Retrieving the fragility of peace


For orchestra

Retrieving the fragility of peace was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for their 2022 season. The first performance was given on 30 September in the Auckland Town Hall conducted by Alexander Shelley. Further performances were given in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

About the work

While I was writing this piece, my dear friend and colleague, Lyell Cresswell, who I’d known for 50 years since we were young composers-at-large in Britain, was diagnosed with cancer and died a few weeks later. The piece is dedicated to Lyell and his wife Catherine.

One evening, replete with food and wine, the 3 of us were talking, and I was very tired. I opened my eyes and saw them looking at me strangely. ‘Did I say something?’ I asked ‘retrieving the fragility of the voice’, they replied. Sleep talking, and hence the slightly varied title.

Before I’ve heard a piece, sometimes it’s hard to know what to say about it, as it doesn’t come alive until it’s performed, and that’s certainly true of this one, which draws on ideas I’ve worked with recently, but in a more abstract way. I think it may reflect something of the times we’re living in, but words can’t express as music does. It must for itself.


Retrieving the fragility of peace is scored for 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo); oboe, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet, clarinet (doubling bass and E flat clarinet); bassoon; 4 horns; 2 trumpets in C; 3 trombones; tuba; 2 percussion and piano.

Percussion: timpani, 4 rototoms, bell chimes (higher), tapped stones; glockenspiel, 3 suspended cymbals, claves, 2 woodblocks and bass drum.

Score and recording

The score will be lodged with SOUNZ after the premiere.

Listen to and watch a performance by the NZSO in October 2022.

Retrieving the fragility of peace — video


A review of the September premiere is available for subscribers to the New Zealand Herald website. Here is an excerpt.

‘Dedicated to composer Lyell Cresswell, who died six months ago, this intensely engaging music might have encouraged one to detect specific tributes in its soaring cor anglais solo or, later, during a more tense cello turn.

‘Such memorable moments emerged then returned, seamlessly, into the all-embracing Whitehead world, as did twittering piccolo birdsong and the rumbling of a perhaps discontent earth.
This is a substantial composition, subtly fueled by the sound worlds of nature and man. If at one point we felt the relentless drive of Stravinsky’s Sacre, we were spared any sacrificial horrors. The last few exquisitely scored pages ended with shimmering strings and percussion, suggesting that treasured peace should not be taken for granted.

‘Conductor Alexander Shelley, having magnificently brought this to vibrant life, provided some background to it while a Steinway was wheeled in for the storms and sunshine of Mozart’s D minor piano concerto.’

— William Dart, New Zealand Herald, 5 October 2022

Max Rashbrooke reviewed the Wellington performance on 1 October 2022.

NZSO hits a few speedbumps with Legacy concert — Stuff

Steven Sedley reviewed the same performance.

A concert of “music from then and now” with the NZSO — Middle C