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New orchestral work pays tribute to plastic surgery pioneers

Composer Ross Harris has teamed up with poet Vincent O'Sullivan for a new work that commemorates the New Zealanders at the forefront of surgical innovation

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The physical and emotional scars of wartime and the men who sought to repair them are being honoured in Face, a new work by New Zealand composer Ross Harris, which will receive its world premiere with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO) on 19 April at Auckland Town Hall.

Face will be performed in the APO’s New Zealand Herald Premier Series concert Enigma, which also features two beloved masterworks in classical music: Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations. Harris’ new composition for orchestra and voices draws on the pioneering work of New Zealand surgeon Harold Gillies and his team, who developed radical new plastic surgery and skin grafting techniques to treat WWI soldiers. The piece is an international co-commission with the APO and BBC Symphony Orchestra in the UK, and following its worldwide premiere in Auckland, it will receive a second performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London on 28 April.

Harris has once again turned to long-time collaborator, poet Vincent O’Sullivan, for the text to accompany his score. The work features a trio of soloists: a soldier whose face has been destroyed in war, his fiancée, and the surgeon who operates on him. Soloists for the Auckland premiere are Australian tenor Henry Choo, Australian soprano Allison Bell, and New Zealand-Samoan bass-baritone Joel Amosa. The work also features a chorus, sung by Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir and directed by Dr Karen Grylls.

APO Chief Executive Barbara Glaser says Face is a major artistic response to the commemorations of WWI, which draw to a close in 2018. “Face is an extraordinary new work, and we are privileged to perform the world premiere to Auckland audiences. While it is undoubtedly a historical tribute to New Zealanders at the forefront of surgical innovation in WWI and WWII, the themes Ross touches on remain universal, even to contemporary audiences,” Ms Glaser adds.

The premiere of Face is made possible through generous contributions from Creative New Zealand, the Sir William and Lady Manchester Charitable Trust, the Gillies McIndoe Foundation, and Naxos Music Group. Judith Shea, Chair and Trustee of the Sir William and Lady Manchester Charitable Trust says the performance will be particularly poignant. “It is special to see the ground-breaking work of this plastic surgery team, which included Sir William Manchester, recognised in such a unique way,” she says.

The APO performance of Face will be recorded and released internationally under the Naxos record label. 

Written by

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

12 Apr 2018

APO is New Zealand’s designated metropolitan orchestra, serving Auckland, the country’s largest and most vibrant city, with concerts and events throughout the year.