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Tupaia (2018)
for orchestra: 3333 / 4331 / 3 perc+timp / hp / strings
duration: 8'
Commissioned by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra with support from Albany Symphony Orchestra

Chart of Islands by Tupaia, 1769 (

Programme Note

British explorer James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific (The Endeavour, 1769) had dual purposes. Firstly, to observe the transit of Venus across the sun as seen from Tahiti, and secondly, to find evidence of the great southern continent Terra Australis Incognita. During their time in Tahiti, the Endeavour crew became acquainted with Tupaia, a master Polynesian navigator and arioi (Tahitian priest). Tupaia had an extraordinary geographical knowledge of the Pacific Islands, and was highly skilled in traditional navigation based on the sea, swells, currents, winds, and stars. At the insistence of Joseph Banks, a British naturalist, Tupaia joined the Endeavour voyage and played a vital role upon their landing in New Zealand, particularly in his ability to communicate with Māori due to similarities between Polynesian languages.

On board the Endeavour, Tupaia transcribed his extensive memorized geography of the Pacific using newly acquired cartographical skills. Although this surviving Chart of Islands has the appearance of a Western map, the positions of the 74 islands are based on a series of Polynesian island compasses relative to a central island (Tupaia’s home, Ra’iatea), rather than cardinal points; with distances based on sailing durations. This fascinating record of cultural and navigational interaction inspired my compositional process, particularly in terms of the concept of notation as ‘mapping’ or ‘transcription of space’. My work, Tupaia, also draws inspiration from the idea of celestial navigation: the constant and gradual shift in perspective necessary to perceive the ‘rise and fall’ of stars, and ultimately to move forward.  

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Performance History

Sat 28th April, 2018 
US premiere by Albany Symphony Orchestra & conductor Gemma New (Albany NY, USA)

Sat 21st April, 2018
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra & conductor Edo de Waart (Wellington, New Zealand)

Fri 20th April, 2018 

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra & conductor Edo de Waart (Auckland, New Zealand)

Thu 19th April, 2018

world premiere by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra & conductor Edo de Waart (Hamilton, New Zealand)

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