Tag Archives: organ & orchestra

A quick trip home!

16 Mar

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:


I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists (with movements about Alfred Nobel, Nikola Tesla, Gertrude Elion and Ernest Rutherford), which I’m singing and he’s playing on piano. He and I are also working on Douglas Lilburn’s Sings Harry (as well as a few other rarer Lilburn songs), and performing them at a few concerts. Also, he’s quite a nifty wordsmith and comedy songwriter… these skills will also be on display.

Grooves Unspoken album coverYvette Audain‘s axes of choice are saxophone and clarinet. She’ll join me for the North Island première of my new Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano (a piece funded by the Wallace Arts Trust). She’s also a great composer who last year released an album of work called Grooves Unspoken, for which I did the design and layout.

This house concert is on Sunday 19 April, and you can book in one of two ways:
Secure your seat with a donation
– Reserve a place and donate on the night: rannoch@wallaceartstrust.org.nz or 027 472 3669

There’s a recommended donation set at $40: this is kinda necessary because I’ve had to pay for my flights back to New Zealand on this trip (long set in advance). I would love to see you there! RSVP on Facebook if you will.

Lunchtime concert at the University of Otago, Wed 15 April.
Pre-concert talk for the APO, Thu 16 April.
Lunchtime concert at the University of Waikato, Wed 22 April.
– I do a concert at 1pm in Hamilton, and fly out of Auckland Airport at 7:30pm. Doable.

PS I’m also in Seattle from 1 to 5 April. Will be nice to visit that city again.

Now this is a story all about how

6 May

Yo quiero Liberty Bell.

Yo quiero Liberty Bell.

I’m in Philadelphia. I’m so near the end of my travels. There’s an organ concert on in two weeks’ time in Auckland, which contains my piece Relish in Immature Bombast. I made a video, because I’m staying just a few blocks away from the biggest (working) organ in the world.

This was made at the request of SOUNZ – The Centre for New Zealand Music. They do great things – music retail (scores, CDs, DVDs, books), reference library services, music promotion – for New Zealand art music. Normally they’d send someone with a camera to get me to answer questions, but last time I checked they didn’t have a branch office here… or anywhere outside Wellington.

If you haven’t booked your tickets for Organ Spectacular, this whole paragraph is a link to the event page on the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s website. The APO has a Buy Tickets link and tickets are only $15 for students and $25 for real humans. You really should buy said tickets and come to this concert on Thursday 23 May.

And there’s a Facebook event too.

Now ONTO THE VIDEO! You can hear four tiny bits of my piece scattered throughout the four-minute span. And you should go to SOUNZ’s transcript which has linky links to information and stuff.

And thanks to my improviser friend and Philadelphia native Bobbi Block for doing some of the videoing.


9 Dec

Charmian Smith interviewed me for the Otago Daily Times – article m’nyahr.

Robbie’s arbitrarily selective list of “new music” in 2013

26 Oct

Many performing arts organisations released their 2013 programmes this month, including APO, CMNZ and NZSO (in chronological order). I have combed their offerings to assemble a list of “new music” you can hear next year, if you’re interested in such things.

Classification of what “new music” is is entirely arbitrary. An asterisk * indicates a world première. Unless noted, all dates are the Auckland performances, because that’s where I’m living next year and this list is primarily for my benefit. My arbitrariness extends to a level of laziness sufficient not to chronicle the entire country.

Also, lots of organisations with smaller budgets are yet to announce their programmes. No, I probably won’t keep updating this list as they do.

(Added 1 November: Auckland Arts Festival.)
(Added 6 November: Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, even though they’re coming nowhere near Auckland.)
(Added 7 November: Michael Hill International Violin Competition, with its NZ test piece.)
(Added 16 November: the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson. Quite a lot of “new” music there.)

New Zealand “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: Jack Body’s expansion/reworking of his  Carmen Dances from 2002. Pity I’ll be in the USA in March. (Photo: apo.co.nz)

* Chris Adams: Mahuika (Nicholas Sutcliffe, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
Christopher Blake: Till Human Voices Wake Us (James Egglestone, NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 24 April, Wellington only)
Jack Body: Arum Manis (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
* Jack Body: Songs and Dances of Desire (Norio Sato, Xiao Ma, Anna Pierard, APO/Kenneth Young – 8 March)
* Jack Body: [new work for solo violin] (Michael Hill International Violin Competition semi-finalists – 2-3 July, Queenstown)
* Claire Cowan: [new work for piano trio] (NZTrio – 8 May)
Lyell Cresswell: Concerto for piano and orchestra (Stephen De Pledge, CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Phil Dadson: MAYA (CSO/Tecwyn Evans – 16 Feb, CH)
* Eve de Castro-Robinson: the glittering hosts of heaven (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 21 June)
* Robbie Ellis: Relish in Immature Bombast (Tim Noon, Jono Sawyer, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May) THAT’S ME 🙂
David Farquhar: Short Suite from Ring Round the Moon (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 12-19 October, Wellington, Otago & Southland only)
* Gao Ping: The Mountain (CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Gao Ping: Su Xie Si Ti – Four Sketches (NZTrio – 24 March)
Gareth Farr: Ahi (NZTrio – 8 February, Nelson)
Gareth Farr: The Nor’West Arch (CSO/Tom Woods – 31 August, CH)
* Gareth Farr: [new work for string quartet] (Goldner String Quartet – 3 October)
(*) Gareth Farr/Richard Nunns: Ngā Kete o Toru (Horomona Horo, NZTrio – 24 March)
* David Hamilton: Chimera (John Wells, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Ben Hoadley: Huia (Indra Hughes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Samuel Holloway: [new work] (some or all of Jack Liebeck, Victoria Sayles, Julia Joyce, Andrew Joyce & Stephen De Pledge – 15-31 July, closest is Hamilton)
Ross Harris: Chaconne for solo viola (Gillian Ansell – 2 February, Nelson)
* Ross Harris: String Quartet No 5, Songs from Childhood (New Zealand String Quartet – 6 February, Nelson)
* Ross Harris: Symphony No 5 (Sally-Anne Russell, APO/Eckehard Stier – 15 August)
* Ross Harris: [new work for flute, saxophone & piano] (Rebecca Steele, Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
* Martin Jaenecke: Meditation (instrumentation TBA – 8 February, Nelson)
* Victoria Kelly: Toi Huarewa/Suspended Way (Horomona Horo, NZTrio – 24 March)
Douglas Lilburn: Drysdale Overture (APO/Nicholas Altstaedt – 5 September)
* Jenny McLeod: [new song cycle] (Jenny Wollerman & Emma Sayers – 6 February, Nelson)
* Philip Norman: Mahy (Juliet Reynolds, Tainui Kuru, CSO/Kenneth Young – 4 May, CH)
Larry Pruden: Soliloquy for strings (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 12 April)
John Psathas: Abisheka (New Zealand String Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
John Psathas: Helix (NZTrio – 6 February, Nelson)
John Psathas: Orpheus in Rarohenga (Jenny Wollerman, Paul Whelan, Orpheus Choir of Wellington, NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 25 May)
John Ritchie: String Quartet (Penderecki String Quartet – 6 February, Nelson)
Craig Utting arr. Owen Moriarty: Onslow Suite, 2nd mvt (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
* Ed Ware: Duo for saxophone & viola (Martin & Victoria Jaenecke – 8 February, Nelson)
* Ryan Youens: Tiraki (Nicholas Forbes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Anthony Young: Thirteen – Theme and Variations (Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)

Living Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: Kalevi Aho’s piano concerto is fifty-odd minutes of childlike play. I can only imagine what his percussion concerto with Colin Currie will be like. (Photo: fennicagehrman.fi)

John Adams: Harmonielehre (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 25 May)
Thomas Adès: Three Studies from Couperin (APO/Garry Walker – 30 May)
Kalevi Aho: Sieidi (Colin Currie, NZSO/Osmo Vänskä – 13 July)
Sérgio Assad: Uacarena (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Chen Yi: Tibetan Tunes (NZTrio – 24 March)
Ross Edwards: Symphony No 1, Da pacem Domine (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 24 April, Wellington only)
Marc Eychenne: Cantilène et Danse (Rebecca Steele, Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Sofia Gubaidulina: Lied ohne Worte (TBA who… probably Martin Jaenecke on saxophone, but it’s a trumpet & piano piece? – 8 February, Nelson)
Christos Hatzis: Quartet (Penderecki String Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Ian Krouse: Antique Suite after Neusidler (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Ram Narayan (arr Kronos transc. Ljova): Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Arvo Pärt: Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (NZSO/Osmo Vänskä – 13 July)
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus (APO/Eckehard Stier – 7 November)
Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 (Kronos Quartet – 9 March)
Wolfgang Rihm: String Quartet No 11 (Minguet Quartet – 3 February, Nelson)
Paul Schoenfield: Café Music (NZTrio – 8 February, Nelson)
Bright Sheng: Four Movements for piano trio (NZTrio – 8 May)
Valentyn Silvestrov: String Quartet No 3 (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Tan Dun: Ghost Opera (Wu Man & Kronos Quartet – 9 March)
Tan Dun: Martial Arts Trilogy (Ryu Goto, Tan Wei, Yingdi Sun, NZSO/Tan Dun – 15 February)
Mark-Anthony Turnage: Scherzoid (APO/Eckehard Stier – 21 February)
Aleksandra Vrebalov: …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Piano Trio (NZTrio – 8 May)
Wu Man/David Harrington/Chen Shi-Zheng: A Chinese Home (Wu Man & Kronos Quartet – 9 March)

Dead Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: The Rake’s Progress. How badass is the APO for putting that on? (Picture: wikipedia.org)

Alexander Arutiunian: Trumpet Concerto (Brent Grapes, APO/Eckehard Stier – 28 February)
Béla Bartók: Music for strings, percussion and celesta (APO/Rory Macdonald – 4 July)
Béla Bartók: Rhapsody No 1 for violin & piano (Douglas Beilman & Péter Nágy – 7 February, Nelson)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No 5 (Penderecki String Quartet – 7 February, Nelson)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No  6 (Tokyo String Quartet – 14 June)
Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story Symphonic Dances (CSO/Tom Woods – 23 November)
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto (Kolja Blacher, NZSO/Lawrence Renes – 28 September)
Benjamin Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (NZSO/Joana Carneiro – 8 November)
Benjamin Britten: War Requiem (Orla Boylan, Timothy Robinson, Ivan Ludlow, Voices NZCC/Karen Grylls, APO/Eckehard Stier – 23 March)
Paul Hindemith: Cello Concerto (Johannes Moser, APO/Michał Dworzyński – 16 May)
Zoltán Kodály: Dances of Galánta (APO/Nicholas Collon – 20 June)
Erich Korngold: Piano Trio (NZTrio – 2-16 May, closest is Hamilton)
Erich Korngold: Symphony in F# (APO/Eckehard Stier – 1 August)
György Ligeti: Trio for horn, violin & piano (Robert Johnson, Helene Pohl & Péter Nágy – 3 February, Nelson)
Bohuslav Martinů: Julietta Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 1 August)
Bohuslav Martinů: Madrigal Stanzas (Jack Liebeck & Stephen De Pledge – 22 July)
Ástor Piazzolla: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (CSO/Tom Woods – 25 May CH, 26 May TIM)
Francis Poulenc: Flute Sonata (Rebecca Steele & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Francis Poulenc: Les Biches Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)
Arnold Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande (APO/Eckehard Stier – 25 July)
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (APO/Eckehard Stier – 14 November)
Alexander Scriabin: Symphony No 4, Poem of Ecstasy (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 22 March, Wellington only)
Alexander Scriabin: Twelve Preludes (Péter Nágy – 2 February, Nelson)
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird, 1919 version (CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Igor Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress (Andrew Goodwin, Madeleine Pierard, Paul Whelan, Liane Keegan, Helen Medlyn, Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus/John Rosser, APO/Eckehard Stier – 9 August)
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CSO/Tom Woods – 31 August, CH) START A BLOODY RIOT
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (APO/Eckehard Stier – 14 November) START A BLOODY RIOT Take 2
Igor Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale (Julia Milsom, Emma Johnston, George Parker, CSO/Hamish McKeich & Peter Falkenberg – 18 & 19 September, CH)
Jenő Takács: Two Fantastics (Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Assobio a Jato (Bridget Douglas & Rolf Gjelsten – 2 February, Nelson)
Kurt Weill: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)
Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)


– The Penderecki Quartet in Nelson Lakes National Park (5 February) – includes works by Erwin Schulhoff & Marjan Mozetich
– Richard Nunns at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in the morning, and in the evening with Whirimako Black (6 February)
– Wu Man at the Auckland Arts Festival (10 March) – lots of major composers have written for pipa for her
– NZSO National Youth Orchestra/Richard Gill (31 August) – includes “NZSO Todd Corporation Young Composer Awards Commission”
– APO Sanctuary Series: Percussion & Friends (7 & 9 October) – likely to include “new music”
– The Tallis Scholars (23 October) – performing works by John Tavener & Arvo Pärt.

Upbeat on Upbeat

28 Sep

Just had an interview with Eva Radich on Radio New Zealand Concert’s Upbeat programme. I talk about:

Eva joins the list of people who don’t like the title ‘Relish in Immature Bombast’. I suggest it’s still no less ridiculous than ‘Concerto for Organ, Drum Kit and Orchestra No 1’.

Listen below:

Upbeat – 28 September 2012 – Robbie Ellis

When plans change.

11 Sep

I'm probably not supposed to do this to the logo.A month ago I was informed that my application for the 2013 University of Otago Mozart Fellowship was unsuccessful.

Given the largely consistent pattern in the last decade of Mozart Fellows having two years on the trot, I was under the illusion that a second term was assured as long as you were doing good work and got your application in on time.

Obviously I was wrong – all applications are assessed against each other fairly and without favouritism. Consequently I offer my congratulations to composer Samuel Holloway and the four other fellows just announced.

I’m grateful one of the selection panel rang me to break the news personally. Extending the courtesy of a phone call sure beats the terse two-sentence letter subsequently posted to me by the university’s HR department.

Still, it hardly lessened the effective kick in the guts. I went into a disbelieving stupor – after all, two years in a row was standard. What the hell had I done wrong? How was my application deficient? Had I made an irrevocable departmental political faux pas at some point? Had I spent too much time outside Dunedin? (..he asked during his fourth trip to Auckland that year.)

Fortunately for me, I had to put all that bullshit aside and project positivity onto two high school music events later that day. At lunchtime, the St Peter’s & St Mary’s Sinfonia rehearsed my piece General Intransigence and I contributed the composer’s opinion. In the evening, I definitely needed an upbeat demeanour to present the monstrously large Westlake Music Gala, part of my high school’s 50th Jubilee: four hours of music from 17 different ensembles over two sessions.

In the intervening month, when I haven’t been wallowing in my own pity and being unproductive, I’ve had time to think about what I could get up to next year. I’ve reached the following conclusions with myself:

  • Shit happens. You had no divine right to a second year.
  • You’ve still got just half of your Fellowship time left. Pull your head in and do some more bloody work – that’s what you’re getting paid for.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to have your plans messed with. As Patti Stiles would say, every offer is a gift.
  • As annoying as it is to move cities twice in one year, Dunedin is not the place for a theatrico-comedic composer to make a freelance living. Without full-time employment, full-time study or any family ties here, I’ve got to move away. The lease on my unit comes up on 31 December, so it’s got to be before then.
  • As much fun as the busy annual summer festival season is (Wellington Fringe, Auckland Fringe, Dunedin Fringe etc), it’s financially a slow start to the year if you’re not in full-time employment. It’s not essential to my livelihood to be around for it.
  • It’s high time I did some sustained overseas travel. Consequently I will go to Central and North America from January to May next year, moving from south to north as the weather improves. First to Mexico to hang out and indulge my once-upon-a-time obsession with all music Latin American, then onto major hubs such as LA, Chicago, Toronto, NYC, etc for improv theatre and sketch comedy. Take some workshops, sit in on some gigs, see what comes.
  • The first commitments I have in 2013 are both in Auckland (reminder: APO Organ Spectacular, 23 May 2013, Auckland Town Hall), so it’s high time I based myself in the city of my birth for a while. Since moving away in 2008, I’ve continually kept up useful professional connections there, so I have enough opportunity to make a freelance living. Let’s do that then.
  • Despite working within in a university department this year, I still have no grand desire to embark on further postgraduate study. But if I change my mind, depending on what I want to pursue, the University of Otago and Dunedin would be quite pleasant places to work indeed. I will keep them in mind.
  • Nobody can hold the Mozart Fellowship for more than two years. Being rejected for 2013 means that I can apply for a second term some years in the future. If I’d retained the Fellowship for next year, I wouldn’t have that opportunity.

On that optimistic note, I leave you with this YouTube embed. Two years ago I went through a relationship break-up. At the same time, I had recently seen the episode of Making Tracks where Nick D visits Trinidad. Sitting at my desk at RNZ, unable to do any work, I played this relentlessly positive Soca hit over and over and over again. Actually, “hit” is an appropriate word – every time I played it, it was like getting a dose of cheeriness morphine.


Trip to Auckland!

7 May

I’m going to Auckland tonight. Given my history of hurriedly writing blog posts at Dunedin airport just before boarding, I thought I’d give myself a two-and-a-bit-hour head start.

The scores I need for my trip to Auckland. Thanks to Alison at the Music office for doing the binding.

Plenty of projects for my four days up in Auckland.

Seeing the family. Always a pleasure, never a chore. Mightily convenient for an airport pick-up too 🙂

Beatrice. A cor anglais solo feature, just a 1-minute thing, extracted from a larger work. Tomorrow day, the APO plays it in an Education Concert in the Town Hall. I might have to say something from the stage.

Relish in Immature Bombast. This is the biggie, the piece for organ, drum kit and orchestra. My hope is that none of the three instruments feel like they need to hold back in volume. The organ can go for it (piloted by Timothy Noon), it can compete with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (conducted by Hamish McKeich), and the kit player (Jono Sawyer) doesn’t have to do that awkward classical-crossover thing of playing down when he’d rather rock out.

I’ve written half the piece. Hopefully I’m on the right track and I can write the rest without a whole heap of revision.

The Piano Tuner’s Performance Appraisal. I wrote this in nine days for the Estrella Quartet. They’re four piano students at the University of Auckland, tutored by Stephen De Pledge, who won the ROSL competition last year and have a tour to the UK in July/August. My programme note is this, verbatim:

ELLIS, Robbie (1984-): The Piano Tuner’s Performance Appraisal. File under (N) Novelty; (P) Piano Music; (S) Serialism.

General Intransigence. Commissioned by a high school orchestra, the St Peter’s & St Mary’s Sinfonia. Their conductor is Antun Poljanich, also Music Director of Auckland Youth Orchestra (who I’m writing a piece for later this year). SPASMS is performing General Intransigence for the first time on Thursday next week – I won’t be able to see it, but I can come to a rehearsal. Early morning start before school… man, I haven’t kept such hours since I was in the Westlake Concert Band, and I have to get from Greenhithe to Newmarket in peak hour. Whaaa.

Comedy Fest. My first in many years in which I am not a performer – so no performer’s pass and no standby free entry into gigs. Lame. That’s like, totally, discrimination against South Island residents. Never mind that I’m not doing a show, I totally would be if I was living in Auckland or Wellington.

Watching the Gala on TV, I quite liked the look of Milton Jones – hope to get to his show at The Classic. He stands out from the others, I quite like his style.

Auckland Art Gallery. Hanging out at an exhibition opening down here in Dunners got me a free ticket to an exhibition in Auckland. Thank you, Chris Saines (Director of the Auckland Art Gallery) – I’m looking forward to Degas to Dali.

Various coffees. Enough said.

Stop organ, stop organ, I don’t want to talk any more

3 Apr

I think this is the "Swell Box"... err... I really can't remember.

The Auckland Town Hall Organ has a lot of stops – 84, in fact. Despite having been on a tour of the instrument and consulted the fantastically comprehensive resource that is the Organ Trust’s website, I can make neither head nor tail of the stop list.

It has designations like:

  • Posaune 16 ext #14
  • Double Open Diapason 16
  • Salicional 8
  • Hohl Flute 8
  • Wald Flute 4
  • Nazard 2 2/3
  • Superoctave 2
  • Sharp Mixture IV

The numbers I mostly understand. 16 = the length in feet of the longest pipe (which is generally a C). So Wald Flute sounds an octave above Hohl Flute because the pipes are half as long, I get that. But what the hell is the difference between those two colours anyway? ‘Wald’ means ‘forest’, I know, but ‘Hohl’? The only German words like that I know are ‘Hohle’ (pit or cave) and ‘Hölle’ (hell). I didn’t know they played flutes in hellish caves.

Another hazard is the Nazard. For a start, does this rhyme with ‘hazard’ or ‘huzzahed’? The latter, by the way, is the totally legitimate past tense of the verb ‘to huzzah’, i.e. to greet someone or something with glee using the word ‘huzzah’ (modified form of ‘hooray’).

Superoctave is just like Regular Octave, except he wears a cape and his undies on the outside of his trousers.

I think I understand what Posaune 16 #14 means. One of the great works for orchestra involving organ is Mahler’s Symphony No 8, commonly known as the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. ‘Posaune’ is the German word for ‘trombone’, and in this work Mahler calls for a particularly large brass section – well, two brass sections actually. The second of those sections is a bit removed from the action, and sometimes the conductor finds it difficult to communicate with them in rehearsal. As part of the restoration, Orgelbau Klais installed a PABX system and phone jacks throughout the Auckland Town Hall, and you can reach the 16th Trombone on a three-digit extension: #14 (hash-one-four).

Salicional reminds me of the word ‘salacious’. If you commit too many Salicional acts in your lifetime, do you get sent to the Hohl Flute for the rest of eternity?

Double Open Diapason… I’ve never been clear what on earth a diapason is. I can only think of the American word ‘diaper’… the thought of a double-open diaper makes me glad I don’t have children.

Last of all, Sharp Mixture made me want to follow that particular IP address. There’s no website behind it, but apparently it’s assigned to a place called Dearborn – presumably Dearborn, Michigan, USA, world headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “Any organist can have any tone colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Instead of trying to get my head around what all these colours mean, I’m leaving the nitty-gritty of registrations up to the organist, then I can come in and say “Yeah… nah… more of that… less of that…”. I’m merely giving the player broad ideas of what sound I want. So far my designations include:

  • with solid front on the note
  • foghorn with front
  • flutey and fruity
  • with bass guitar-like definition
  • saxophonic
  • clarinettish, with plenty of front
  • Hammond cheese, vibrato if possible? (use a swell box)
  • vengeful cheese!
  • vengeful foghorn
  • a little more flutey

In this respect, the detail is not my problem.

Organ & Orchestra developments

27 Mar

Pull out _all_ the stops!

Yesterday I was catching up on podcasts from Upbeat.

Phil Brownlee reviewed a concert by NZTrio in which they brought in a drum kit for Kenji Bunch’s Concerto for piano trio and percussion (from 10:38):

“It’s often challenging in a concert setting. […] [An] issue with the drum kit is just the balance, particularly if you’re alluding to the rock setting, the rock-jazz kind of sound. Early on the piece it felt like Lenny Sakofsky was holding it down to balance with the trio and it doesn’t sound like a drum kit until you start hitting it hard.”

This resonated [pun] with me, as earlier that day I’d begun writing my own concerto for organ, drum kit and orchestra. Its working title is Relish in Immature Bombast, and I don’t want the kit player to feel at all like he needs to play down, because that’s when drum kit playing starts to suck.

(Image modified with apologies to Hyperbole and a Half.)

Orchan & Orgestra

3 Mar

I am one of six participant composers in the APO’s Town Hall Organ Composition Project. Yuss. We are each writing a piece for organ and orchestra – we’ve got three workshops this year, and a concert on 2 May 2013 23 May 2013. (Save the date.)

This is a joint venture of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Auckland Town Hall Organ Trust. A week or so ago I had a tour of the instrument and saw the innards… probably not every single innard, but most of the 5,291 of them. Here’s the back end of the console:

In due course I will blog further about this project, but for now I want to take you back in time to the application process in October 2011. I sketched this at my desk at work:

Roughly the first 40 seconds of my piece for organ and orchestra.

The above was my guide for the first of two a cappella mockups:

Organ & Orchestra Mockups by Robbie Ellis on SoundCloud

The call for proposals asked composers to give their ideas, and these audio snippets accompanied my application. They helped to illustrate my ideas as set out in my cover letter, reproduced below.


Lee Martelli
Education Programme Manager, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
PO Box 56024
Dominion Rd
Auckland 1446

31 October 2011

Dear Lee,

I am writing to apply for a place in the 2012-2013 APO Composers’ Workshop, to write a piece for organ and orchestra.

My connection to the APO goes back to my school days, with the Young Composers Competition and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra. As a participant in the 2010-2011 Composers’ Workshop, I felt very fortunate to renew that connection, and I would be grateful to continue it in the next two years.

As the 2012 University of Otago Mozart Fellow, I will be in the fortunate position of being able to compose full-time, and I would love to be involved in this project. Although I am moving to Dunedin in January, I will be involved in several other North Island-based productions in 2012, so I will be able to attend workshops.

I have never written for organ before but, to be fair, few New Zealand composers have. My concept is to subvert its grandeur, and to set the king of (keyboard) instruments against the peasant of keyboard instruments. So far, I’ve come up with three ideas to incorporate into a 10-minute piece:

  1. Organ and drum kit. I want to assign one of the percussionists to drum kit only. The kit will be a near-constant presence throughout the entire piece, playing in a heavy funk/rock/ironic bebop/dubstep/metal/Mr Bungle-like style. In parts, the work will seem like a double concerto, but it will never step over the line of having to pay a second soloist’s fee. (That’s what any good orchestra manager wants to hear, right?)
  2. Creepy Southern Californian/Las Vegas horror music. Again in the vein of Mr Bungle, I want to make the Klais organ sound like a cheesy, seedy, louche rotary Hammond. It’s as if a Southern Baptist church organist turned into a moral deviant, lived on the railroads for a couple of years with a bottle of Jack Daniels for company, and ended up in Vegas accompanying D-list Broadway performers in a shagpile-lined 70s nightclub. With more than a touch of lounge music and bossa nova, this isn’t real Brazilian music. It’s the Bastard Step-Child of Ipanema as interpreted by gringos who don’t quite Getz it.
  3. [redacted to retain the element of surprise]

Please listen to the attached CD [ed: the above SoundCloud embed] for massive multi-voice mock-ups of Points 1 and 2:

  • Track 1 is my idea for the opening of the piece. It’s hard to tell what instrument is what (and to be fair, I don’t know yet either), but the organ enters at 0:18.
  • Track 2 is an example of Creepy Southern Californian/Las Vegas horror music. In my vocal mockups, being in-tune is always a secondary consideration.

I can’t give you confirmed instrumentation yet, this depends on how the piece turns out. I can tell you the following:

  • The piece will not exceed the stated instrumentation.
  • One percussionist will be on drum kit only.
  • I will use every brass player you make available to me.
  • There probably won’t be a harp.
  • Ooh, a celeste. That sounds yummy.

Please find attached my application form and scores of two of my past orchestral works, Feral and Fanfare 10. This should suffice for my application, and I look forward to hearing the results of the selection process.

Yours sincerely,

[the not-so-elaborate scrawl that passes for my signature]

Robbie Ellis

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