The Michael Hill International Violin Competition is held every two years in Queenstown, New Zealand. Each competition, a New Zealand composer is commissioned to write a ‘test piece’ that each contestant must perform. This is a great way to introduce international musicians to New Zealand compositions, and also to inspire young violinists to perform them.
Kenneth Young is a New Zealand composer, conductor, and pedagogue. He receives numerous commissions from ensembles such as the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, NZTrio, and the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. He was also my conducting teacher at the New Zealand School of Music for three years, and so I was fortunate enough to work closely with him and play to him.
In my time in Melbourne, I have been endeavouring to present some NZ music to my Australian colleagues. These have included John Psathas’ Island Songs, Gareth Farr’s Wakatipu, and now Gone. Gone is a very introspective work and one that I have been really enjoying delving into. I spoke with the composer, Ken Young, about his compositional intentions and how Gone came to be.
Interview by Laura Barton
Laura Barton (LB): This piece was written for the 2015 Michael Hill International Violin Competition. Can you take me through the journey from receiving the commission through to it being performed?
Kenneth Young (KY): I took my time writing this. When one is having 20 performances by accomplished musicians during a competition where they have much repertoire to prepare, I didn’t want them to have to question anything or for any technical aspect to be amiss in any way. Wrong notes were also not an option. The work’s impetus came from an altercation with a close friend which left me feeling both angry and sad. I sent draught copies to a couple of violinist colleagues who were kind enough to offer some advice. I then completed a final version which itself was sent to people like Dene Olding at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to be checked before being sent to the competition contestants.
LB: I have my own ideas of what Gone expresses and what it means to me. Without giving too much away, because I believe that it is a very personally subjective work, what was your inspiration for writing?
KY: As stated above, the impetus was an altercation with a close friend. In the end, it can be about loss of any kind; loss of a friendship, a relationship, a favourite pet, the last time one stares at a beloved vista before travelling away from it, the loss of innocence, etc.
LB: As a composer, do you imbue each of your works with a specific meaning that you want the performer to convey and the audience to understand; or do you view your music as a conduit for the performers and audiences to find their own meaning in?
KY: A very good question. Throughout my career that has varied a bit depending on what I’m writing. For example, my 2nd Symphony has a specific programme to it which is personal to me and will never go into programme notes, whereas with the 3rd Symphony, it was simply about writing a piece of music. There have been works where my philosophical and spiritual ideals have been to the forefront of my thoughts. There is a common theme in my work of darkness to light, however, whether or not an audience picks up on that doesn’t matter to me. Ten people listening to the same piece will have ten different experiences.
LB: I played Gone for you a couple of years ago and the only advice you gave to me was ‘don’t start soft’. You’ve been intentionally vague in your dynamic markings and other directions – how was your experience watching the many different performances of Gone at the MHIVC, and did they come close to how you imagined it?
KY: That’s the thing, I didn’t really imagine how it should go specifically. I deliberately penned a work where the individual musical personalities of the contestants would be revealed, as it should be in a competition. I wasn’t disappointed either, as the piece received 20 different performances. It was marvellous.
Mon 22 Oct 11pm
Reflections of different cultures and times from around the world
BARTÓK Rhapsody no. 1 for violin and piano Folk Dances
DEBUSSY Sonata for violin and piano
JS BACH Selections from Sonata for solo violin in C major BWV1005
Tickets available at the door: Full $5 / ANAMates FREE