Silver Stone Wood Bone – Bridget Douglas and Al Fraser

From Five Lines:

Composer Gillian Whitehead’s Hineraukatauri, commissioned by taonga pūoro master Richard Nunns and flutist Alexa Still, was her first composition to combine traditional Māori instruments with a western instrument. Named for the Māori goddess of music and dance, whose voice is heard in the pūtorino, the work has a notated flute part but asks the taonga pūoro player to improvise.

Whitehead, inspired by Nunns and drawing on her Māori heritage, has been hugely important to the renaissance of the instruments in Aotearoa. “Taonga pūoro,” she explains “are a sonic link to the past of our country. They must not be colonised or regimented by western music.”

Two decades later a younger generation is responding to these “singing treasures”. Bridget Douglas, NZSO’s principal flute and a former student of Still’s, and Alistair Fraser, mentored by Nunns, have performed Hineraukatauri extensively around New Zealand. Inspired by the piece, these brilliant musicians commissioned works from John Psathas, Rosie Langabeer, Gareth Farr, Briar Prastiti and Josiah Carr,  released on a new album alongside Whitehead’s beautiful composition and recently toured by Chamber Music NZ as Silver.Stone.Wood.Bone.

Farr’s Silver Stone Wood Bone opens and closes with the magical sound of the pātu pounamu, (greenstone gong) and offers the flute longer lines, weaving them together with flitting birdsong. Sound and breath are shared in Carr’s tihei mauri ora, Fraser playing nose flute, the musicians together breathing life into a rising, strengthening melodic line.

Moving images by artist Bridget Reweti accompanied the live concerts. An inverted waterfall became rising smoke for Rosie Langabeer’s drawing fire from the well, the music sounding an alarm, bringing dramatic tension and new sonic effects to the programme. In Prastiti’s very personal Terra Firma, the musicians play different roles, taonga pūoro representing a “solid home”, with bass flute restless and exploratory.

Psathas’ Irirangi (a meditation) combines live instruments with recorded natural sounds in a peaceful, atmospheric texture. Sonic boundaries blur. Writer Ruby Solly, enhancing the programme notes with spiritual concepts from te ao Māori, suggests Psathas is “paying tribute to the irirangi, the spirit voice we hear quietly above the music if the mauri and wairua allow it.”

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