Landscape Preludes / Henry Wong Doe

Landscape Prelude

Rattle Records, the Wallace Arts Trust and the Victoria University Press have come together to release this wonderful recording by Henry Wong Doe of twelve Landscape Preludes by Dame Gillian Whitehead, Ross Harris, Lyell Cresswell, Gareth Farr, Dylan Lardelli, Eve de Castro Robinson, Jack Body, Samuel Holloway, Michael Norris, John Psathas, Jenny McLeod and me.

Originally commissioned by Stephen de Pledge and beautifully performed by Henry, this set of pieces is an incredible snapshot of contemporary music in this country. Twelve completely different musical voices explore their own experience of our landscape and produce twelve completely different perspectives on it.

I feel incredibly honoured to have been included in this company of composers. I love every single one of the preludes. They all have such diverse and extraordinary character and they represent what I think is the great beauty of being a composer in this country – the freedom to pursue our individual artistic ideals from within a genuinely supportive and nurturing community of artists – who are also friends. Stephen’s brilliant commission also illustrates the willingness of performers here to embrace a myriad of different musical approaches and to give them an opportunity to assemble without restriction and form their own whole.

My prelude – Goodnight Kiwi – is very personal. Stephen asked me to write this piece while my mother was in the final stages of a terminal illness. My idea of a ‘landscape’ was completely coloured by the experience of bidding a long goodbye to someone uniquely beloved to me and at that time, everything I saw and felt was coloured by the idea of memory, transience and the fleeting nature of time. So my response, I suppose, was to compose something lingering and nostalgic and to reflect on things that I would always remember with fondness and longing. It was the last piece I wrote that my mother heard –  Stephen recorded a performance of it for Radio New Zealand and I was able to take that recording into the hospice, just days before Mum died, and play it to her.

The fact that a simple, sentimental piece like mine sits alongside the incredible dexterities, complexities, translucencies, pragmatisms, reflections, equations and exuberances of the other composers represented here is part of the genius of Stephen’s commission which provided a point of departure that anchored us to each other, but which also placed no aesthetic chains or judgements on the directions we subsequently took. The complete set is like a thirteenth prelude in a way because it shows us the landscape from above, which really is every time, every season and every culture, finding form in a series of islands.

William Dart, who has long been a champion of New Zealand art and music wrote this super review in the New Zealand Herald (26 July, 2014):

“It has been a long wait, but an amply rewarded one, for Henry Wong Doe’s Landscape Preludes. This set of 12 New Zealand piano pieces has grown and triumphed on the concert stage in the decade since Stephen De Pledge made his first commissions.

Now, thanks to Rattle Records, with simpatico producer Kenneth Young and studio wizard Steve Garden, this iconic collection is available on CD, played by Wong Doe.

Wong Doe is a pianist who tempers flamboyance with poetry; in Gillian Whitehead’s Arapatiki, flames flicker among mellow, mysterious surroundings.

When a virtuoso is called for, Wong Doe is your man.

Lyell Cresswell’s Chiaroscuro streaks in brilliantly hued fury while the heavy industrial density that opens Michael Norris’ Machine Noise sparks and fires.

Dylan Lardelli’s music can be testing but Wong Doe ensures we sense a Bachian tangle under the meteorological malevolence of Reign.

Similarly, the pianist carefully streams and shapes the cycles of spilling out and retraction in Samuel Holloway’s volatileTerrain Vague.

Heard in its entirety, one can pick up special relationships between tracks.

The slow-burn impressionism of Gareth Farr’s A Horizon from Owhiro Bay finds echoes in the glistening sound web of Eve de Castro-Robinson’s This Liquid Drift of Light.

Wong Doe catches the brooding soliloquy of Ross Harris’ Landscape with too few lovers and enjoys bringing out those “deep earth gongs” that tremble under the surface of Jenny McLeod’s Tone Clock XVIII.

There is mischievous humour in Sleeper by the high-profile John Psathas, which plays on three possible definitions of its title. In Jack Body’s The Street Where I Live, Wong Doe’s piano flirts and skirts around the composer’s own voice, whimsically extolling the joys of his Wellington home.

After a captivating 50 minutes of infinitely varied and fascinating “landscapes”, Victoria Kelly’s Goodnight Kiwi is the perfect conclusion.

One of the first of the set to be written, this piece deals out a nostalgia of both time and place, designed to touch the Kiwi heart in all of us.

If you buy just one classical CD this year, make it Landscape Preludes.”

Henry Wong Doe

To purchase or preview the CD on iTunes, please click HERE.

NZTrio / Kingdom by David Downes

Downes - Kingdom  Downes - Kingdom 2

I had another wonderful rehearsal with NZTrio and Horo this week, where we incorporated some of the ideas for Toi Huarewa that we talked about in February – and which have been brewing in my mind since then. Only 9 days until the premiere on the 24th.

If anyone is keen to hear the Trio play before then, please head along to the Auckland Art Gallery tomorrow night for the Auckland Arts Festival White Night series – and experience the pure genius of David Downes in a performance of his piece for NZTrio and film, Kingdom.

There will be two performances – 8pm and 9pm. Make a night of it. What could be better?… Oh yes… it’s FREE!

The Big Four… Oh!

V - Web

It’s happened. I have turned forty. I approached this auspicious day via quite a fantastic mid-life crisis during which I contemplated the kind of forty year old I hoped I would be when I was a kid – and then tried to live up to my own youthful expectations (I bought a leather jacket and a pair of Doc Martens)…

My young self couldn’t possibly have imagined the 6 year old daughter and 2 year old twins who were jumping on my bed when I woke up on my birthday, or the sweet husband who made me breakfast… but among the many alterations that life brings, one thing had not changed. My love of Prince. So with the help of my superlative photographer friend Adam Custins (who’s been a kindred soul since we first met as 17 year old misfits) and my dear hairdresser Nicholas Macaulay (who’s been cutting my hair for 20 years), I finally realised my dream of the ultimate dress-up.

My birthday party (for which this photo was the invitation) saw, among other things, the reunion of my very first band, Voodoo Love, performing our ancient BFM Hit Single, ‘The Man From Atlantis‘. The guitarist is now an architect. The drummer is now an event lighting manager & technician and the bass player is now a fireman!

Too much fun was had. Too much champagne. Too much noise and too much dancing. Absolutely perfect.

RWC Opening Ceremony 2011

So, it’s now the 12th of September, the months of work that went into our 20 minute RWC Opening Ceremony have disappeared in the blink of an eye, it’s all done and dusted and I’m at home listening to music that has nothing to do with the Rugby World Cup, for the first time since March.  It will be hard to avoid cliché as I write about this experience, because it was so extraordinary. Something like this only comes along once in a lifetime and I want to do it justice, but I guess to an objective reader there’s a certain threshold for positive adjectives, so I’ll try to bear that in mind in the next few paragraphs.

It goes without saying that this was a huge thing to be a part of.  I had no idea what I was in for when I took the job. There was a moment of realisation somewhere along the way, not long after I began. I was walking down the street after a meeting where we’d started to discuss the musical requirements in detail and the reality hit me. I stopped dead in my tracks, broke into a cold sweat and thought ‘How on earth did I get myself into this – and (more importantly) how am I going to get myself out?’  So, take it as a given that there were some long hours and some stressful moments along the way.  But all of those things pale into insignificance in the context of the event – and that isn’t just hindsight talking.

The personal highlight of this experience has been stepping inside my own culture and seeing it from a totally new perspective. We live where we live and we are who we are, but how many of us ever really explore our immediate environment? We’re much more likely to explore the culture of a foreign country than we are our own. I work in a lot of different areas within the music industry here and so I’m aware of the musical landscape in New Zealand, but I also tend to work within my area of experience – so stepping into unfamiliar worlds and getting involved in them has been illuminating and inspiring for me. Music is the perfect career for an idealist like me, because I think it’s one medium where it really is possible to create an ideal world and bypass the stuff that plagues reality.  And if there was ever a forum for an ideal musical world, it would surely be an international event – where you have an opportunity to not only show a huge number of people who you are, but also who you could be, or who you should be.

So, some highlights (and I can’t fit them all in this post, so more will follow in other posts):

1.  We gathered 50 Maori men to perform a Pukaea fanfare for the ceremony. What most people watching wouldn’t know is that these men travelled to Auckland from all over New Zealand – and that making up this group were representatives from every single Iwi (tribe) in the country (made possible by Te Puni Kokiri). I guess with the lights and the costumes and the spectacle, it’s easy to imagine that these things are all done for effect… but this group of guys were amazing and I was really overwhelmed to be part of a complete assembly of whakapapa (genealogy) and to witness such an incredible display of pride.  When the guys weren’t rehearsing, they kept themselves busy doing Flash Mob Hakas, managing to score a few hundred thousand You Tube hits in the process.

2.  I’d heard Cook Island log drums (Drums of the Pacific) performed many times before, but  nothing can prepare you for the moment when you’re standing, watching a group of drummers set up, and then one of them starts noodling on a rhythm while everyone else is still talking… your inexperienced ears think he’s just fooling around, and you don’t really discern what he’s doing because it seems to be part of the background noise, but what he’s actually doing is telling the other drummers what pattern they’re about to play and how long they’re going to play for… at which point everyone suddenly and unexpectedly erupts in furious and precise synchronicity for a few seconds – and then, as quickly as they began, they stop and resume talking as if nothing happened. (And you’d think that the drummers would talk very loudly too, because the drums are LOUD, but they don’t – they hardly get above a whisper!)

3.  It was pretty great to walk into a meeting with the creative team one day and say  ‘I’ve had an idea… I want to get a huge group of ukeleles for the World in Union arrangement…’ and have them say, ‘Great!’  And then to head out into the community and find a person who’s actually capable of assembling a group of ukelele players (New Zealand Ukelele Trust). And then to gather some professional ukelele players in a studio to record the parts – discovering along the way an incredible musical eco-system of passionate performers and fierce educators who can happily burst into any song you can think of.  And then, a few months later, to find yourself in a rehearsal room with 100 ukelele players – many of them kids – and hear them start playing a chord that sounds like a flight of butterflies, rendering the rest of the room (about 500 other musicians) silent with such a tiny, gorgeous instrument.


Anyone looking closely at the dates of these most recent posts will notice something of a gap between Womad and The Almighty Johnsons.  Here’s the reason. These little people arrived 2 weeks after we wrapped Almighty Johnsons.   Frankie (a little girl) on the left.  Fred (a little boy) on the right.