Between Worlds,Between Worlds
English explorer James Cook’s three voyages began in 1769 with a scientific expedition to Tahiti and ended with his death in Hawaii in 1779 which meant he spent a good part of the last 10 years of his life voyaging around the Pacific.
Te Mapouriki, the dusk — the evocative title of composer Kenneth Young’s work that has its world premiere in Gisborne in October — explores how HMS Endeavour’s captain was changed by his experiences through encounters with Pacific island peoples. Although Cook was born into the Age of Enlightenment — an intellectual and philosophical movement that advanced ideals such as liberty, progress and toleration — it was hard to see how he could have mixed easily with the indigenous people of Polynesia, says Young.
The Enlightenment was also a time of expanding the bonds of empire so there is double meaning in the name Te Mapouriki, the dusk.
“The decline of light, the dusk, it’s basically what the piece is trying to convey. Cook was a man of contradictions and was very much changed by his experiences. You have this whole dichotomy going on.”
In the last decade of his life Cook spent a lot of time in Polynesia where the cosmos and the self were understood differently, says Young.
“Mind and heart were not split, nor mind and matter. Through his exchanging of names Cook’s spirit got mixed up with ancestral spirits from the islands.”
When Cook became Tute, Kuke, Kalani’opu’u’ and, in Hawaii, Lono, a fertility and music god, he became enmeshed in contradictions, says Young.
“As a Polynesian high chief, he was descended from the gods; as a Briton, he was the son of a lowly farm labourer. As a naval commander Cook was expected to stay aloof and restrained, and assert his superiority over the natives. As a high chief, he was expected to be loyal to his friends, showering them with gifts and respecting their customs.”
When Cook formed close associations with island leaders, his relationships and his own men came under pressure, says Young.
This put shipboard discipline at risk and undermined his authority.
“After his death, these contradictions continued. At first, he was honoured as a European hero and Polynesian ancestor, later he was reviled as an imperial villain.”
Unlike Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead’s Turanga-nui that had its world premiere in Gisborne last year, Te Mapouriki is not a soundscape but a lyrical and ironic work, says Young.
“There are two aspects; the dichotomy is expressive. It opposes the light of his experience with his detached nature. The man of reason was detached — and disappointed. That was the problem of encountering indigenous peoples. You have to have empathy, some form of emotion.
“It’s difficult for someone like Cook in that he was a Briton, and part of that culture, but he was an explorer and in the end he was murdered by one of the indigenous populations he encountered.
“He upset some people along the way but I’m sure, in the end, his sense of the world was not as he perceived it when he left Britain.”
Landfall seriesTe Mapouriki is the sixth work commissioned as part of the Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s (NZSO) Landfall series of works that mark 250 years since first encounters between Maori and European with the arrival of explorer James Cook.
Te Mapouriki will be performed as part of the Tairawhiti Arts Festival.
The NZSO’s Landfall series began last year with Selina Fisher’s work Tupaia, followed by He iwi tahi tatou by Gareth Farr.
Dame Gillian Whitehead’s Turanga-nui premiered in Gisborne in September.
The NZSO performed Michael Norris’s Matauranga this year and Kenneth Young’s Te Mapouriki will have its world premiere in Gisborne in October. The concert programme will include Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 Paris, Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1, Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 Spring.
Te Mapouriki by Kenneth Young, performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, War Memorial Theatre, Thursday October 17 at 7.30pm. Bookings can be made at Gisborne i-Site, www.ticketdirect.co.nz, Lawson Field Theatre box office Monday-Friday Midday-5pm or www.tetairawhitiartsfestival.nz