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Earthquake: 22.2.11 began as a project after the September 2010 earthquakes struck Christchurch and surrounding districts. I was interested in capturing the peculiar sonic properties of the earthquakes – the unnatural preparatory calm, the low pitched boom, the change in air pressure, the accelerating rhythms, the creaks, the rattles, the cracks, the climactic shuddering of the building one was in, the decay of sound, and the silence before the cacophonous response of voices, alarms, telephones, sirens, police cars, ambulances, fire trucks and helicopters.
I successfully applied for Creative New Zealand funding to compose such a work for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and set to work late in 2010.
The earthquakes hadn’t finished though. On February 22, 2011, in New Zealand’s worst natural disaster since the 1931 Napier earthquake, a 7.2 earthquake centred on Christchurch killed 185 people and caused inestimable damage to the city’s buildings and infrastructure. Composing a dispassionate response was no longer appropriate; indeed, composing anything at all about the event seemed wrong, almost exploitative, in the face of the human tragedy.
I stumbled upon Gary McCormick’s poem Earthquake 22.2.11 shortly after he wrote it as a white-hot response to the devastation. I empathised with his anger and his railing at the randomness of the event. Even so, it took almost a year before I felt ready to set Gary’s poem to music. The catalyst was a further round of earthquakes beginning on 23 December 2011, in which further damage, including the destruction of our previous home, a beautiful Victorian dwelling I had helped restore in the 1990s, occurred to the city. Something like 10 quakes of magnitude 5 or more occurred while I was composing the score.
Composed for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra with funding from Creative New Zealand
suitable for professional orchestra or able community orchestra
Text is the poem "22.2.11" by Gary McCormick
21 Nov 2012: Earthquake: 22.2.11