From words to music

2 October 2017

NZ TRIO composers

Composition students Abby Pinkerton and Xu Tang with Associate Professor Martin Lodge.

Two University of Waikato student composers have hit the right notes, making the finals of a national competition.

Abby Pinkerton and Xu Tang’s compositions have been selected for the finals of the NZTrio composition competition which means their pieces have been workshopped and will be performed in Wellington and Auckland later this month.

The competition brief required them to use the words of a New Zealand poet or author to inspire a work for a piano trio, that’s piano, violin and cello.

Abby, completing her honours year for a Bachelor of Music, used Ruth Dallas’s poem ‘A Pioneer Cottage’ as the basis for her work Whispers and Echoes.

She says the poem creates a strong image of a house that once contained human life, memories, and the pattering of children’s feet, “but now it contains a new sort of life, it’s a home for wildlife with the structure transformed and trees winding their way around the walls and through the ceiling”.

“In Whispers and Echoes I used the powerful imagery, where deep echoes of the house still carry the whispers of past songs and conversations. It begins with a very sparse texture, with pizzicato and harmonics in the strings, as if the house is talking, and moves on to the wilder sounds of nature that now reside there, building into a ‘blossoming’ climax.”

Abby says she was attracted to the competition as it was a good opportunity to get exposure for her work, and to have it workshopped by some of New Zealand’s top performers. “To be able to get feedback from a player’s point of view is so valuable,” she says.

Links with Rewi Alley

PhD student Xu Tang’s work One Two Three used Rewi Alley’s poem ‘Home’ for his inspiration. Alley spent 60 years living in China and understood the culture well, its history and politics, Xu says. “I have that in common with him. I have been studying and living for many years in New Zealand, and that attracted me to Alley’s interest in the connection with a different culture. His understanding was expressed through his poems, and this notion is implied in my work.

“‘Home’ not only embodied his love of Beijing but there is also a Chinese flavour floating between the lines. This affected the compositional techniques of this piece and the development of its structure. Alley’s poetry and my work are both based on the notion of ‘giving’,” says Xu.

Head of composition at Waikato Associate Professor Martin Lodge says Abby and Xu’s success reflects the high level of creativity and technical mastery evident generally in the work of Waikato’s music composition students. “I think a number of our young composers are destined for distinguished professional careers in music,” he says.

One Two Three and Whispers and Echoes will be performed by the NZTrio on 15 October in Wellington and 20 October in Auckland.