SOUNZ asks Chris several questions about his work Mahuika, written as part of the Auckland Philharmonia Composer Development project 2012/13.
For the third workshop, you made a few additions to the work, such as an organ cadenza, tuned percussion and an element of percussion improvisation. Had you made ‘developmental’ changes as a result of earlier workshops that led to these changes? At each stage of the workshop process, I was continually adding new material and rewriting parts of the work based on the experience of hearing Nicholas and the orchestra read through the work. Even following the final workshop, there have been minor alterations to the work.
Some of the changes that occurred for the final workshop were as a result of trying out different strategies in previous workshops before I finally settled on the end result. Some of them, such as an element of percussion improvisation (or at least a certain amount of rhythmic freedom) in the final section of the work, are partly to make the work easier for the performers but also because this ties into other aspects of the work, such as the beginning in which all of the orchestral musicians place their material in an aleatoric (freely/improvised) way - the opening section, with changes and development, has been part of the work from the very first workshop. In the final section of the work, the intent of the material (especially the volume and the impact it therefore has) rather than accuracy is most important.
For the organ cadenza, I hadn't fully settled on the nature of the work in the first two workshops, the combination of organ and orchestra has many possibilities and I wasn't entirely sure how much I wanted the organ part to stand apart from the orchestra and how much I wanted it to be integrated as part of a single ensemble. As a result, it was only once the work became more complete, that an organ cadenza made sense. Part of this, was to do with the challenge of how I approach writing for orchestra (in which I tend to consider the various colours of the orchestra in much the same way as when considering the registration of an organ) and fitting an organ into this. The final result achieves a good balance between the orchestra and the organ, with sections for the orchestra and the organ, parts where they meld together and parts where they are juxtaposed against each other.
How closely did you work with Nicholas to compose the cadenza? Is there an element of improvisation in this as well? I worked with Nicholas before each of the workshops and discussed the work with him following them. However, I wrote the cadenza and presented him with it already written (we then went through it before the workshop). I am open to Nicholas or other organists providing an alternative cadenza if they wished, as structurally it is designed in such a way that a different cadenza could be played.
In the cadenza that I have written, there isn't any improvisation, although the organ is by itself so there is greater freedom possible in its interpretation.
What do you want listeners to take away with them after hearing the piece? Mahuika works on a variety of different levels. It can be regarded as a completely abstract piece showcasing both the Auckland Town Hall organ and the Auckland Philharmonia. However, if listeners want to listen to it as a more programmatic work, then they can imagine it representing an ancient fire goddess awakening in the midst of the Auckland Town Hall. For me, ultimately, I would like listeners to like the work and want to hear it again.