GRAMMY-nominated Los Angeles Percussion Quartet and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra will be joining forces to perform the world premiere of New Zealand composer James Gardner’s new concerto in the upcoming concert Lamb & Hayward Masterworks: The Planets on 21st September.

Commissioned especially to mark the first ever collaboration between the quartet and the orchestra, the concerto, titled Gyre: Ghosts with Accents acknowledges the geographical distance between the two and how they are both linked by the Pacific Ocean, said Gardner.

“I looked at a number of possibilities, including the various voyages between the two continents and looked at historical descriptions of what Europeans imagined the Pacific to be like, but nothing gelled with the music I was writing,” he said. “Then I started to think about the North and South Pacific Gyres; the former contains the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” where there’s a huge amount of ocean plastic accumulating. The gyre, nevertheless, represents some kind of connection with the Pacific, acknowledging the location of California and Aotearoa. By then, I’d written the beginning of the piece which has swirling woodwinds with gyre-like associations, but it’s certainly not a piece of programme music.”

The subtitle ‘Ghosts with Accents’ came incidentally when Gardner was looking over the score. “Like a number of things, it has a double meaning. The first – which was a ‘note to self’ that I wrote on the score – was to remind me to include the percussion playing ‘ghost’ notes, [which are] very quiet strokes, often produced by the bounce of the sticks off a drumhead. And I wanted these ghosts to occur between strong accents, so I wrote ‘ghosts with accents’. As soon as I’d written the phrase, I thought, ‘that sounds pretty good’, and then other meanings suggested themselves, like the idea of the sea having so many ‘ghosts in it; ghosts of cultures and people lost at sea. And now [there’s] plastic waste and pollution as a ghost of human activity.”

When he was first approached for the commission, his reaction was one of delight. “I’ve been following the orchestra and their interesting and enterprising programming. It’s not every day you get asked to write for a percussion quartet, and being offered a relatively large orchestra is a privilege and luxury.

“My second reaction was mild terror because I needed to write something worthwhile for them.”

One of the greatest challenges of writing for such a large orchestra was making sure that everybody had something to do in the piece.

LA Percussion Quartet member Justin DeHart, who moved to Christchurch in 2017 to take up the position of Music Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, said Gardner was the perfect composer to explore the entire range of what percussion instruments could actually achieve with an orchestra. “We’re all so excited to travel down to New Zealand for the first time as a quartet to perform this new percussion concerto with the CSO,” he said. “We have heard so many great things about what CSO is doing for Christchurch and how it is leading the way for adventurous programming and organisational operations in New Zealand. We really look forward to celebrating this synergistic collaboration and help nurture a broader awareness of musical possibilities with Christchurch audiences.”

The quartet’s seminal album Rūpa-Khandha received multiple nominations in the 2013 GRAMMY Awards, including the prestigious Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category.

For more information, please contact CSO marketing & communications co-ordinator Francesca Lee at or on 03 943 7791.


SOUNZ blog is designed for expressive discussion and debate amongst the arts and broader community. This is intended to be a safe space so please remember to keep comments respectful and avoid personal attacks, criticisms of specific organisations and defamatory language. Comments are moderated to ensure that they comply with SOUNZ’s Community guidelines.