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ClassicsOnline Home » HARRIS, Ross: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Pierard, Auckland Philharmonia, Letonja)
Described as “often beautiful and sometimes frightening” (NZ Listener), Ross Harris’s Symphony No 2 is a setting of poems on the subject of New Zealand soldiers shot for desertion in World War One. Writer Vincent O’Sullivan’s deeply felt descriptions of violence, love and tragedy are reflected in a moving and dramatic score. Symphony No 3 is inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall, and develops and transforms klezmer-like tunes as its basic material. These symphonies were composed for the Auckland Philharmonia, and both won the SOUNZ Contemporary Award.
Ross Harris (b. 1945)
Symphonies Nos 2 and 3
Ross Harris was born in Amberley, New Zealand. He studied in Christchurch and Wellington and taught at the Victoria University of Wellington Music Department for over thirty years. In 1985 he was awarded a QSM for his opera Waituhi (with libretto by Witi Ihimaera) and in 1990 he received the CANZ citation for services to New Zealand music. In 2004 he took early retirement from teaching and began working as a freelance composer. His residency with the Auckland Philharmonia (2005–2006) led to the composition of three symphonies. He has been awarded the SOUNZ Contemporary Award (the most prestigious annual prize for composers offered in New Zealand) four times and been a finalist eight times in the thirteen-year history of the award.
Symphony No 2 is a collaboration between Ross Harris and the writer Vincent O’Sullivan. Eight poems are interwoven into the fabric of symphonic form. The work was inspired by the pardoning of a number of New Zealand soldiers who had been court-martialed and shot for desertion in World War One. A newspaper article described one of the soldiers as ‘living with a French woman’.
“That a young man deserted, and fell in love with a local woman, goes against the accepted conventions of warfare. Yet it struck me that there was heroism of its own kind in this story, a stand for emotional certainty and freedom when everything worked against it. The two voices in these poems, the soldier’s and the woman’s, cross and recross that terrain—hopeless freedom, fated love, the courage to attempt it, the certainty of loss. This is the tragedy of war, as it comes to us from unexpected angles.” (Vincent O’Sullivan)
Symphony No 3 was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia while Ross Harris was Composer in Residence at the New Zealand School of Music in 2008. The work was inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall and by klezmer music. Klezmer-like tunes written by the composer form the basis of the work whether quoted in all their innocence or interwoven into symphonic textures. The symphony is in one movement divided into four sections with the thematic material developing over the length of the work.
“Ross Harris’s long, complex and extravagantly textured Third Symphony opens with a scattering of ideas held together by a slowly descending bass line. Harris throws all of his thoughts at us at once; it is as though we have met all the characters of a difficult novel on page one. But as the symphony moves on, the textures thin out and we hear them on their own. We hear the fierceness, humour and beauty of them all, and how they are interconnected on an extended canvas.” (Rod Biss, NZ Listener August 2007)
Symphony No 2 was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and written while Harris was APO Composer in Residence, 2005–06.
Symphony No 3 was written for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra while the composer was the Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards Composer in Residence at the New Zealand School of Music, 2007–8.
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HARRIS, Ross: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Pierard, Au...