1989 Music



For full orchestra

The first public performance of Resurgences was given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young at the New Music New Zealand festival in Edinburgh in December 1998.

About the work

Resurgences was written during my 6-week residency at Victoria University of Wellington in 1989.

It is about living away from the sea and being drawn back to ideas of the sea, ideas that are very strong with all New Zealanders — looking out to distant horizons.


Resurgences is scored for: 3 (3 doubling picc)333; 4331; timpani, 3 percussion, harp and strings.

Scores and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Resurgences — SOUNZ

A recording by the NZSO of Resurgences was released by Continuum.

New Zealand Composers — CD


For Whitehead, the piece is very much in the New Zealand tradition, inspired by the geothermal activities around Rotorua, phenomena which she sees as related to the tidal elements that inform other works, including her 1990 string quartet, Moon, Tides and Shoreline.

A densely layered piece, Resurgences features the various sections of the orchestra (including a colourful contribution from percussion) used as both polyphonic voices within the whole work and within their own group of sonorities. Underpinning the score are complex mensural canons, although the listener is not aware of such structural niceties, as volatile shifts of texture and tempo give the score the primeval energy of an Antipodean Rite of Spring.

The landscape is never far from sight.’

— William Dart

Napier’s Bones

Chamber orchestra or large ensemble

For 24 percussionists and improvising pianist

Napier’s Bones was commissioned by Judy Bailey and funded by the Performing Arts Board of the Australia Council. The first performance was given by Judy Bailey and the Sydney Percussion Ensemble conducted by Graeme Leak at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1990.

About the work

I wrote Napier’s Bones to involve the improvising talents of Sydney-based pianist Judy Bailey, who, like me, grew up in Whangarei, New Zealand, and as a companion piece to Charles Wuorinen’s Percussion Symphony.

The title has many resonances, but the Napier referred to is Sir John Napier, the inventor of logarithms, and Napier’s bones in Africa were strips of ebony and ivory used for calculating, suggesting to me both rhythmic complexity and the layout of a keyboard.

The piano part is almost entirely improvised, although the pianist is given basic material to work with. There are various forms of interaction with the ensemble for the soloist — call and response, elaboration of harmonic patterns, decoration of percussion textures, improvised duets with percussion instruments, free solo improvisation. The details will vary greatly from performance to performance, although the shape of the piece, which encompasses many speeds, moods and textures in its single movement, remains constant.


There is also a later version for 6 percussionists and improvising pianist.

Napier’s Bones

Buy or borrow the score and parts from the Australian Music Centre.

Napier’s Bones — AMC