Tag Archives: University of Otago

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.

Haven’t published anything in a while.

21 Aug

My life has been quite bitsy, full of lots of small projects.

Well, here’s one resultable fruit:

The Root Vegetable Opera is an overblown comedy song for mock operatic baritone and piano. Eight months on from the recording session, I’ve mixed the tracks. I don’t sound terrrrible, but I’m no classically trained singer. Corwin Newall, on the other hand, is a classically trained pianist.

On the topic of recording vocals, next week I make a studio recording of Annie & Joshua with my two singers. I’m getting Bridget Costello just a week before she leaves for London to study, but Callum Blackmore’s staying around for ages. Good.

Another composition is finally reaching fruition: I just published Trolling the Tuba to SOUNZ, and it’s getting premièred just outside San Francisco on Friday/Saturday/timezone depending. This is thanks to Jess Rodda and the rest of the International Low Brass Trio, which abbreviates to “ILBT”, which must be either a sandwich or a personality type. They’re going to be performing this work quite a bit over the next few months, including on a Canadiadian tour.

I am making plans for two out-of-town tours myself:
Wellington (15 to 23 September): the 2013 New Zealand Improv Festival is on and I am the Musical Co-ordinator and musician for several shows myself. I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking forward to, but the most involved for me will be Time Lord, a Doctor Who-themed long form directed by David Innes from Melbourne. I’m borrowing synths from Wellington people.
Dunedin (24 September to, uh, something). Song Sale! University Lunchtime Concert! Dunedin Youth Orchestra! Improsaurus (I hope)! All in one week.

Usually I find a picture for posts, so I googled-imaged-searched “most random image on the internet”. This is what arrived.

Happy Wednesday.

Chewbacca wielding a crossbow astride a giant squirrel fighting a regiment of Nazis.


9 Dec

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

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.


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.

I’m on TV and shit!

5 May

Well, it’s local TV. Still waiting for that big 7pm current affairs feature or whatever.

A Channel 9 crew came into my office yesterday to ask me some questions and shoot inserts of me noodling on two different types of keyboard. It’s a quickie look into what the Mozart Fellowship is about.

Story: University of Otago Mozart Fellow finds workload challenging


Faux-zart Mellowship

5 Feb

Previous Fellow Chris Adams put my name on the door. Ah, bless.

On 1 February 2012 I began my time/term/tenure as Mozart Fellow at the University of Otago.

I ran the numbers a while back looking at the list of all previous Mozart Fellows – at 27 years, 1 month and 19 days, I am the second youngest to take up the position. That’s cool.

Rather awesomely, I get my own office. In contrast to Radio New Zealand House in Wellington, you can actually open the windows and have contact with fresh, outside air. In fact, there are eight such openable windows. Rest assured, I can close them when it gets cold in winter.

My swipe card doesn’t seem to work yet… slightly concerning. That could require repeated phone calls. I hope not.

So what am I going to work on? Gigs and pieces!

Song Sale Dunedin - February 2012 posterGigs:

Song Sale. Monthly gigs where a collection of songwriter-performers is on call to compose brand new songs, commissioned by audience members on their chosen themes/topics/genres etc. First gig is Monday 13 February 2012 at The Church, 50 Dundas St. Tomorrow night, we Song Salers have a meeting/test session.

Zomburlesque. We did the show in Wellington, the Dunedin Fringe saw the review, they offered assistance in doing another production, and it’s happening. The core crew and performers are coming from Wellington; I’m co-ordinating the venue, the tech and the band in Dunedin. The first season was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done; I anticipate the Dunedin season being the same.


– Reworking the 3rd movement of Three Sibilants for Eb clarinet for violin and beatbox. The violinist is Sarah Claman, the beatboxer is me. This will be performed at a Chamber Vulgarus gig in early March. You can hear the movement from 7:42 in the below SoundCloud embed:

Three Sibilants for Eb clarinet by Robbie Ellis on SoundCloud.

– A 4-5 minuter for the St Peter’s & St Mary’s Sinfonia, the senior orchestra of two Auckland Catholic high schools combined. Their conductor Antun Poljanich arranged to commission me. It’s going to be a bit of a percussion feature – I get three percussionists plus a timps player and a pianist. This’ll be in their 2012 repertoire, including at ASSBOF. (KBB Music has had naming rights on the event since 2002, but old high school habits die hard.)

– Something super secret squirrel which I will blog about in more detail later on.

– Something for Saxcess, New Zealand’s oldest saxophone quartet. Debbie Rawson has been great at getting my name out there as a composer, so I wanted to use the Fellowship to write something for her. Saxcess is doing a tour for their 20th anniversary, under Chamber Music New Zealand’s Encompass series. They’re hitting a motley collection of towns in June & July, including Cromwell (the closest to Dunedin).

– Something for the Estrella Quartet – four players, eight hands, two pianos. They’re all students at the University of Auckland under the tutelage of Stephen De Pledge, who contacted me about a piece. They won the 2011 Royal Overseas League Chamber Music Scholarship, which means they go to the UK in July/August to see a bunch of concerts, play a bunch of gigs (including at the Edinburgh Fringe). I’m thinking of calling my piece The Piano Tuner’s Performance Appraisal.

– A new piece for Auckland Youth Orchestra, an ensemble I played double bass in from 2003 to 2005. I’m currently reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (my neighbour is a Masters student in Psychology and she regards Sacks’ writing as pop psych, but at least I can understand it). There’s a story about what sounds Robert Schumann was hallucinating near the end of his life… there could be something in that. This is for their September & October tour, with rehearsals beginning in early August.

Little India

16 Jan

I arrived in Dunedin just over eight hours ago. Chronology of my week:

  • Tue 10: the last time presenting Sound Lounge.
  • Wed 11: my last day at work for Radio New Zealand Concert; after-work drinks.
  • Thu 12: packed up all my belongings in my flat in Wellington; parents flew into town.
  • Fri 13: movers arrived to take half of the belongings in a truck; big karaoke-filled farewell party at The Fringe Bar (with a superbly varied cross-section of Wellingtonians)
  • Sat 14: tetrised the remainder of my belongings into my car; sailed from Wellington to Picton; stayed overnight in Kaikoura.
  • Sun 15: drove from Kaikoura to Dunedin; stopped in Christchurch to walk the perimeter of the Red Zone (more on that later); unpacked my stuff into my new flat.

I have a lawn.

In true awesome Dunedin fashion, my wall-mate (i.e. I’m in 12A, she’s in 12B) helped me unload a car’s worth of stuff, suggested the best Indian restaurant in town (Little India, 308 Moray Pl, for the record) and gave me a brief tiki-tour of the university campus.

After that, I’ve taken the chance to unpack and find a home for many items. It’s not yet perfect, but it’s coming along. Amusingly, the best place to store my musical instruments is in the kitchen. This beat is cookin’.

Also, I have a lawn.

And I’m missing an office chair. My acquired-from-previous-tenant desk is pretty useless without something to sit on – should have thought of that maybe.

Also, I know it’s supposed to be the middle of summer, but I’m regretting sending my two heaters with the movers instead of packing one in the car. If this is the middle of summer…


21 Oct

I’m sitting in Dunedin Airport waiting for the 1710 to Auckland. Time for a quick blog update…

Early yesterday morning I flew from Wellington (current home) to Dunedin (next year’s home). This is my first time in Dunedin as an adult – growing up in Auckland, the only time our family made it this far south was on The Big South Island Trip one summer. (In the words of my mother: “You’re growing up in Auckland and you won’t be a real Kiwi unless you’ve seen the South Island!”)

Picking up a rental car at the airport, my first stop was Black/Sale House, HQ of the University of Otago Department of Music. I had a good chat with Dr Anthony Ritchie, the only Otago staff member I really knew prior to my appointment as 2012 Mozart Fellow. We talked about plans for the Fellowship – I’ll do a little bit of teaching, some tutoring, and some supervision of undergraduate work. All promising.

At a morning tea I met the Department staff – the academics and the admin. I also said hello to Chris Adams, the current Mozart Fellow.

Then the flat-hunt began. I’d set up 10 viewings for between midday at 6:30pm yesterday. Two were promising, and as it happens I got one of them – a nice little cosy 1-bedroom on the sunny slopes of North East Valley (it’s practically Opoho).

On a bit of a stroll around town, I popped into Twang Town on Moray Pl, a music shop specialising in string instruments. The independent owner-operator style reminded me of Alistair’s Music on Cuba St – I’ll happily take my guitar or bass there once I move. The proprietor, Hyram Ballard, is a good dude and recommended “the best coffee in Dunedin” at Mazagran across the road. It was pretty damn good coffee.

On the venues front, I popped my head into the Fortune Theatre; saw a student recital at Marama Hall on campus; had dinner and saw an amazing Celtic chamber ensemble at The Church (where this performance of my piece Ha! took place); and took a tour around Sammy’s with the owner, Sam Chin. It’s a grand old proscenium arch theatre which has variously been a brewery warehouse, a nightclub, and a big music gig venue. We’re in talks about bringing a show there for the Dunedin Fringe Festival… can’t say much more than that now but it looks exciting.

First boarding call for my flight so I’ll sign off now.

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