have slowly been bringing out music by little known women composers
for some years now. It was through them that I first came across
the late Minna Keal (LNT 110) for example. They also have the
‘British Women Composers’ series. Their noble and enterprising
efforts should be praised for bringing this music to our attention.
Lontano and their ever-brilliant director Odaline de la Martinez
deserve similar recognition for an enthusiasm so obviously and
commandingly communicated. Lontano show incredible aplomb and
commitment to this singular repertoire.
is not altogether surprising to read in the composers’ own booklet
notes that two of them have had to search out other pastures
to advance their careers. Dorothy Ker now lives in the UK,
and was working at Reading University - haven’t they recently
closed their music department? Annea Lockwood is now resident
in the USA. Jenny Mcleod studied in Cologne with Stockhausen.
Gillian Whitehead worked in the North of England before returning
to New Zealand in 1996 on taking early retirement.
say I am not surprised because New Zealand friends tell me how
rare it is to hear new music in that country. No doubt women
composers find it as hard as men to receive recognition. However
I should add that Jenny McLeod received membership of the NZ
Order of Merit in 1997 for her services to music. Gillian Whitehead
has been composer-in-residence with the Auckland Philharmonic.
what of these four works? Well, many of you might describe them
with the old-fashioned term ‘avant-garde’. Even if you do not
like the term you probably know what I mean.
Ker’s piece, performed here in a revised version of 1999, is
quiet, pointilliste, delicate and refined. However it is difficult
to comprehend its progress, development and form. It simply
exists; I suppose that this is what memory actually is. To quote
the composer, memory “surfaces in a cyclic succession, elaborated
and transformed by the passing of time”. It is that concept
that helps the work to create its own form.
McLeod’s ‘For Seven’ definitely sounds like a product of its
time. There are virtuoso parts for piano, cello, flute and vibraphone
doubling marimba. The work was written for some of the finest
performers in the world at that time including the great cellist
Siegfried Palm for whom Ligeti composed his Cello Concerto.
The composer says that the work is full of “irrepressible energy”.
It has undergone some revisions since its 1960s premiere. I
can quite see what she means when she comments, especially about
the quiet sections, that “some elements are reminiscent of the
New Zealand bush”. They are said to reflect her longing for
her homeland at a time when she was living in Germany. Sadly
the Darmstadt avant-garde influence is too strong a presence
to give this somewhat prolix piece much of an identity of its
third work ‘Ahotu’ (O Matenga) is inspired by Maori ritual:
the idea that the dead need and take food with them on their
journey into the after-life. It starts with percussion which
is soon followed by a distant horn solo. There is a dominant
flute and a virtuoso cello solo each punctuated or accompanied
by percussion - typically bongos. The effect is like something
primeval and disembodied ... other-worldly.
last piece is quite original and good fun. Annea Lockwood’s
inspiration here is “a work based upon the Traditional Buddhist
metaphor of the six states/realms of being we constantly recreate
and assume to be reality”. Not surprisingly it falls into six
sections. Not only are the players required to play their often
demanding parts but they are required to sing or perhaps I should
more accurately describe it as ‘making vocal noise’ in section
four ‘The Animal Realm’. It is however a partially improvised
work. I am far from clear exactly what Annea Lockwood’s precise
control over the piece actually was apart from prescribing the
overall concept and section planning. The notes include some
useful directions and clear analysis of each section. The descriptions
include, for example, the first section being predominantly
for solo violin, the second for percussion, the last also for
percussion ... etc.
recording enables the music to be presented without any problems
although the quiet sections need careful concentration. If the
volume is too high, you might, at the stronger moments, frighten
you feel like a challenge go for this disc. You can be sure
that the performances are unsurpassable.