David Hamilton is one of our busiest composers. Last year saw 19 performances of his music around the country, including a major premiere from Auckland Choral and a Christchurch revival of his 2005 Missa Pacifica.

Yet this 59-year-old composer, whose latest score, The Faraday Cage, receives its Auckland premiere by NZTrio tomorrow, is just as proud of a short choral piece that Taihape's Arcadian Singers delivered at the 2014 Rangitikei Festival.

Hamilton puts great store on the community music scene. "It's part of the composer's job to tailor what he does for the specific needs of the performers."

Not all of our composers follow this philosophy. "There's a bit of a gulf between composers like myself, Anthony Ritchie and David Griffiths who engage with community music, and those who really don't want a bar of it. Some say that this isn't real music-making. But without it, we run the risk of having no audiences in the future."


This is a grim prediction from a composer whose orchestral words appeared on one of Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's very first recordings 25 years ago.

Back then, Hamilton was known for his admiration of American minimalist music but he is quick to say he had always had an eye on the American scene.

"At university, I was really interested in the music of Charles Ives and then George Crumb. In due course, I responded to the rhythmic and harmonic aspects of minimalist music, finding a style that resonated with the things I wanted to do."

Hamilton admits that rhythmic and harmonic elements are what appeal to him most in music. "I tend to be very much a harmonic composer," he explains. "That's where things are grounded, not so much with melody."

He has appreciated NZTrio's invigorating concerts and championing of New Zealand composers for years, and can't resist revealing that cellist Ashley Brown sang in Hamilton's mixed-voice choir when Brown was a student at Auckland Grammar. "He probably played his cello in some of the shows I conducted," Hamilton laughs.

One of the joys of writing for NZTrio was "that you know they can damned near do anything, so this was an open invitation to give them something that will show them off really well and have a great musical experience".

Early on, while composing The Faraday Cage, he felt the distinct urge to "do something different" but, "once I got into it, I got the feeling that it's not going to be David Hamilton".

The title of the work is explained as "a metal mesh that distributes electrical charges around an object placed inside it ... after feeling I had found a good title, I felt slightly trapped by it, having to justify it".


He lists some of the score's features that go along with the name, from "high harmonics" to a "glittery piano part", concluding that "there's nothing worse than sitting down, having just composed something, and wondering what you're going to call it".

Hamilton is a composer who believes in music communicating with an audience and giving them pleasure. In November, he goes to Manila, where one of his choral pieces has been selected for performance at the annual Asian Composers League International Festival. Recalling visits to previous festivals, he remembers too many orchestral and chamber works that were "skilfully written but didn't make any emotional contact with me".

Not so with some of the pieces by younger composers. "They were willing to bring in a little more warmth; they weren't afraid of tonality."




Where and when:

Q Theatre Loft, 302 Queen St, tomorrow at 5pm