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Michael Norris wins contemporary music award

Press Release – SOUNZ


Michael Norris, winner of 2019 SOUNZ Contemporary Award.

Wellington composer Michael Norris has won the 2020 SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha with Mātauranga (Rerenga) for orchestra, taonga puoro and live electronics.

Michael says: “I’m deeply honoured by this award and I’d like to thank APRA and SOUNZ particularly for their continuing commitment to celebrating New Zealand music. Big shout out to my soloist Al Fraser for not only being a wonderful and gifted maker and performer of taonga puoro, but also a good friend. Thanks to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for the commission, and thanks to the conductor, Carlos Kalmar, for being a friendly and enthusiastic advocate for the work.

“This piece was the beginning of a journey for me into te ao Māori and taonga puoro that started back in the early 1990s when I attended workshops by matua Richard Nunns. Since then, my understanding of these unique instruments has grown, thanks to those who are doing the mahi such as Horomona Horo, James Webster, Ariana Tikao, Jerome Kavanagh, Al Fraser, Warren Warbrick, Rob Thorne and others. Finally I’d like to contribute in some way to the continuing development of these instruments, so I’m going to donate my prize money to Haumanu, a collective of taonga puoro performers who are developing these unique voices in contemporary Aoteoroa.”

SOUNZ Deputy Chair Eve de Castro-Robinson presented the Award at the 2020 APRA Silver Scroll Awards held online tonight.

SOUNZ Executive Director Diana Marsh says: “The winning work ‘Mātauranga (Rerenga)’ demonstrates the high quality of New Zealand composition which the SOUNZ Contemporary Award has been recognising for more than two decades. Michael’s orchestral work incorporates taonga puoro and live electronics, creating a beautiful sound world. We encourage all orchestras to continue to commission works by New Zealand composers as they provide an important platform for the music of Aotearoa New Zealand. Ngā mihi nui ki a koe Michael, congratulations.”

The SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha, now in its 23rd year, recognises New Zealand compositions demonstrating outstanding levels of creativity and inspiration and has been presented in collaboration with APRA AMCOS NZ since 1998.

This was Norris’s seventh nomination for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha, which he won in 2014 with Inner Phases, in 2018 with Sygyt, and in 2019 with Violin Concerto ‘Sama’. The Wellington-based composer, software programmer and music theorist teaches composition, sonic arts and post-tonal music theory at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music. He is also Editor for Wai-te-ata Music Press and Co-Director of Stroma New Music Ensemble.

Mātauranga (Rerenga) was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, featuring taonga puoro soloist Alistair Fraser, and live electronics realised by the composer.

Michael says: “I envisaged this piece as a tightly integrated soundworld between the taonga puoro and the orchestra, which, given their very different timbres and performance techniques, was quite challenging. I decided to use custom-built live electronics to transform the sounds of the taonga puoro in real-time into wavelike textures which the orchestra would then imitate and develop. In this way, the orchestra becomes an immense resonator and amplifier of the intimate, expressive sonorities of the taonga puoro.”

The winning work was selected, through an anonymous process, by a judging panel of independent industry representatives including an international judge Frank J. Oteri (USA) and New Zealanders Marc Taddei, Ross Harris, Gretchen La Roche and Sarah Watkins.

This year, 48 works were entered by 39 composers, demonstrating the high quality of New Zealand composition through compelling, fascinating works representative of a broad range of styles.

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