Little Elegies

year: 1985    instrumentation: (picc)33(ca)3(Eflat, bscl)3(cbsn); 4331; perc (4),cel.,hp,pf; strings
published: Wai-te-ata Music Press
Commissioned: by Television New Zealand to mark the 25th anniversary of television broadcasting in New Zealand.

I have many reasons to thank Peter Nisbet, the General Manager of the NZ Symphony, who, through the 70s and 80s, passed a series of commissions my way.

How privileged I was to be invited to write for the best ensemble in the country! Little Elegies was a particularly prestigious commission, with the concert recorded for telecast to the nation. I successfully argued that my piece, commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of television in New Zealand, should exploit the medium itself, not simply be a telecast of the orchestral performance. And so, with the help of that wild man of television production, Peter Coates, we produced, at great speed and with few resources, an experimental video that inter-cut slow motion gestures of the conductor with what were sometimes quite harrowing topical television news clips. I don’t recollect what the reaction was to our provocative creation – perhaps nothing more than the Great Silence with which all New Zealand artists are familiar!

Although this work was commissioned as a celebration, I chose a sombre tone, to draw attention to some of the darker aspects of the popular media, particularly the trivialisation of human tragedy as mass entertainment. I had been deeply shocked after reading Dith Pran’s book The Killing Fields and seeing the movie of the same title, and felt that any kind of personal statement I could make would be insignificant besides the enormity of the horror; hence the ‘littleness’ of my elegies for the suffering of the Cambodian people.

In its first performance, Little Elegies was conducted by Jose Serebrier.

Jack Body discusses Little Elegies with Jim Svejda, below.

click here for Little Elegies at SOUNZ