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Not a normal night at the Symphony: John Psathas

Oct 12th, 2009


Collaboration has been a key feature of John Psathas? recent work. In July 2008, Psathas arranged the music of New Zealand psychedelic rock band Little Bushman for their performance with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. The performance was one of a series of well-received concerts the APO has presented in recent seasons featuring prominent New Zealand bands of various types. In October 2009, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will present another programme featuring the combined talents of Psathas and the band.

Following on from the success of the APO performance, Psathas was once again engaged by the APO to work with Serj Tankian, solo artist and unconventional frontman of System of a Down. The performance on 16 March 2009, featured works from Tankian?s multifaceted solo album Elect the Dead, scored by Tankian and arranged by Psathas. Describing the process of collaboration at the time, Psathas said ?the arrangements and orchestrations keep getting bigger and bigger. We?re scoring for a big orchestra, and the APO certainly have their work cut out for them. Serj is totally clear about how he wants this to sound, and I love that he?s been pushing me to come up with ways to create an energy that is different from, but as powerful as, the performances on the Elect the Dead CD.? The concert was filmed for eventual DVD release.

Psathas? works continue to excite audiences around the world, with many performers introducing his music to new audiences. The New Zealand String Quartet took Kartsigar on their 2008 European tour, and Giunter Percussion and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra gave the European performance of the intense and exciting 2002 work Psyzygysm. New Zealand percussionist Jeremy Fitzsimons, an experienced performer of Psathas, joined forces with the renowned percussionist Pedro Carneiro to present Ukiyo in Portugal in May 2009. Carneiro also played One Study One Summary at the Percussive Arts Society International Conference in Austin, Texas in November 2008. Other North American performances have included the Flexible Music Ensemble?s performance of Mal Occhio in New York City in March this year. The Boston Crusaders recently performed an arrangement of Psathas? Maenads, the final movement of his double concerto View from Olympus, as part of their Drum Corps International World Championship show ?The Core of Temptation?.

Psathas? rich Greek musical heritage will once again be front and centre in Zeibekiko II, an update to his major 2004 work (conceived as an entire programme) for the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble and Greek traditional instrument soloists. The wind ensemble toured Holland with Zeibekiko in 2004 and it featured in the Bath Festival (UK) later the same year. New Zealand contemporary music ensemble Stroma picked up the programme and presented it in the 2006 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts, with the original soloists. Zeibekiko received immense praise, The Guardian (UK) describing it as ?an intoxicating collaboration ? [that] balanced nostalgia with celebration?. The NBE will premiere Zeibekiko II in 2010. Zeibekiko II will encompass 2500 years of Greek music, from the Byzantine era to contemporary Greek sounds. The programme will once again feature and draw on the talent of Manos Achalinotopoulos (clarino trumpet) and percussionist Vanelis Karypis.

Among the most prominent performers of Psathas? music is the Tak?cs Quartet, who will tour Psathas 2008 commission A Cool Wind to a number of US centres in March-April 2010, including the New York premiere at Carnegie Hall. Quartet member Andr?s Fej?r said of the work during its premiere tour of New Zealand ?it?s very convincing? It certainly feels as though it is looking back to the great tradition of string quartet music. It?s deeply felt, a thoroughly thought through composition.?

A number of commissions and opportunities will demand the composer?s attention in late 2009 and 2010. Psathas received the top bid in a SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music fundraising auction to commission five prominent NZ composers, and will compose a work for the commissioner?s choice of performer in the coming months. He is currently completing work on a new marimba concerto, the result of a collaboration between Pedro Carneiro and a consortium of New Zealand?s four major regional orchestras. The new work will be performed around the country.

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