APO's resident composer enthuses about new role

By William Dart

Karlo Margetic is the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's resident composer.
Karlo Margetic is the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's resident composer.

The posters for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's next town hall appearance are headlined Soul of the Cello, with Julian Steckel as soloist in the uber-popular Dvorak concerto; but for some, the concert is also a welcome opportunity to sample the first commission from resident composer Karlo Margetic.

The 29-year-old finds it difficult to pinpoint when he started putting notes on paper but thinks he was maybe around 13 and describes himself as "a very stubborn sort of autodidact type who's never had a particularly smooth relationship with anyone who was teaching me at any time".

Graduating from Victoria University in 2010 in composition and clarinet performance, Margetic carried off the SOUNZ Contemporary Award three years later with his high-powered piano trio, Lightbox, the title track of NZTrio's superb 2015 CD of contemporary New Zealand composers.

Working with a top-notch ensemble like NZTrio was, he says, both liberating and frightening.

"If nothing else, you had a responsibility not to waste their time," Margetic shrugs. "It can be a dazzling and disorientating experience but, when you get to the other side, after a journey of crippling self-doubt, you have something good."

The APO residency is more than just a welcome stipend and he very much appreciates the enthusiastic and open people in the orchestra's artistic planning department.

"I find myself in a position of trust which I'm not used to," he laughs. "I'm actually asked for my opinion about things, which is cool."

Margetic enjoys taking workshops with younger composers, even though he's "not a person naturally drawn to educational activities".

There has also been preliminary work with the orchestra's chief percussionist, Eric Renick, towards next year's Percussion Concerto. Already, its composer is determined that there will be no racing around the stage, mallets in hand.

"Walking from station to station looks naff," Margetic says. "It disrupts the flow of the music, making what's being played during all the walking around come across as filler."

There's certainly no filler in the seven-minute whirlwind of next week's Mainspring. "It's quite dense and full of notes," is the terse summing-up I'm given, but he also underlines crucial connections with the Carl Nielsen symphony that closes the concert.

A musical fragment from the Dane's second symphony is the mainspring of his piece, inspired, he says, by the little mechanism inside a wound watch that's a source of kinetic energy and makes it run.

Margetic is a great fan of Nielsen, admitting that, as a clarinettist himself, he's inevitably biased when he praises the older man's concerto for the instrument as "the greatest concerto ever written by a human being".

However, there were other factors for this contrapuntal young composer, as it starts with a fugato and that won him over in the first couple of bars.

"It's pretty obligatory for a clarinet player to like Brahms as well," he says, referencing the German's two clarinet sonatas and quintet. "But, from a technical view, I also admire the way that he develops his material.

"Brahms' tight organisation underneath his music provides an architectural support and a feeling of integration and wholeness, even if the listener is not aware of it.

"It's the same with Ligeti," he adds. "Everything is scrupulously organised and sometimes even obviously so, but you don't need to know that to enjoy the music."

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Soul of the Cello
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 8pm

- NZ Herald

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