Featured Composer: Brigid Ursula Bisley

Source: Brigid Ursula Bisley

Source: Brigid Ursula Bisley

Brigid Ursula Bisley is an established NZ composer, arranger, conductor, music teacher, and founder of the Waitakere Orchestra (2003-2013). A graduate of the Auckland University School of Music, she studied violin performance with David Nalden, and composition with John Rimmer and John Elmsly. Later she studied conducting with the late Maestro Eliano Mattiozzi Petralia, and with Professor Uwe Grodd from the Auckland University School of Music, both of whom encouraged her to pursue conducting as a career. In 2011 she attended masterclasses with the Symphony Australia professional mentoring programme for conductors.

As a composer, she has written for voice, cello, piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra, film and dance, which have been performed and broadcasted in NZ, Europe and England. Highlights include Waiata for 2 celli (1995), commissioned by cellist Alexander Ivashkin and premiered at Festival Alternativa in Moscow; Come Back Safely, which gained her the place of finalist in the 1999 SOUNZ contemporary awards); Waitakere Overture, commissioned by West Auckland’s former Mayor Bob Harvey for the opening of the new council chambers, premiered by the Waitakere City Orchestra and conducted by the composer; music for Jinx Sister - Auckland Film Festival 2008.

As the conductor of Waitakere Orchestra, a semi professional chamber orchestra, Brigid has conducted many works from the classical repertoire, has written new works, and has commissioned and performed new works by other NZ composers. She has earned outstanding praise for her work as a musician and entrepreneur in her local community, and in 2006 was awarded at the Infratil Community Awards, the Special Award for Art and Culture in recognition of her outstanding voluntary service to the community of Waitakere City. She is committed to the development of musical culture and education in NZ and is a passionate advocate of music making and sound creation at all levels.

Brigid teaches violin, composition and theory privately and in schools. She was a foundation teacher for nearly 3 years for the pilot programme for Sistema Aotearoa, a branch of El Sistema in Venezuela.

She has combined her career with raising a family of three daughters who are now grown up. 

Brigid Ursula Bisley's song cycle, Shelter, was premiered in PLEXUS: Sunday Live at ABC on 19 October 2014 at the Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank, Melbourne.

Shelter (2014)

   I. Shelter

   II. Path

   III. St. Kilda

   IV. Hoopers Inlet

The composer writes: “Shelter is a musical setting of four poems by well known NZ poet, Cilla McQueen.  The selected poems feature themes of love and intimacy, and passion for the poet's Celtic ancestry and for the NZ landscape. I chose them for their rich imagery, breadth of feeling, and sensuality, which for me evoked sound and colour, and for their respective metres which naturally lent themselves to a rhythm and flow compatible with musical expression. It is important to me that in the process of setting poems to music the metre of the texts is honoured, so the tenor line follows the metre of each poem, thus defining the shape and structure of each song; the text meaning is enhanced through instrumentation, specific pitch placement, combinations of colour and texture, and the use of silence.

The harmonic language combines modality with chromaticism and dissonance to bring in tension and darker hues. The first two songs use strophic form and hint at a Celtic sound world with the use of bagpipe-like drones and bare, exposed intervals. This carries over into the third song, St.Kilda, which has a freer text structure and gives emphasis to timbre and silence. A repeated upward melodic flourish in St. Kilda, based on a modal scale, spills over into the final song, Hoopers Inlet, which through a delicately colouristic language  positions the listener within the space and tranquillity of the poem. Threading through the songs is a preoccupation with intimate connection, either to a person, a place, or to nature, and a reverence for spirit of place.

Acknowledgments – Cilla McQueen's poems have been set to music with kind permission of the Otago University Press. I would also like to thank Cilla McQueen, for agreeing for me to set her poems to music and for her interest in my work. My very special thanks go to Plexus, in particular Stefan Cassomenos, for commissioning this new work and giving me an opportunity to write for a wonderful ensemble of musicians. This commission has been funded by Plexus.”

© Brigid Ursula Bisley 2014