampling and scratching scene which grooved all the way to 90’s Bristol. Clive Randy Chin’s “Easy Come Dub” is a stripped down remix of The Wailers’ “It Won’t Come Easy”. In “Only You” from 1997, the Bristol-based band Portishead create an ambient space in which even the “Inspector Clouseau” theme finds a new identity. Compressing time and space, Secret Arnold finds room for all three — Schoenberg, Randy and Portishead.