'She is a genius' - the Kiwi musician whose work could move you to tears

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Composer and performer Claire Cowan could be feeling a few butterflies about now as this weekend she will unveil Stark, a 20-minute violin concerto written for soloist Amalia Hall.

Claire Cowan is responsible for the music behind some our best television moments.
Source: Seven Sharp

Inspired by the life of New Zealand dancer Freda Stark, it will be played by Hall and Orchestra Wellington, who commissioned Ms Cowan to write the piece.

The concerto represents months of work, many unfinished cups of tea, and the mother of all messes - her studio awash with sheet music, pencils, crumbs and abandoned shoes.

This morning after the first full orchestral rehearsal with Ms Cowan in attendance - musical director and conductor Marc Taddei tweeted the word "fabulous". 

It's high praise - but Ms Cowan seems to be attracting bouquets wherever she goes.

Her most recent high-profile commission was writing the score for Hillary, the six-part television series on the life of Sir Edmund Hillary.

Series producer Carmen Leonard of Great Southern Television says Ms Cowan is one of the most talented individuals she's ever met.

"She is a genius. I will use her again and again and again," said Carmen Leornard.

Ms Cowan says she thinks of each character as an instrument. Sir Ed - being a country boy, a little bit gung-ho, an adventurer - was matched up with the banjo. (One of six instruments she plays.)

Places, too, have their own sound. And they are layered and reprised as characters and places come together said the talented Kiwi composer.

"I just figure it out as I go along. I don't know any answers at the beginning. We just see how it goes. Trial and error," said Ms Cowan. 

She says music is the heart and soul of a production and she believes its importance is often under-rated.

"Like it or not, believe it or not, the music is what tells us how to feel."

Hillary has so many emotional moments - reaching the top of Everest, Ed being too shy to propose to Louise, their wedding, the tender moments of reflection between Ed and climbing partner George Lowe, the plane crash - all offered incredible opportunities for moving music.

"I definitely felt pretty emotional in episode six when I was playing it back when I'd finished it and it all sort of gelled together.

"When I was feeling the emotions I knew I was doing something right."

She describes Hillary as a dream project. She said she didn't mind spending hours on it, often late into the night, because it was "my passion project as well as my work."

"I experience being rich and being poor in the same year. But it's fine. I've learned to live with the roller-coaster lifestyle."

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