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APO Works With Words at Writers & Readers Festival

5 May 2011

This content is tagged as Multi-Artform .


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The 2011 Writers & Readers Festival gets off to a musical start with Works With Words, a concert presented on 11 May by Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

It's the culmination of a two-year project that saw six local composers setting texts by New Zealand writers, with comment and guidance from two of the country's most respected musical hands, John Psathas and Kenneth Young.

There's a long and noble history of setting literature to music. Beethoven wrote music to Schiller's words, and many of Schubert's greatest lieder are settings of Goethe poems.

In New Zealand, Alistair Campbell's 'Return' was set to music by Douglas Lilburn, while Hone Tuwhare and James K Baxter have had poems interpreted by contemporary musicians.

The words of both the latter two appear in White Feathers, with music by John Elmsly, a composer who has been at the forefront of the New Zealand classical scene since the 1970s.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of experience is Alex Taylor, recipient of the 2010 NZSO-Todd Young Composer Award, who for his piece Attention! has used extracts from parliamentary speeches.

The composers' music is given life by the APO, while Stuart Devenie, actor, Arts Laureate and a fixture in theatres and on screens for many years, interprets the words.

"Stuart is one of the legends of New Zealand theatre and working with him has been a treat," says composer Robbie Ellis, who adapts Renee Liang's monologue The Lover's Knot. "Stuart's characterisation of Walter Bolton, the old man at the centre of the piece, is outstanding."

For Stephen Matthews's Witnessing Parihaka, with words by Robert Sullivan, Devenie is joined on stage by fellow actor Te Kohe Tuhaka and others affiliated with the Taranaki town of the work's title, a place that has such resonances for New Zealanders.

There's surely a feeling of coming full circle for Chris Adams. A former APO Composer-In-Residence, his composition Antonyms of Trust has been workshopped with the orchestra's current Composer-In-Residence, John Psathas, and Composer-Mentor Ken Young.

Yvette Audain says she found working with others a stimulating experience.

"I think most of us generally compose alone, almost in a vacuum," she says. "By contrast, this was quite collaborative. I had to interpret the words in a way that resonated with me but at the same time I felt a responsibility to the author.

"It was helpful having Ken Young and John Psathas on board; they are experienced composers providing another set of ears, and it was especially beneficial having Ken, a fellow composer, at the front of the orchestra as conductor."

Who: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and Stuart Devenie perform works by Chris Adams, Yvette Audain, Robbie Ellis, John Elmsly, Stephen Matthews and Alex Taylor

What: Works With Words, for Auckland Writers & Readers Festival

Where: Auckland Town Hall

Where: Aotea Centre, Auckland

When: Wednesday 11 May, 8pm

Book: THE EDGE 09 357 3355 or www.buytickets.co.nz