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One afternoon Margaret Medlyn and I sat across her kitchen table to discuss poems I might set as the basis of a song cycle for her. She produced quite a stack of New Zealand poems for me to consider: among the items in this pile was a slim, rather unassuming little volume by Alistair Campbell titled Galliploi & Other Poems. Whilst Gallipoli naturally conjures up powerful socio-historical associations for all New Zealanders, I was almost immediately drawn to the second set of poems in the book titled Cages for the Wind and decided to set the last five poems in the collection as a cycle. What struck me most, and still seems so fresh now, was Campbell's talent for evoking deeply powerful images and feelings in poems of matchless delicacy and subtlety. This understated approach is what drew me to a poem like "Whitey" in which Campbell couches a rumination on death in what appears to be at first an almost whimsical remembered dialogue with a blackbird (the eponymous Whitey) that used to frequent his garden. Most important for me as a composer, though, was the immediately singable lyricism of the poems. I distinctly recall the way, as I began reading it, "Words and Roses" (the first song, and one of Campbell's most famous poems), began to suggest musical atmospheres and vocal lines unfolding in my mind like buds of roses unfurling their petals. When poems being to sing themselves to me, I know I have found the right material.
This work was the recipient of the "Director's Choice Award" in the Boston-International Contempo Festival's International Composers' Competition.
Commissioned by Jack C. Richards for Margaret Medlyn
X. Words and Roses
XI. Warning to Children
XII. Gift of Dreams
Lyrics by Alistair "Te Ariki" Campbell