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Red Contributor


John Elmsly

Composer, Performer, Presenter

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Born: 1952

Biography

John Elmsly was born in Auckland on 1 July 1952. A childhood which included a dozen or so primary schools in Auckland, Melbourne, Blenheim, and the Hutt Valley managed to include music study on the piano with James Noice but his serious composing began at secondary school, with much encouragement from Laughton Pattrick (then HOD Music at Upper Hutt College). The major part of this was five years of participation in the creation of school musicals and other works for school orchestras and choirs. Later theatrical work included incidental music for a production of The Royal Pardon performed by the Heretaunga Players and later Unity Theatre in Wellington.

At Victoria University study in science (with a major in mathematics) was gradually replaced by music study, including piano performance study with Barry Margan who was then widely known for his touring with Music Players 70 and similar groups, and composition study with David Farquhar. Significant performances took place at the summer schools of Cambridge and Kerikeri. His study at VUW with such vital lecturers as Jenny McLeod, Margaret Nielsen, Gordon Burt and Ross Harris was vital in forming his deep and lasting interest in contemporary music and its composition. First work with electronic music was undertaken with Douglas Lilburn in 1975. The same year he took up a Belgian postgraduate scholarship and began study at the Muziekconservatorium van Brussel, taking a First Prize in Composition in 1977, and undertaking further study with Frederic Rzewski, Henri Pousseur and Philippe Boesmans in Liège. Throughout the period in Belgium he was also carrying out electroacoustic composition at the studios of IPEM in Ghent, under the mentorship of Lucien Goethals. Several pieces produced there were broadcast by BRT3.

Part-time teaching and composing in London was to follow, including classroom teaching in various inner city schools and a year running the music department at Queens College. In 1983 undertook a film music summer course at Dartington with Richard Rodney Bennett and Robert Saxton, and returned permanently to NZ to take up a teaching position at the University of Auckland in 1984.

An early Auckland performance was the Passacaglia of which William Dart wrote in ‘The Listener’: ‘to appreciate the calligraphic neatness and precision of Elmsly’s written score is to understand the nature of the music itself. The lucidity never wavers: all contours are perfectly gauged. There is a wealth of characteristic ideas that register vividly on first hearing, from the trills and glissandi of the first bars through the ‘alla chitarra’ section of pizzicato strings to a persistent repeated note motive for the pianist….in the central Fugue,…one is easily beguiled by the stealth and subtlety with which the cool four-part texture is built up and sustained’.

Thus began a long association with Auckland based performers, who commissioned the Dialogue series of five works (Uwe Grodd, Peter Scholes and David Guerin, David Jenkins and Christine Cuming, Nicola Averill and Jonathan Baker, Miranda Adams and Ingrid Wahlberg). Wendy Dixon and Christine Cuming commissioned On Home Ground for soprano and piano, and piano music was commissioned or premiered by Christine Cuming, David Guerin, Bryan Sayer and Ingrid Wahlberg The Auckland Philharmonia publicly performed or recorded on CD Neither From Nor Towards, Cello Symphony (Ribbonwood CD), Pacific Hockets (ODE CD), Intoit, Resound (Atoll CD), Metamorphoses and White Feathers, as well as workshop readings of Sinfonietta, and Champs de Cloches. In national tours Bridget Douglas of the NZSO premiered Response for flute and orchestra, and in 2017 Gisborne competition winner Singaporean violinist Jun Hong Loh premiered the Concerto for violin and orchestra with Orchestra Wellington.

In his thirty years at the University of Auckland (1984-2014) performance was also part of John’s work: he conducted the premiere of Gillian Whitehead’s The Pirate Moon and two NZ performances of Out of this Nettle Danger, and many other NZ composers featured in the regular programmes, often broadcast, of the Karlheinz Company. He has also performed frequently as pianist, harpsichordist, synthesist, flautist, and baroque flautist, and conducted various groups including the Ensemble Philharmonia and St Matthews Chamber Orchestra.

In 2014 he retired from the University of Auckland School of Music as 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 studio. He was the Acting-Dean of Faculty of Music 1997; Assistant-Dean, Faculty of Arts 1999; Acting Head of School of Music, 2000. Since 2014 he has been an Honorary Associate-Professor of the School of Music.

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 NZ from 1996 to 1999; Committee member from 1995 to 2012; and elected to the Executive Committee of Asian Composers' League from 1997 to 2002. In 2014 he was awarded the CANZ Citation for services to New Zealand music.

From 2015 to 2016 he was Jack Richards /Creative New Zealand Composer-in-residence at the New Zealand School of Music, and he was Composer in residence for Orchestra Wellington in 2017.

His music has been performed in concerts and festivals in Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, US, UK. Works appear on a number of CDs, some appearing in the Naxos Music Library. Recently Rattle released his String Quartet in Three Movements performed by the Jade Quartet, and Naxos released his Suite for solo guitar on a CD of NZ guitar music by Gunter Herbig.


Composed (125)

...formettel...

for flute/piccolo and electronic sounds


After Death and the Maiden

for chamber orchestra, 5m


Afterthoughts

for clarinet, trumpet, cello and percussion, 8m


As Time Goes By

for flute, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons, 5m


Ascend

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


Cantilena

for clarinet, oboe and small orchestra, 8m


Capriccio

for violin, 8m


Cello Symphony

for cello and piano, 24m


Cello Symphony

for cello and orchestra, 22m


Champs de Cloches

for orchestra, 8m


Danses

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


Diamant

for tape, 10m


Dream Fragments

for soprano and 3 clarinets, 10m


Drift

for viola and tape, 16m


East Wind

for alto flute and electronics, 11m


Echoes and Chorus

for clarinet and tape, 14m


Elegy

for timpani and tape, 11m


Fantasia

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


Gestauqua

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


Here

for solo violin


Hexacycle

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


In October Light

for chamber ensemble


Intoit

fanfare for orchestra, 6m


Jack Jumps Back in Years

for variable ensemble, 4m


La Mort de Roland

for tape, 8m


Lanternes

for orchestra, 11m


Leithscape

for tape, 5m


Little Preludes

for piano, 6m


Lysistrata

incidental music for theatre, 15m


Masked Rituals

for tape, 16m


May's Mantle

for tape, 11m


Mayaowa

for tape, 15m


Memorial

for horn and piano, 6m


Metamorphosis

for orchestra, 6m


Moto Perpetuo

for four violins, 5m


Movement

for flute and percussion, 8m


Neither from nor Towards

for string orchestra, 13m


Noah and the Weather Office

for SATB choir, 4m


Nocturne

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


Partita

for flute, 10m


Passacaglia

for clarinet, violin, cello and piano, 12m


Paysage

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


Prelude

for brass ensemble and percussion, 5m


Prelude

for melody instrument and piano


Quartet

for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, 14m


Refrains Below

for chamber quartet


Rekottos

for trombone and electronic sounds


Resound!

for orchestra, 5m


Response

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


Schlaflied

for flute and guitar, 2m


Septet

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


Seven Postcards

for piano trio, 19m


Shoriken

for mezzo-soprano and trombone, 18m


Sinfonia

for orchestra, 20m


Sinfonietta

for orchestra, 9m


Soft dawn over whispering island

electroacoustic, 11m


Soft Drop II

for two flutes, 8m


Sonata

for piano, 14m


Sonata

for alto saxophone and piano, 10m


Sonatina

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


Stillness

for piano and whistle


Stillscape

for viola, 5m


String Quartet

for string quartet


Suite

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


Topintale

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


Tree for Two

for bass clarinet and bass trombone, 1m


Triptych

for trumpet and tape, 10m


Tui

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