Orchestra with soloist


Orchestra with soloist

Monodrama for mezzo-soprano and full orchestra

Text: Fleur Adcock

Alice was written as part of my residency with the Auckland Philharmonia in 2001. The first performance was given in July 2003 by the Auckland Philharmonia conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya with Helen Medlyn (mezzo-soprano).

About the work

Alice is 8 sections which often merge into one another.

  1. In a letter to her father, Alice describes shipboard life.
  2. In New Zealand, she compares her past life and hopes for the future.
  3. A dialogue between father and daughter, expressed through their letters.
  4. In Makarora, Alice discovers she is pregnant.
  5. Alice hears of her father’s death.
  6. In England, she learns of her husband’s death.
  7. Back in Makarora, Alice is turned away by her sisters-in-law.
  8. Turning her back on the South Island, Alice looks forward to her new life with her brother’s family in the north.

My approach

While writing this piece, I was drawn again and again into the thought that, although this is a true story, set in a particular place at a certain time, it has the resonances of a universal myth, known to all of us who live here. Our forebears, or we ourselves, have crossed the seas to begin a new life, with unforeseen and unimaginable difficulties and felicities, whether 10 years, a century or a millennium or so ago.

The music of Alice is text-driven, ranging between a language at times extremely simple, as was the basic musical language of the settlers, and at times quite complex, evoking a storm at sea, or the unease of the settlers in a new environment, or Alice’s reaction to the problems which beset her. The piece is held together by various referential motifs. The initial idea, which perhaps suggests the instability of the sea, is also present in the bell-like sounds marking Charles’ death, music associated with a storm at sea is later associated with mental stress, while music suggestive of the movement of shipboard lice later underlies Alice’s traumatic encounter with her sisters-in-law.


Alice is scored for: 3*34*3*; 3310; harp, timpani, 3 percussion, strings and mezzo-soprano.

About Alice Adcock

Fleur Adcock writes: ‘In 1909 Alice Adcock, a lively and adventurous young woman from Manchester, was on her way to New Zealand. She was 23, and had recently developed TB, for which there was then no cure. Somehow she persuaded her widowed father to let her travel alone to the other side of the world in case a healthy climate would save her life. (It worked – she lived for another 50 years). The family kept her entertaining letter describing shipboard life, and a few postcards from her have also survived, but most of what we know about her time in New Zealand comes from her father’s letters to her, of which he kept copies, or from family tradition.

On her arrival in New Zealand, Alice went into service, travelling widely, much to the consternation of her father. As housekeeper (and the only woman) on a farm in Makarora (a remote settlement on Lake Wanaka) she became pregnant to an unknown man, but was “rescued” by marriage to a local farmer, Charles Pipson, shortly before the birth of her daughter. In 1911, her beloved father died; in 1912, Alice and Charles had a son and the following year, pregnant again, Alice took her children back to England to visit her family.

Tragically, while she was away, her husband died suddenly of typhoid fever. Alice hurried back to Makarora to claim her inheritance, but left the 2 babies with her brother Sam and his wife (who were shortly to emigrate to New Zealand) and took only her eldest child, the illegitimate one, with her. This outraged her sisters-in-law, who saw it as an insult to their dead brother; they sent her away from the farm empty-handed. Once again she had to take a housekeeping job, this time in the North Island. In 1914, Alice and her brother’s family met up again, and Alice began a new life.’

Scores and recordings

Buy or borrow the full score and CD from SOUNZ.

Alice — SOUNZ

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has released a recording of Alice.

Alice — CD

RNZ Concert recorded the Auckland Philharmonia’s premiere performance in 2003.

Alice — audio


Alice won the 2003 SOUNZ Contemporary Award.

SOUNZ Contemporary Award

Tai timu, tai pari

Orchestra with soloist

Concerto for violin and full orchestra

Tai timu, tai pari  was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) with funding from the APO Trust and Creative New Zealand. The first performance was given by the APO conducted by James Feddeck with Andrew Beer (violin) on 10 June 2022. It is dedicated to Andrew Beer.

About the work

I wrote Tai timu, tai pari on the Otago Peninsula, in the wake of the first wave of Covid-19. I’d worked on other pieces during 2020, all initiated before the pandemic (and cancelled because of it), but this piece is written under the influences of these new times. I felt initially that I couldn’t write anything that was harsh or strident, but rather the sounds had to be gentle. This was probably something to do with the uncertainty, the keeping safe and the exhortations to be kind we’d experienced over those 18 months. However, as I wrote, the structure of the piece took over, and that self-censorship went away.

From my studio on the Otago peninsula I can look across the harbour towards the hills opposite, and what I see constantly changes. The tide ebbs and flows — tai timu, tai pari translates from te reo Māori as ‘low tide, high tide’ — light plays on the water, birds forage for food, rest on the water, whirl in flocks.

When I was writing, images of the variation in waves lapping on the shore, of distant disputes between birds or sea-creatures and birds in flight, of footprints on the beach came to mind. Not that the piece is primarily a soundscape — more than most of my pieces it harks back to the balance and proportions of the classical era.

Tai timu, tai pari is in a single movement, lasting a bit over 20 minutes, where the sections, in general terms, are slow, fast, cadenza, fast and slow.


Tai timu, tai pari is scored for: 2 + piccolo 222; 4331; harp, timpani and 3 percussion, strings and solo violin.

Percussion 1: 3 suspended cymbals, gong, bass drum, tapped stones

Percussion 2: wind chimes, clashed cymbals, tamtam, Thai finger cymbals, stones

Percussion 3: 3 suspended cymbals, gong, sizzle cymbal, stones

Scores and recording

Buy or borrow the score from SOUNZ soon.

Listen to and watch the Auckland Philharmonia’s 2022 premiere.

Tai timu, tai pari — video


William Dart  and John Daly-Peoples reviewed the performance on 10 June 2022.

Whitehead concerto a superb evocation of our landscape — New Zealand Herald

The APO’s evocative Ebb and Flow concert — New Zealand Arts Review


Before the premiere, Andrew Beer and I were interviewed by SOUNZ and the Auckland Philharmonia.

The connection between image and sound — publication

Tai timu, tai pari: Gillian Whitehead & Andrew Beer — publication

I was also interviewed for the APO News and Te Ao Māori News.

Legendary composer excited about work premiere — interview

Elizabeth Kerr talked to Andrew Beer about the process of preparing the concerto.

Andrew Beer in Whitehead premiere — Five Lines