15 Dec 2017

DOUGLAS MEWS: Japan Physical (introduction)

From Resound, 9:00 pm on 15 December 2017

Introduced by Kenneth Young.

Kenneth Young

Kenneth Young Photo: Deborah Rawson

"For those of you not familiar with Douglas Mews, he was born in Newfoundland, Canada’s 4th largest island, situated off the east coast of the North American mainland. He studied and worked in London before emigrating to New Zealand in 1969 where he took up a teaching position at the University of Auckland Music Department. He was made an Associate professor there in 1974.

"I have a fond memory of my time as a student at the University of Auckland. Mews entered the lecture room and asked four of us to contribute two bars each to an 8 bar melody in triple time in D major on the blackboard; yes, blackboard! That ages me somewhat.

"Once we’d finished, Mews sat down at the piano and improvised a double fugue on the given material, all the while chuckling away at how delightful it was. There was absolutely no obvious pedagogical point to this exercise; Douglas simply did it because he could, and yes, it was delightful, and impressive. What I took away from my time with Douglas, along with the other tutors there like John Rimmer and Thomas Rive, was the benefit of developing a solid compositional technique.

"Mews’s technique is very much on display in the work entitled Japan Physical. Ironically, it contains nothing overtly contrapuntal at all. Rather, the piano writing is spare and relatively lean, accommodating the vocal line with admirable clarity. The cycle contains four songs based on poetry by James Kirkup, an English poet who lived and worked in Japan for 30 years. The titles of the songs are self-explanatory; First Kimono, Japanese Umbrella, Sumo Wrestlers and Japanese Cradle Song."

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