Tag Archives: radio

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:

Robbie-Ellis-Rannoch-RGB

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.

Also:
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.

Fact of the Day, Day, Day, Day, Day

20 Aug

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is an organisation I’ve had plenty to do with since I was a teenager. They played my first orchestral compositions (now blessedly forgotten); they ran the New Zealand Secondary Schools Symphony Orchestra when I played double bass, their concerts introduced me to such key works as Mahler 3, Concierto de Aranjuez and the West Side Story Symphonic Dances; and that’s all before I’d left high school.

Now I’m an adult[citation needed], I’ve done damn near everything for the orchestra except play in it. Composing, arranging, MCing, pre-concert talks (like next week’s concert), video production, tutoring high school composers for APOPS, and I regularly present radio broadcasts of their concerts on Radio New Zealand Concert (e.g. in two weeks’ time).

Yesterday, I added “conducting” and “fronting for commercial radio” to my APO CV.

Fletch, Vaughan & Megan present the breakfast show on the Top 40 station ZM, and one of their regular segments is “Fact of the Day”. The three of them perform the musical intro sting live every morning:

Last week they pondered having it performed by an orchestra. Long story short:
– ZM is part of The Radio Network
– TRN’s parent company is APN
– APN publishes the New Zealand Herald
– The Herald is the naming rights sponsor of the APO’s 12-concert Premier Series
– TRN talked to APO Sponsorship
– APO Sponsorship talked to APO Artistic
– APO Artistic talked to me.

The Artistic Planning Manager might have been thinking of these vocal mockups from 2011. They were part of my proposal to write the piece that would become Relish in Immature Bombast:

This isn’t thaat far apart from what Fletch, Vaughan and Megan do every morning. A few more voices, a few more octaves, but just as out of tune!

I did two different arrangements: one straight as per their style, and a sad version “for serious facts”.

factofthedayscorep1factofthedayscorep2

(I actually worked on these arrangements while in the broadcast booth for Bach’s St John Passion.)

Then came the recording. The three ZM DJs, plus a cohort of videographers, soundies and social media folk, turned up to Philharmonia Hall in Mt Eden. They had their fun in and around the orchestra’s rehearsal space following the full orchestra’s James Bond rehearsal, while the Operations team, with their usual military precision, took exactly 15 minutes to clear the room of extraneous players and set up for an 18-piece string orchestra.

Then it was on me! I’m not a conductor by training or even by habit, but I did get to do these dozen bars as my professional orchestra conducting debut. Was a bit scary demonstrating musicality in front of full-time players who know me more as a composer and general loudmouth, but I got through it by summoning all of my conducting training (one semester with Dr Karen Grylls, nine years ago… I think I got an A- or B+).

It’ll be used for Fact of the Day on air tomorrow morning at about 8:20am, and it’s also in a video on zmonline.com! Click through to enjoy my conducting, Vanessa Carlton piano skills, and general social media fronting.

Freelancing. It’s a fun job.

Update: It’s in the morning show podcast, listen from 44:48)

Speaking of Vanessa Carlton, I uploaded this yesterday:

We’re on a radio show about the arts on Sunday

15 Feb

It’s taking me all my will power to avoid writing Arts on Sunday when referring to Radio New Zealand National’s rebranded programme Standing Room Only.

Oh, Lynn Freeman’s still presenting, Simon Morris is still producing, Justin Gregory is still doing his out-and-about reports, but they’ve got a new name for 2014.

Yesterday (Friday) Andrew Grenon and I were interviewed in a pre-record for The Laugh Track, a segment where ostensibly funny people get to select their favourite comedy. They’re going to play bits of our videos under the banner Politics The Opera. Here are those videos:

Our other-people music choices start with Victor Borge’s pastiche of Mozart opera, specifically the bit about tenor arias from 3:47:

Then Corwin Newall’s amazing a cappella number Bass, which I really should have asked to upload to SoundCloud or something… this was a product of Song Sale Dunedin.

Finally, Tim Minchin. Not one of his amazing wordy, wickedly funny numbers with impeccable logical constructions and syllogisms, rather a far less wordy and achingly expressive but less funny number still with impeccable logical constructions and syllogisms:

…but not this recording. The far more beautiful one from Tim Minchin vs the Sydney Symphony that was broadcast on ABC television, which isn’t up on YouTube. That recording has amazingly warm piano sound which balances with and cushions Minchin’s voice, as opposed to the above YouTube clip which pushes the voice way out front and centre, not letting his natural little adjustments to the piano texture leave room for his voice (which they do)… argh. Mixing is hard.

Speaking of mixing (and writing and recording and editing and mastering), I made this theme tune this week for this show:

Anyway, back on topic to me and Andrew, not Christine Brooks. Listen in live at 2pm tomorrow (Sunday)! I can’t, cause I’ll be working. Standing Room Only tends not to podcast the Laugh Track segment, so listening live is usually your only option. DO IT.

Song Sale Auckland

13 Feb

Song Sale, which started in Wellington and which I brought to Dunedin, is starting in Auckland! Almost seems like we’re franchising this thing proper…

I’ve wanted to start Song Sale Auckland since I settled in the city of my birth in May last year. I’ve held off until now because I only entered Auckland’s stand-up comedy scene a couple of months ago. Now I feel I have the contacts to make it work…

So it’s taking place on Monday 24 February at One 2 One Cafe on Ponsonby Rd. (Facebook event here.) According to the poster below:

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

We have Augmented Fourth on MC duties. This is me (cause I’m used to hosting Song Sale), and Sam Smith (because I want us to have plenty of performing experience together before our Comedy Fest show in May).

Becky Crouch is a comedian I’ve never met in person, but many in the scene have told me she’d fit right in. Sam Polwart is a comic I’ve come across a good few times, sometimes working musical audience interaction into his sets. Louise Beuvink studied in Dunedin and finished just before I arrived in 2012… all through that year, fellow performers told me she would have been great in Song Sale Dunedin, had she been around. Well, she’s in the very first Song Sale Auckland. Hoorah!

Rounding out the team of songwriters are Penny Ashton (I’ve done music for four of her solo shows); Clare Kelso (like Penny, one of the creative directors of ConArtists); Swaren Veygal (producer/DJ, former Music Director of the University of Otago Capping Show, and Song Sale Dunedin veteran); Josh Clark (choir director/accompanist who is wickedly funny); and my flatmate Andrew Grenon, my flatmate and the tenor with whom I make Politics The Opera videos.

By the way, Andrew and I are getting interviewed for the Laugh Track on Standing Room Only this weekend – after the 2pm news, Sunday on Radio New Zealand National. Listen eh. They don’t tend to podcast that segment so I think listening live is your/our only option.

Only because someone blogged about me.

31 Mar

Right now I’m ensconced in Chicago. The change in climate from Austin’s glorious spring sun to the Lake Effect has been shocking – far worse than when I made a similar transition from Guadalajara to Seattle in mid-February. Last week I bought my first ever pair of gloves, for instance.

I designed my trip so that I’d be able to catch up on projects now, instead of constantly travelling. With three weeks in Chicago, I have no pressure to see all the sights in a short time, and I’ve been able to spend lots of time in the public library and a café being a creative.

First I had to edit my 15-minute segment about SXSW for Music 101 on Radio New Zealand National. Embedding is disabled for this piece of audio, but you listen to it here. Then the deadline approached for show and workshop submissions for Improvention 2013 – that had to be adhered to.

Since that time, I’ve been flitting from project to project. Arrangements for a band I want to form when I get back? 15% complete, then BAM I hear about Short+Sweet Song, a festival/competition of 10-minute musicals happening in Auckland a few weeks after I get back. I buckle down, attempting to transform a Thomas Sainsbury playscript into a singable libretto, but that’s haaaaaaaard.

Then Jess Rodda tweets me out of the blue asking for a short piece for her horn, trombone and tuba trio. Why not procrastinate on a new creative project? I write 95 seconds of fiddly ragtime music in just under four hours.

I first call it Rag to a Bull (geddit? geddit?), then Trolling the Trio. I settle on Trolling the Tuba because it’s an inherently funnier word.

Two days ago I got “commissioned” and wrote the notes, yesterday I revised and tidied up the score and parts, last night Jess blogged about it (complete with my programme note) and today I complete the blogging echo chamber. All within 46 hours.

trollingthetuba

General Update

9 Jan

A generic travel-related icon.

A generic travel-related icon.

There are a whole lot of things that I should have written about, but haven’t. It’s been a while since an update.

In the last month I’ve moved cities from Dunedin to Auckland. Over my last week down south (10-17 December), I had a whole lot of stuff to finish off: my last Song Sale, recording the tracks for Promise & Promiscuity, recording further vocals of songs with other Song Salers, and producing a live radio broadcast from Albany Street Studios. And of course there was the simple fact that I was leaving Dunedin after my one year as Mozart Fellow, a damn significant time in my life… maybe I should blog about these things when they come to fruition.

After Christmas with the family in Auckland, I was back down to Wellington to do some work as a presenter for Radio New Zealand Concert, and some development work on At Least We Have Our Jobs, a drama production for Radio New Zealand National. I spent a lot of time in the studio for that.

Tomorrow I fly off to Mexico and I’ll be away from New Zealand for four months. In that time I’m going to Cuba (Cuba!), the Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater and the Chicago Improv Festival, and I’ll be in Austin during SXSW. I may not answer emails or Facebook quite as regularly.

I’m feeling a bit arse because of vaccines and dental work a couple of days ago. I still have tax and GST to do, not to mention packing for four months away. Eep.

All over the radios (including festival times)

15 Oct

Mstislav Rostropovich, Dmitri Shostakovich & Sviatoslav Richter in 1968. (Source)

I wrote and presented the most recent Composer of the Week programme for Radio New Zealand Concert. It’s not about a single composer; the topic is rather works written for Mstislav Rostropovich. You can listen to it here until Sunday 28 October (embedding won’t work sorry).

Yes, of course, there are the famous cello concertos: Shostakovich’s two, Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto, all of Britten’s cello works, but there’s a whole lot more besides.

In the programme I don’t even have a chance to mention any pieces by Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho and James Macmillan, just to name a few. But I do get to play music by Aram Khachaturian, Leonard Bernstein, Krzysztof Penderecki, Miecysław Weinberg, and Boris Tchaikovsky (no relation).

Actually, I realise now I completely left out Ástor Piazzolla, not even name-checking the guy. Oh well, wasn’t just him I left out.

Well represented too is Alfred Schnittke, a name that’s often left off when talking about Rostropovich’s great composer collaborators. I get in a bit of his opera Life With an Idiot and his Cello Sonata No 2.

I reviewed four concerts in the recent Otago Festival of the Arts for Upbeat. Firstly, the Vienna Boys Choir and Hahn-Bin Amadeus Leopold on Thursday’s programme:

And then Le Vent du Nord and H’Sao today:

Besides these four, I went to see Rita & Douglas (compelling performance from Jennifer Ward-Lealand and very well-judged playing by Michael Houstoun, might have been a bit long though), the Spooky Men’s Chorale (lol), and the wind quintet Zephyr performing both for the Festival and for Chamber Music New Zealand (a well put-together programme with very interesting music).

But my most fun experience of the Festival? Catching up once again with an old mate from Wellington, Carlos Navae, and being invited to play trombone for his late-night Festival Club gig. Haven’t had a Latin jam in aaaaages. (Wellington: lots of Latin music. Dunedin: not so much.)

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

The results of Song Sale (digressing into broadcasting policy)

19 Jun

The University of Otago Music Department has some recording studios at Albany Street. Because I’m technically staff there, this great facility is available to me from time to time.

I was too lazy to walk there and photograph it myself, so I got Google to do it for me.

The building was constructed in the 1960s as the Dunedin headquarters of Radio New Zealand for stations such as 4YA, 4YC, 4ZB and 4ZM (now known by other names). There’s a distinct Glide Time public servant vibe to the place – squat postwar modernist layout, unpainted wooden doors, blue parquet floors, pre-yellowed net curtains, and behind those perforated ceiling and wall tiles there’s probably a crapload of asbestos.

Public radio moved out in the 1990s when the government forced them to radically downsize their South Island presence, but the sold-off commercial arm (now TRN) stayed on until the university acquired the building outright a few years ago and kitted it out with that renowned (allegedly million-dollar) SSL mixer.

However, even the flashest gear is compromised without a good room to record in. Building large studios from scratch with all the right acoustic treatment and isolation is hideously expensive. That’s why it’s such a shame that so much of New Zealand’s postwar investment in music broadcasting has gone to waste: Auckland’s Helen Young Studios, Wellington’s Broadcasting House and Christchurch’s Radio New Zealand House are out of action through sale, demolition and act of God respectively.

Dunedin is lucky indeed to have retained their main studio, even if (as I understand) it lay fallow for many years. It’s not quite big enough for a Mahler 8 or an Alpine Symphony, but it’ll fit a decent-sized orchestra. 4YC/the Concert Programme made lots of studio recordings there back in the day, mostly chamber music. Here, for instance, is Terence Dennis playing David Griffiths’ Sonata in C in 1988:

So when I went in to record some tunes of my own that I’d written at Song Sale, I felt a bit of a connection to the past, given my employment history 2008-2012.

The short of it: here’s a romantic pop ballad called Love is a Four-Letter Word. I’m playing on a Bechstein grand piano, and Mike Holland is the sound engineer. Watch it below or listen on SoundCloud.

Love is a Four-Letter Word on SoundCloud

Coming soon from the same session: A Song About Wees, The Racist Grandma Blues, How Many Legs Is Too Many Legs, Dolphins & Porpoises Rape & Pillage, and A Blues Song About Beards.

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.


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