2010 Music

Clouds over Mata-au

Chamber ensemble (2-7 players)

For string quartet

Clouds over Mata-au was written for the Stamic Quartet who gave the first performance at the Jine Pohledy (Other Outlooks) Festival in Prague in 2012.

About the work

I was fortunate to hold a residency at the Henderson House, built by the Austrian architect, Ernst Plischke, in Alexandra, a market town in Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand.

Central Otago is technically desert — rocky and redolent with the scent of wild thyme in summer, with spectacular snow-covered mountain ranges in winter. A great river, the Clutha or Mata-au, to give it its Māori name, flows through the area, and the house was built high above the river, which for me was the dominating feature in the landscape.

Clouds over Mata-au is a short piece in one movement, based on traditional quartet forms, alternating solo and concerted textures. It is dedicated to Margaret Clark and Vera Egermayer.

Score and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ

Clouds over Mata-au — SOUNZ

A CD including this work can be bought from all good record stores.

Shadows crossing water — CD

Tūmanako — journey through an unknown landscape


Five pieces for piano

Tūmanako was written as part of SOUNZtender, a silent auction which raised money for SOUNZ. Diedre Irons gave the first performance at The New Zealand International Piano Festival on 8 April 2011.

About the work

Helen Kominik won the auction for my piece which she dedicated to her grandchildren, Kate and Tom Fraser. Tūmanako, which means ‘hope’ in Māori and was the name of the house in which Helen grew up. I wrote the piece shortly after I’d been travelling by car through Yunnan, China and made a link between the journey through a landscape where you know nothing beyond the immediate surroundings, and moving through the landscape of the score.

Score and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ

Tūmanako — SOUNZ

A CD including Tūmanako is available from all good record stores, or borrow it from SOUNZ. It’s also available as an MP3.

Shadows crossing water — CD

Tūmanako has been recorded twice as part of SOUNZ’s Resound project.

Tūmanako — video 2018

Tūmanako — video 2010

RNZ Concert’s recording from 2018 is available online.

Tūmanako — audio

Song without words for Kai

Piano, Teaching works

For piano

About the work

This short piece was written to celebrate the birth of Kai, the son of Ryoko Tabuchi and Cameron Mewburn.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Song without words for Kai — SOUNZ


Solo instrument

for clarinet

Robert Carew commissioned Mata-au for Anna McGregor to play, to celebrate his partner Scilla Askew’s contribution to New Zealand music and mark her departure from the role of Executive Director of SOUNZ. Anna McGregor gave the first public performance on 16 March 2010 at St Andrew’s on The Terrace as part of the New Zealand Music for Woodwind concert series.

About the work

Mata-au is the original name of Central Otago’s Clutha river, which I saw from the Plischke house in Alexandra when I was artist-in-residence for the Henderson Arts Trust in 2009-2010.

Mata-au refers to the river’s characteristic whirlpools, caused by layered currents moving at different speeds, which resemble facial moko, or the wake of a giant waka, and the piece has its origins in Māori chant.


Anna McGregor has prepared a score detailing fingerings for the extended techniques.

Score and recordings

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Mata-au — SOUNZ

RNZ Concert recorded the premiere performance.

Mata-au — audio

Peter Scholes performed it in 2017 during a ‘composer portrait’ concert where I was asked to introduce the works.

Mata-au — video

Gillian Whitehead introduces her works — video


‘Whitehead’s 2010 Mata-au is a masterpiece. If American poet Wallace Stevens found 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, then this clarinet solo does the same, and more, for water. The marvellous Peter Scholes captured it to the last drop, from luminescent shallows to the gnarliest of rapids.’

— William Dart, New Zealand Herald, 4 July 2017

Lullaby of loss

Choral music

For SSAATB choir

Text by Jenny Bornholdt

The first performance of Lullaby of loss was given on 30 May 2010 by Baroque Voices, who also commissioned the work, at St Mary of the Angels, Wellington.

About the work

This lullaby is the lament of a woman, who has been irrevocably separated from her new-born child.


Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ.

Lullaby of loss — SOUNZ