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Red Contributor

John Elmsly

Composer, Performer, Presenter

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Born: 1952


John Elmsly was born in Auckland on 1 July 1952. His early musical experiences included piano training from James Noice and encouragement in composition at secondary school from Laughton Pattrick. A graduate in mathematics and music from Victoria University of Wellington, he studied piano with Barry Margan, composition with David Farquhar, and began electronic music with Douglas Lilburn.

From 1975 to 1978 he held a post-graduate scholarship from the Belgian Ministry of Culture. In 1977 he was awarded a First Prize in Composition by the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where he studied with Victor Legley, and in 1978 continued study in Liège with Henri Pousseur, Philippe Boesmans and Frederic Rzewski. Also in Belgium he worked regularly in the electronic music studios at IPEM in Gent with Lucien Goethals, and several pieces produced there were broadcast by BRT3.

In 1981 he was awarded the Mozart Fellowship at University of Otago in Dunedin, and in 1984 he was appointed lecturer in composition at the School of Music, University of Auckland where he is currently Associate-Professor and head of composition, director of the Karlheinz Company contemporary music ensemble (which he has conducted in many broadcast recitals as well as performing on piano, synthesiser and flute) and director of the electronic music studios. He was the Acting-Dean of Faculty of Music 1997; Assistant-Dean, Faculty of Arts 1999; and Acting Head of School of Music, 2000. John was the 2015-16 Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards Composer-in-Residence at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music.

Some of John’s major commissions include Response for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (2004), Ritual Triptych for NZ Trio (2014), Triple Concerto (or Ritual Echoes) for Wellington Regional Orchestra (1994), Intoit (1990) and Pacific Hockets (1991) for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as various commissions for the Karlheinz Company. Recent premieres include works for flautist Abigail Sperling, the Jade String Quartet, Magic Flute ensemble, and recorder player Kevin Kim.

Gestauqua (for brass quintet and tape) represented NZ at the 1990 Paris Rostrum, and in 1992 Elmsly won the Philip Neill Memorial Prize from the University of Otago. He was President of Composers’ Association of New Zealand from 1996 to 1999; Committee member from 1995 to present; and elected to the Executive Committee of Asian Composers’ League from 1997 to 2002.

Composed (125)


for flute/piccolo and electronic sounds

After Death and the Maiden

for chamber orchestra, 5m


for clarinet, trumpet, cello and percussion, 8m

As Time Goes By

for flute, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons, 5m


for chamber septet and electronic sounds, 11m

Beyond Ten Octaves

for daegum, kayagum, and percussion, 5m

Blue Swing

for piano, 1m

Calls from the Ark (bass clarinet version)

for bass clarinet duo, 3m


for clarinet, oboe and small orchestra, 8m


for violin, 8m

Cello Symphony

for cello and piano, 24m

Cello Symphony

for cello and orchestra, 22m

Champs de Cloches

for orchestra, 8m


for tape, 10m

Dialogue I

for flute/alto flute and piano, 10m

Dialogue II

for clarinet and piano, 14m

Dialogue III

for cello and piano, 18m

Dialogue V

for violin and piano, 12m


for tape, 10m

Dream Fragments

for soprano and 3 clarinets, 10m


for viola and tape, 16m

East Wind

for alto flute and electronics, 11m

Echoes and Chorus

for clarinet and tape, 14m


for timpani and tape, 11m


for brass octet, 5m

Fantasia: Wild Rhymes of Spring

for orchestra, 13m

Five Miniatures

for piano, 8m

Four Echoes

for viola

Four Echoes

for cello

From Dancing Light

for orchestra, 9m

From Shoriken

for baritone voice and clarinet, 4m

Gaudeamus Fanfare 2000

for brass and percussion


for brass quintet and tape, 9m

Gnomic Lyrics

for baritone voice, flute, two horns and percussion, 10m

Go Gently into the Good Night

for flute and piano, 3m

Hall of Mirrors

for basson and live electronics


for solo violin


for clarinet, violin, 2 violas, double bass and accordion, 8m

In October Light

for chamber ensemble


fanfare for orchestra, 6m

Jack Jumps Back in Years

for variable ensemble, 4m

La Mort de Roland

for tape, 8m


for orchestra, 11m


for tape, 5m

Little Preludes

for piano, 6m


incidental music for theatre, 15m

Masked Rituals

for tape, 16m

May's Mantle

for tape, 11m


for tape, 15m


for horn and piano, 6m


for orchestra, 6m

Moto Perpetuo

for four violins, 5m


for flute and percussion, 8m

Neither from nor Towards

for string orchestra, 13m

Noah and the Weather Office

for SATB choir, 4m


for bass clarinet, gentle percussion and soundscape, 13m

Of Secrets, Echoes...

for orchestra, 10m

Old Songs

for oboe/cor anglais, 6m

Old Songs

for solo soprano

On Home Ground

for soprano and piano, 13m

One Mouth, Two Voices

for saxophone (soprano and alto played simultaneously by one player)

One Too Exciting Night

for clarinet, viola, trombone and harp, 6m

Pacific Hockets

for orchestra, 20m

Pacific Hockets

arranged for symphonic wind band, 20m


for flute, 10m


for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, 12m


for tape, 2 flutes, violin, cello and piano, 6m

Pieces of Eight

for horn, FB01 and sequencer, 15m

Plates in Collision

for viola and percussion


for brass ensemble and percussion, 5m


for melody instrument and piano


for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, 14m

Refrains Below

for chamber quartet


for trombone and electronic sounds


for orchestra, 5m


for flute and orchestra, 11m

Ritual Auras

for flute, horn, percussion, piano, violin and cello, 15m

Ritual Echoes

for orchestra with concertino of clarinet, cello and piano

Ritual Echoes II

for solo clarinet, cello and piano with ensemble

Ritual Triptych

for piano trio

Rondo Sur-La-Fontaine

for orchestra, 8m

said the neighbours

for choir and chamber orchestra, 5m

Scherzo 122

for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, 6m


for flute and guitar, 2m


for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and 2 percussion, 16m

Seven Postcards

for piano trio, 19m


for mezzo-soprano and trombone, 18m


for orchestra, 20m


for orchestra, 9m

Soft dawn over whispering island

electroacoustic, 11m

Soft Drop II

for two flutes, 8m


for piano, 14m


for alto saxophone and piano, 10m


for flute and piano, 6m

Song of Autumn

for soprano, flute, cello and tape, 10m

Songs from "The Treehouse"

for mixed choir, 15m

Stay radiant: the singing will never be done

for three trumpets and gongs

Stilldream K...

for baroque flute and tape, 14m


for piano and whistle


for viola, 5m

String Quartet

for string quartet


for guitar, 13m

The Divine Image

for SATB choir and organ, 6m

The Lost Voice

for contralto, flute, 2 violins, cello, piano and spinet, 8m

The Voice of Experience

for piano and soundscape, 3m

Three Doubles

for flute, 8m

Three Pieces

for piano, 10m

Three Pieces

for cello, 9m

Three Short Studies

for piano, 9m

Three Winesongs

for SATB choir, 5m

Toccata for Two Mallets

for solo percussion, 4m


for 3 flutes, 2 oboes and 3 clarinets, 4m

Tree for Two

for bass clarinet and bass trombone, 1m


for trumpet and tape, 10m


for piano, 1m 45s

Two Songs

for soprano and piano, 5m 30s

Vox Vulgaris

for tape, 15m

Weep not for me

for baroque flute and electronic sounds

Whispering Island

electroacoustic, 10m

White Feathers

for spoken voice and orchestra

Wind Quartet

for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon