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John Psathas

Composer, Arranger

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Born: 1966

Biography

Ioannis (John) Psathas was born in Wellington New Zealand July 3rd 1966. His father (Emmanuel Psathas, from Nea Michaniona) and mother (Anastasia Psathas, from Thessaloniki) emigrated to New Zealand in 1960 (both sides of John’s ancestors descend from Anatoliki Thrace).

The Psathas family entered the restaurant business and John grew up in a small New Zealand town, Taumaranui. He then went to college in the city of Napier – where he developed a strong interest in music. He left college early to study piano and composition at Victoria University of Wellington. In 1988 John’s parents and sister (Tania) returned to Greece permanently. His parents live in Nea Michaniona. After completing his Master’s degree, John studied and worked for 2 years in the USA and in Belgium. Before returning to New Zealand in 1994 where he has lectured at Victoria University’s School of Music (now the New Zealand School of Music) ever since. He is now Professor of Composition.

John Psathas, is now one of New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed composers. With performances in venues from Windsor Castle to Kalamazoo, Jakarta to Bermuda, Japan to Alaska, and Hong Kong to Tel Aviv, he has established and maintains an international reputation. His music is heard worldwide and is regularly performed throughout Europe, America, Australasia, and Asia.

John Psathas’ music has been performed by percussion superstar Evelyn Glennie, 11 time Grammy winner Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Pedro Carneiro, Michael Houstoun, Federico Mondelci, Orchestre Sinfonia Dell’Emilia-Romagna ‘Toscanini’, the Halle Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Netherlands Blazers Ensemble, the New Juilliard Ensemble and many other performers, ensembles and orchestras.

Psathas has written extensively for Evelyn Glennie, who, in her debut in the prestigious New York Great Performer’s Series devoted nearly half her program to his work. Early success came with ’Matre’s Dance’ in 1991, a maximum-energy duet for percussion and piano that has since made Psathas’ name internationally through having been taken up and championed by Glennie. This work and ‘Drum Dances’ have become standard repertoire for percussionists throughout the world. John’s relationship with Evelyn Glennie has been a particularly fruitful one for them both. Her repertoire includes ’Matre’s Dance’, ‘Drum Dances’, ‘Spike’, ‘Happy Tachyons’ and the double concerto for piano and percussion, ‘View from Olympus’. She has recorded ’Matre’s Dance’ on her CDs ‘Drumming’ and ‘Greatest Hits’ (BMG).

Michael Brecker and the Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Emilia-Romagna ‘Toscanini’ premiered his saxophone concerto ‘Omnifenix’, in 2000 in Bologna at a large outdoor concert and broadcast throughout Europe. It was this performance which first drew Psathas’ name to international attention. Critics described this piece as a true hybrid of jazz and western art music. In its successful combination of these two disparate elements, the concerto wowed the 6000-strong audience and paved the way for further international performances of Psathas’ larger concert works.

Notable amongst these was the programming of the Percussion Concerto (for four soloists and orchestra) at the 2001 ‘Klangspuren’ Festival in Schwaz, Austria. A sold-out retrospective concert of Psathas’ chamber music was given in the 2000 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts. In 2002, ‘View from Olympus’ was given its premiere during the Manchester Commonwealth Games by Evelyn Glennie and Philip Smith with the Halle Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder at the Royal Gala finale concert of the ‘Pulse’ International Festival of Rhythm. The 2002 International Festival also featured a major new commission, ‘Psyzygysm’, a concerto for mallet percussion and chamber ensemble which featured the young Portuguese virtuoso percussionist Pedro Carneiro as star soloist – this work received its European premiere in Lisbon in 2006. Notable performances of 2004 included the premiere season of ‘Zeibekiko’, a major commission from the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble (NBE), which invited him to create an entire programme based around the theme of 2500 years of Greek Music. This collaborative work was performed by the NBE throughout Holland and at the Bath Festival (UK). ‘Three Psalms’ (for solo piano, percussion, harp and strings), commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra was premiered at concerts throughout New Zealand in April 2004 by US pianist Stephen Gosling with the NZSO under James Judd.

2006 saw the release of a CD/DVD project: ‘View From Olympus’. This is New Zealand’s most ambitious orchestral recording project ever and has been released to wide critical acclaim. View From Olympus went straight to the top of the Classical Music Charts in New Zealand and remained there for five months. Closer to home, his music opened the doors of Te Papa in 1998, and in 1997 his 'Percussion Concerto' was premiered by Glennie and the NZSO. He has written for the NZSO and the Auckland Philharmonia, pianists Michael Houstoun, Deidre Irons, David Guerin, Dan Poynton, as well as the NZ Trio, the NZ String Quartet, the Kandinsky Ensemble and Saxcess.

Psathas also has a natural inclination toward mega-projects. Since writing much of the ceremonial music for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, his music has been on the radar screen of a wider public than that normally associated with contemporary classical music. Most recently his epic project No Man’s Land http://www.nomanslandproject.org/ involved direct collaboration with over 150 musicians from more than 25 countries. A ground-breaking cinematic performance in commemoration of the First World War, musicians descended from opposing forces were brought together on the battlefields of WWI in an original composition. These musical collaborations were fused into a unique 80-minute film, projected alongside live musicians on-stage.

Psathas has received several awards and honours, including twice winning the SOUNZ Contemporary Award (2002 and 2004) for individual works and three 'Tuis' for Classical CD of the Year (2000, 2004, and 2007). In 2003 he was made a New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate and in 2005 was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).

But it is the sheer power of his music that, despite its complexity, engages a wide range of listeners – both in and out of the concert hall. This is marking him out as a potent artistic force. Mentor and colleague, Jack Body said: “Many of his compositions have an energy and drive more extreme than any other music I know – it sweeps one up on a frantic roller-coaster ride and carries one to that height of exhilaration.” His music is energetic and vibrant, with a passionate exuberance that is a product of his Greek heritage. In his music one can hear both the Western classical tradition as well as the kinetic enthusiasm found in jazz and Greek folk music. His compositional style is difficult to define as each piece is unique and creates its own musical language, but regardless of the medium, whether it’s jazz quintet or string quartet, there is a constant intensity and immediacy in his music.

[As a recipient of a 2006 Arts Foundation Laureate Award more information about John Psathas can be found on the Arts Foundation website.]


Composed (90)

4BY4

for percussion quartet, 8m 30s


A Cool Wind

for string quartet


Abhisheka

for mixed chamber ensemble


Abhisheka

for string quartet, 8m


Abhisheka

for string orchestra, 9m


Aegean

for piano trio, 4m 30s


Antara

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos for clarinet and synthesizer, co-arranged with Steve Garden


Bacchic

Written by Manos Achalinotopoulos and arranged by John Psathas for clarino, Zourna, floghera and band


Baw My Barne

for an ensemble of eight voices (SSAATTBB), 5m


Between Zero and One

for percussion ensemble


Calenture

for two grand pianos and electric guitar, 9m


Calenture Suite: Dialogos

for jazz quartet, arranged by Chris Mason-Battley Group, 29m 40s


Corybas

for piano trio, 11m 30s


djinn

for solo marimba and chamber orchestra, 20m


Doxastiko

composed by Manos Achalinotopoulos and arranged by John Psathas for mix chamber ensemble with voice


Drum Dances

for drum kit and piano, 12m


Drum Dances Pt4: Dialogos

for jazz quartet, arranged by Chis Mason-Battley Group, 7m 2s


Fanfare for a Super City

for orchestral brass, percussion and organ (optional)


Fragment

for vibraphone and piano, 3m


Fragment

for piano duet, 4m


Fragment

arranged by Jeremy Fitzsimons for marimba and vibraphone


Fragment

arranged by Dan Poynton for solo piano


Fragment: Dialogos

for jazz quartet, arranged by Chris Mason-Battley Group, 4m 18s


Full of Sympathy

a rock song, 3m


Good for Nothing

original motion picture soundtrack composed by John Psathas


Gyftiko (yiftiko)

for solo violin, 5m


Happy Tachyons

for marimba and vibraphone (one player) and piano, 8m


Heliotrope

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos for clarinet and electroacoustic


Helix

for piano trio, 20m


Hymn to the Muse

arrangement of work by Mesomedes of Crete (c. 130 AD) for voice and ensemble


Inferno: Dialogos

for jazz quartet, arranged by Chris Mason-Battley Group, 5m 59s


Iris Flight

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos and Steve Garden, co-arranged with Steve Garden, for clarinet, percussions, drums, acoustic bass, soprano saxophone and electroacoustic


Island Songs

for clarinet, cello and piano, 13m


Island Songs

for violin, cello, and piano, 13m


Jettatura

for piano, 5m


Kartsigar

for string quartet, 17m


Kyoto

for 5 percussionists, 8m


Luminous

a fanfare for orchestra, 7m


Maenads

arranged for mixed chamber ensemble


Mal Occhio

for soprano saxophone, electric guitar, percussion and piano


Manurewa Fanfare

for wind orchestra, 3m


Matre's Dance

for piano and percussion, 12m


Matre's Dance (version for percussion ensemble)

for solo percussion and mallet quartet, arranged by Omar Carmenates


Motet

for piano duet, 15m


Muisca

for solo 6-string classical guitar, 15m


Nemesi

for unaccompanied SATB choir, 7m


No Man's Land

1h 25m


Nocturnes

for saxophone quartet and percussion, 10m


Olympiad XXVIII

a symphonic suite for full orchestra, 15m


Olympic - Athens 2004

for full orchestra and choir


Omnifenix

for tenor saxophone, drumkit and orchestra, 16m


One Study One Summary

for marimba, junk percussion and tape, 12m


One Summary Remix

electroacoustic remixed by Tim Prebble


Orpheus in Rarohenga

for soprano, tenor and bass soloists, SATB choir and orchestra, 46m


Overture

for 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets in B flat, 3 trombones, 4 percussionists, 5m


Percussion Concerto

for four percussion soloists and symphony orchestra, 23m


Piano Quintet

for string quartet and piano, 18m


Planet Damnation

for timpani and orchestra


Planet Damnation

for timpani and digital audio, 11m 30s


Pounamu

for soloist (vocals/guitar/bass guitar) and orchestra


Psyzygysm

for solo percussionist and mass chamber ensemble including percussion, 17m


Rhythm Spike

for solo piano, 9m


Saxon

for brass band, 10m


Seikilos

for orchestra, 12m


Shocked Awake

for piano, 10m


Sleeper

a "landscape prelude" for piano, 4m


Song of Seikilos

arranged by John Psathas for voice and ensemble


Songs for Simon

for piano and tape


Songs for Simon Suite: Dialogos

for jazz quartet, arranged by Chris Mason-Battley Group, 14m 40s


Spike

for percussion and piano, 8m


Spike

for soprano saxophone, electric guitar, marimba/vibraphone, cello, double bass and piano, 11m


Stream 3

for chamber orchestra, 13m


Stream 3.3

for percussion, piano, bass, guitar, e-bow guitar with samples and sequencing, 13m


Tarantismo

for full orchestra


Te Papa Fanfare

arranged for brass band, 6m


Te Papa Fanfare

for 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 4 percussionists, 6m


Terra

for clarinet, bass clarinet, bass trombone, cello, bass, percussion and conductor (doubling woodblocks), 8m


The Harvest Suite

a soundscape in four parts for solo saxophone with looping pedals, co-composed with Adam Page


The New Zeibekiko

for multiple soloists/greek folk musicians and orchestra


Three Psalms

for piano and chamber orchestra, 23m


Ukiyo

for marimba and vibraphone, with two CD players


View from Olympus

double concerto for percussion, piano and orchestra, 20m


Waiting : Still

for piano and Balinese gamelan, 5m


Waiting : Still (arr. by Omar Carmenates - alternate version)

arr. by Omar Carmenates for keyboard percussion and tuned gongs, 5m


Waiting : Still (arr. by Omar Carmenates)

arr. by Omar Carmenates for keyboard percussion and gamelan, 5m


White Lies

for piano, taonga puoro, strings and electronics


Zahara

for saxophone and orchestra, 22m


Zeal

for two pianos, 15m


Zeibekiko

collaboration for wind ensemble and Greek folk musicians, 1h 15m



Arranged (16)

9 out of 10 out of its!

composed by Drew Menzies, Reuben Bradley & James Illingworth, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 4m 30s


Antara

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos for clarinet and synthesizer, co-arranged with Steve Garden


Bacchic

Written by Manos Achalinotopoulos and arranged by John Psathas for clarino, Zourna, floghera and band


Doxastiko

composed by Manos Achalinotopoulos and arranged by John Psathas for mix chamber ensemble with voice


Heliotrope

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos for clarinet and electroacoustic


Hymn to the Muse

arrangement of work by Mesomedes of Crete (c. 130 AD) for voice and ensemble


I've got nothing good to say

composed by Drew Menzies, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 8m


Iris Flight

co-composed with Manos Achalinotopoulos and Steve Garden, co-arranged with Steve Garden, for clarinet, percussions, drums, acoustic bass, soprano saxophone and electroacoustic


Ladies Man

composed by Drew Menzies, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 8m


Laura's Laksa

composed by Drew Menzies, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 7m


Man's Life

composed by Drew Menzies, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 8m


Mansfield (Street)

composed by Drew Menzies & Reuben Bradley, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas & Reuben Bradley, 7m 40s


Mantis & Muscles

composed by James Illingworth & Drew Menzies, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 5m


Meeting at Union Square

composed by Drew Menzies & Reuben Bradley, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas, 7m


Oh Lord!

composed by Drew Menzies & James Illingworth, arranged by Reuben Bradley with strings by John Psathas & Reuben Bradley, 9m 50s


Song of Seikilos

arranged by John Psathas for voice and ensemble



Resources (26)

Canzona 2004 vol 25 no 46

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