A longer journey for The Abiding Tides
When the New Zealand String Quartet and soprano Jenny Wollerman gave the world premiere performance of Ross Harris’s The Abiding Tides at the 2010 New Zealand Festival, it was clear that a major new work had joined the canon. The power and poignancy of Vincent O’Sullivan’s spare poetry and Harris’s evocative settings created a compelling work that gripped the audience. “The song cycle made a profound impression,” said critic John Button.
The performers were also moved. Jenny Wollerman was strongly drawn to the work’s reference to the Titanic and its story, “the way the great technologically advanced and luxurious liner set off with such high hopes and expectations, only to founder so suddenly and tragically. I think we must live like this, positively, optimistically, it is the right way to sail through life: anything else would be to ignore life’s possibilities. That optimism was crushed is tragic, but doesn’t negate the importance of this philosophy.”
Often new works in New Zealand, as elsewhere, make an auspicious beginning but struggle to get that elusive second performance. So it’s particularly pleasing that this one featured with the Quartet and Wollerman in a 2011 Chamber Music New Zealand tour, with performances in Auckland, Manawatu, Nelson, Christchurch and Southland. The work is also heading offshore in 2012, when it will feature in the programme “Death and the Maiden” in the New Zealand String Quartet’s March mini-festival in London, New Zealand at Kings Place, this time with soprano Madeleine Pierard. A performance in Leipzig is also planned for March, associated with the launch of New Zealand’s special role in next year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.
It is almost a hundred years since the sinking of
the Titanic in the Atlantic, it is less than two
months since the last boat of illegal immigrants
sank north of Australia.
These songs move between such events – the
high hopes, the desperation; the individual
minds, the impersonal forces. And what
Herman Melville called ‘the great shroud
of the sea’ smoothed over both.