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Having written “The Rising of Puanga” in 2012 for Grammar Virtuosi which used unusual playing techniques and a generally impressionistic texture, the request in 2013 was for a rhythmic piece. Honegger’s “Pacific 231” was mentioned as the kind of piece which might be taken as model. I gave thought to a New Zealand equivalent, and the Kingston Flyer sprang to mind.
The steam train service to Kingston began in 1878 in response to the discovery of gold in the lower South Island. From the 1890s to the 1950s the train ran from Kingston to Gore and Kingston to Invercargill. However buses began to replace the services, with trains finally ceasing service in 1957. In the early 1970s it was decided to preserve the train journey over part of the original track, and a service from Kingston to Lumsden ran through that decade. The current trip is a 14km journey from Kingston to Fairlight, and runs over the summer months.
The Kingston Flyer starts with the sound of the steam escaping from the boiler as the train begins its journey. Gradually the train gathers speed and is soon rushing through the countryside. The underpinning train rhythms in the lower strings and piano pay homage to the famous little train of Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos who created the quintessential musical train journey. There is an important soloistic part for cello in the work, although most of the players get some important melodic material. Throughout the work, the music is highly rhythmic, slowing only once – perhaps to negotiate a steep incline or a sharp bend. Finally the train arrives at its destination and the music ends much as it began, with the sounds of steam.
Written for Auckland Grammar School choir Grammar Virtuosi and conductor Stuart Sherwood
23 Jun 2019: Auckland Chamber Orchestra | David Hamilton Composer Portrait
Featuring: David Hamilton