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Sample: Pages 1-8 of first movementSee details ➔
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I wrote the work in the turbulent year of 1968 while I was undergoing graduate studies in composition at the University of Toronto with the prominent Canadian composer John Weinzweig. When I returned to New Zealand in 1969 I sent a copy via Ashley Heenan to the NZBC. Some months later I heard that an American Conductor John Barnett was conducting the NZSO in 1970 and was interested in including a NZ work. He had been sent some existing pieces but wanted a new piece if possible. It must have been about that time that my work arrived via Ashley. Barnett chose this piece and decided to perform it with his orchestra The National Orchestral Association in Carnegie Hall, New York before his New Zealand tour. The NOA was a collective of prominent youth musicians in New York with principals drawn from the New York Philharmonic; in other words a very good orchestra. Much later I expanded the instrumentation to include a full brass section and extra woodwind, cor anglais, clarinet and contrabassoon. I also changed the title from Symphony (1968) to Symphony No 1 to better reflect its relationship with my Symphony No 2 “The Feeling of Sound”.
The first movement of this symphony is a musical manifesto of what I wanted to achieve stylistically as a composer both in this and in subsequent works.
I was intensely interested in exploring a high degree of subtlety in tone colours and dramatic contrasts in rhythm and texture.
I wanted to achieve a strong characterisation in the music by contrasting melodic, soloistic writing with contrapuntally inspired textures both fuelled by a lyrical impulse. In the first movement such passages represent my 'first and second subjects' and these provide similar emotive contrasts to those in the first movement form of the classical sonata. In addition, I wanted to lead my listeners through the delightful complexity of a sonic maze by the repetitions and extensions of clearly defined musical ideas.
These aspects can be heard in the contrast between angular, jagged full orchestra textures and the soloistic and ensemble sections. The percussion instruments are particularly prominent in the third and fourth movements and the final climax of the symphony features several percussive, rhythmic layers.
By contrast a light hearted, playful “giocoso” characterizes the second movement and with reduced woodwind and brass sections. This movement leads directly to an atmospheric slow third movement which features strings, harp and soft percussion.