Anthony Ritchie, whose new composition Childhood is premiered by NZTrio this weekend, is one of our busiest composers.

There are 197 works on his opus list, including large-scale symphonies, concertos and a fine 2004 opera based on local author Ian Cross' novel, The God Boy. At 57, Ritchie is now an Associate-Professor in Otago University's Music Department but can well remember his early years as a freelance composer.

"There was always the worry of where your next pay was coming from but I did have a reasonable hit rate with Arts Council funding," he says.

"There were also smaller commissions and I even had to turn my hand to the odd school show. I still occasionally find myself getting a little nostalgic about those days, especially when I'm in the middle of marking."

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The audience is an essential component of Ritchie's musical equation. Looking around what he describes as our eclectic musical culture, he admires the accessible writing of fellow composers Gareth Farr and John Psathas but is surprised at the hold of what he describes as "a modernist streak".

"It still dominates the musical scene," he says.

"I would have thought that movements like minimalism and some of the more popular music styles would have had more of an effect but they haven't so far."

Ritchie is more than content to work within relatively conservative musical forms and tonalities, which he feels increases the expressive scope of his scores.

"Emotion is a very important part of the music I write and more traditional tonality better enables me to celebrate that."

It's a style that served Ritchie well in his recent oratorio, Gallipoli to the Somme, which premiered last year by Dunedin Symphony Orchestra with soloists Anna Leese and Martin Snell in a performance that can be viewed online.

He has explained the work as quietly anti-war, making a humanist statement about the experiences of ordinary people, and looking to Faure's Requiem as a model.

"I wanted to write something that was more personal; a down-to-earth and not-too-clever kind of piece," he says.

"I went to Faure after I'd looked at the Brahms German Requiem which is a great work, but so complex that a lot of the detail doesn't always come through."

Ritchie's NZTrio piece, Childhood, shares the same quest for simplicity, investigating the intricate relationship between our adult selves and the children we once were.

"In order to catch the way that children see the world, I've been exploring an almost naïve style of writing," he says.

"It's a little like a naïve artist would do, to portray that sense of newness and innocence, which can be so powerful."

He admits that although some of his own childhood may have registered subconsciously along the way, Childhood very much reflects his observations of his grandchildren, who range from 2 to 10.

"Music itself is a mysterious art form," he says.

"It's very emotional and comes from deep in our brain. It's very hard to verbalise why we appreciate it, or what it is that we respond to. Seeing its impact on the young, who react to it so intuitively, has been fascinating."

LOWDOWN
What: NZ Trio, Soar
Where & when: Loft at Q Theatre Loft; Sunday at 5pm and Tuesday at 7pm