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Memories of Purakaunui

Programme Note

Memories of Purakaunui was commissioned by Heleen Du Plessis for performance in a concert entitled Cellos of Aotearoa on October 3, during Festival Dunedin. It was composed for Heleen (lead cello), along with cellists Andrew Joyce, Ken Ichinose, Ashley Brown and David Murray, and pianist Terence Dennis. The single movement work was also written with the prospect of creating a version for solo cello and orchestra in mind.

Some years ago my wife and I bought a holiday house in a small seaside village called Purakaunui, near Dunedin. This is a beautiful and peaceful area of New Zealand, with bush, birds, and beaches, and has been an inspiration for my composing. This piece reflects aspects of Nature, with sunlight glinting on the still inlet at the beginning, bird calls at the piu mosso, and a turbulent wind. However, the music also reflects on human interaction with the environment. Adults and children play in and around the sea, as represented by a vigorous theme at the allegro, and further there are rowing of boats. These activities have been part of the fabric of Purakaunui for many years.

Going even further back into human memory, there are sadder, even tragic events that are part of the history. Intertribal warfare centuries ago led to a massacre on the beach near Purakaunui, and more recently Maori lands were taken by European settlers with little regard for the Treaty of Waitangi, or natural justice. Purakaunui was stripped of its bush, which has now grown back. Although many years ago, these events still resonate at Purakaunui today. They inform the musical ideas in the slow opening section, and the long cello melody at letter B in particular. When these ideas return at the end the mood is more peaceful and accepting. We cannot undo the past but, through knowledge of it, we can avoid future mistakes and learn to share the beauty of Nature in a respectful manner.

This composition was supported by The University of Otago.

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