Flutist Hannah Darroch commissions four fellow NZSM alumnae in new ‘lockdown’ project

Four New Zealand women composers have been commissioned to write short works for flute and piano in a new project by Hannah Darroch and pianist Andrew Crooks.

Hannah Darroch

Dr Hannah Darroch returned to New Zealand at the start of the Covid pandemic. Her original plan had been to visit for a tour and a few other projects, but these fell through and she found herself back in the country for longer than planned. By chance she ended up spending lockdown on Waiheke Island alongside fellow musician Andrew Crooks, and together they hatched a plan for a Creative New Zealand funded project to create a new set of miniatures for flute and piano. The project has commissioned four New Zealand women composers who all happen to be NZSM alumnae—Sarah Ballard, Pieta Hextall, Gemma Peacocke and Jasmine Lovell-Smith.

Hannah graduated with a Bachelor of Music with Honours in performance from the New Zealand School of Music—Te Kōkī in 2009 and recently completed her Doctor of Music at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal, Canada. Her doctoral research looked at the revival of traditional New Zealand Māori flutes, examining how extended techniques on the Western Boehm-system flute have been used to emulate the unique timbres of Māori flutes in recent works by New Zealand composers. Part of her research involved the commissioning of a new work for solo flute by New Zealand composer Chris Gendall, to be premiered later this year. While at Schulich, Hannah also won a 2019-20 Teaching Award for her teaching of a woodwind orchestral excerpts course, and is currently still working remotely for McGill, assisting in co-designing several courses for remote delivery during the upcoming Fall semester.

We asked Hannah a few questions about her recent project.

How did it come about?

Andrew and I both returned from our respective homes in Canada and the United States around the start of the pandemic, and in a lucky twist of fate were living on Waiheke Island during the lockdown. We had the chance to play some duo repertoire over that time, and had heard about the newly-launched Arts Continuity funding from Creative NZ to support new artistic projects. We liked the idea of putting together a proposal that supported multiple NZ musicians – many of us unexpectedly back in the country longer than planned, but also without the work we originally had booked – while creating something lasting at the same time.

A lot of my work in North America during the past four years has been with a diverse group of living composers, and I was very drawn to the idea of collaborating on new works, and championing the work of NZ women.

How did you decide on the composers you were going to work with?

We wanted to have a set of works that covered a range of voices, and supported composers who are based in different parts of NZ as well as overseas. Gemma Peacocke and I have a close mutual friend in the US but had never actually crossed paths – despite Montreal and New York being relatively close! I knew she had also come back to NZ in March, so was keen to finally connect with her. I had met Sarah Ballard before through my previous work with NZSO and RNZ Concert, and knew her music and how she writes for flute. Christchurch-based Pieta Hextall and I studied together at NZSM during our undergraduate, and earlier this year I’d seen an excerpt from her recent co-commission from the CSO. I was first introduced to Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s music when I was a producer at RNZ Concert and her album came across my desk – I’ve enjoyed following her music since then, and liked the idea of having someone from more of a jazz background added into the mix.

Ideally this project might lead to a wider collective of NZ women composers – I see this set of miniatures as an exciting starting point for future collaborations and commissions.

What stage are you at currently?

We’ve had workshops with the composers on draft versions and sketches, and will be working on the second phase of that process this month. We’re recording the four new works with Graham Kennedy and Chris Watson from SOUNZ in the coming months. After that we’ll be planning some public performances to premiere the new set officially – we’re fortunate here in NZ to be in a position to do so at the moment.

What have you enjoyed about the project so far?

It’s always a luxury to have the opportunity to work in-person with composers on something they’re writing for you – to ask questions about notation or interpretation, and to generally bounce ideas around and be part of the creative process. Working with the composers in Wellington a few weeks ago was a fun opportunity to play around together with various versions of a phrase with different articulations, octaves, rhythms, extended techniques etc., and to share feedback in real time.

This project has also been a really great way to connect with NZ musicians again, having been based overseas in recent years. I’m looking forward to sharing the works with my flute colleagues here and overseas – and to seeing where in the world these miniatures get performed in years to come.