Chris Gendall studied composition at Victoria University of Wellington before completing a doctoral degree at Cornell University with Roberto Sierra and Steven Stucky. He has participated in a number of festivals and conferences including the Wellesley Composers’ Conference, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Britten-Pears Contemporary Composition programme.
His works have received performances in Europe, Asia, and North and South America, from such performers as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, Stroma, NZTrio, the New Juilliard Ensemble and the New Zealand String Quartet. Select works are recorded on the Atoll and Rattle record labels. His Wax Lyrical was winner of the 2008 SOUNZ Contemporary Award. He is the 2016 Mozart Fellow at the University of Otago.
Chris told us about his experience of writing for the Miyata-Yoshimura-Suzuki Trio.
The ink is barely dry on my work Choruses, which I’ve composed for the Miyata-Yoshimura-Suzuki Trio’s upcoming concerts. It’s been an incredibly rewarding process: from conception to completion, I’ve been constantly reminded of how beautiful these three instruments are, and what these three exceptional performers are capable of – and I’ve been fortunate to be privy to their inner workings and nuances.
When Dylan Lardelli approached Samuel Holloway and I about collaborating with Mayumi Miyata, Nanae Yoshimura and Tosiya Suzuki, I almost couldn’t believe my luck. I had known of their playing for some time: Nanae and Tosiya were in New Zealand a couple of years ago as part of the Jo-ha-kyū series, and I had heard Mayumi’s artistry on the shō (mouth organ) in recordings of works by Helmut Lachenmann and John Cage. And with new pieces by two New Zealand composers whom I truly admire, alongside some of the best Japanese repertoire for recorder, koto and shō, the potential in this project was tantalising.
Then it began coming together. After getting the ball rolling with Euan Murdoch (back in 2014!), we planned a research trip to Tokyo (with support from the Creative New Zealand Asia Co-commissioning fund). It was there that I really began to hear how my piece could work, meeting with all three performers individually, and becoming acquainted with their instruments – in addition to experiencing the energy and hospitality of one of the world’s most adorable and overstimulating cities, of course.
First, we met koto legend Nanae Yoshimura in her studio, full of beautiful wooden instruments. She demonstrated a range of techniques and repertoire on the koto (a Japanese zither) with elegance and intensity. She makes playing her instrument seem so effortless, which – we realised after having a go – is a rather extraordinary phenomenon.
Tosiya Suzuki’s recorders may not have filled the room in terms of their physical presence, but the way he played them certainly enveloped us in sound. His energy is almost overwhelming. Whether he’s playing music of the renaissance or a contemporary score, Tosiya’s attention to detail is hyperactive – constantly making what seems like hundreds of fine-tuning adjustments to every aspect of his playing.
Hearing Mayumi Miyata play the shō is a truly poetic experience. This exquisite mouth organ has a sweet, double-reed quality – almost like a cor anglais, or a bassoon in the high register – playing a variety of different harmonic permutations. In this intimate setting, she performed for us some sounds from gagaku (the ancient Japanese court) as well as some more contemporary approaches, stoking our imaginations with possibilities at once simple and extensive.
The problem with becoming acquainted with the abilities of such expert performers is the temptation to write them something fiendishly difficult. While I can’t speak for Dylan and Samuel, I can say that my work (Choruses) is a tough little number. I know, however, that they’ll throw themselves head-first into my piece (and all the others on the programme), which makes for an exhilarating concert experience, and one that I am rapt to be involved with.
You can hear the Miyata-Yoshimura-Suzuki Trio in three performances this month:
Thursday 25 February, 7.30pm, Hopetoun Alpha, Auckland BOOK NOW
Sunday 28 February, 3pm, St Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington (in association with NZ Festival) BOOK NOW
Monday 29 February, 7.30pm, St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt (in association with Chamber Music Hutt Valley) BOOK NOW