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Victoria Kelly: Requiem (II...Digital sound file mp3
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Victoria Kelly: Requiem (II...Embedded video
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Requiem is a work that I’ve been contemplating for 30 years. I think it exists because I’ve never been able to find words for the events that inspired it — the death of my parents; the loss of friends; the experiencing, witnessing and sharing of grief; the advent of love; the birth of children; the beauty and hostility of the world; the wonder of the universe…
Fortunately other artists have found extraordinary ways of articulating these things, and their work has helped me to find my own language. I think art relieves us of a great burden. When we see the essence of ourselves reflected back to us in the work of others, we feel less alone.
With Requiem I have set out to create a transient space where time is suspended. In Māori mythology, a veil (te ārai) separates the living from the dead. Sometimes the veil is permeable. One of the pathways through the veil is mist, another is music.
The music of Requiem ebbs and flows around the poetry. Tides are generated by simple melodic shapes that rise and fall. As the melodies reach for each other they create harmony. The tenor, far beyond his natural register, represents our vulnerability, our hope and fear. The soprano, with her austere purity, is something immutable and beyond us.
Requiem is full of symbolism. The Prayer is set in a fertile garden where rain has just fallen. String harmonics and bowed percussion evoke light washing through leaves. Drops of water land around the singer as he observes the world. Rain ‘collapses out of heaven’ via slow glissandi in the strings, and larvae beneath the earth suggest lif and transformation. There are seeds of Schnittke, Brahms and Bach throughout.
‘Requiem’ is set in the night sky. The singer is completely alone and ascending an infinite spiral staircase into the stars. The piano resonates each time his foot falls. As he progresses light cycles slowly around him, and as he nears his destination stars begin to appear – resonant blocks of sound that hint at the music of the spheres. Finally, the singer is subsumed.
‘Where Sea Meets Sky’ is set in a blue void between the sea and the sky (inspired by John Rimmer’s work of the same name). Orchestral cloud formations appear and disappear around the singer who is calling to her loved ones across the void. They call back to her (woodwinds). In the centre is silence. On the other side, the singer and her loved ones are reunited in a warm embrace and the thematic material intertwines.
‘Bright Death’ is set in a field at dusk. The singer sits in a suspended state of disbelief as the choir quietly intones the reality of a loss, and all its impending sorrow. Also surrounding her is the love of the person she has lost. As the light falls, moths emerge – and their tense fluttering heralds her grief.
‘High Country Weather’ is set in a mountainous landscape at sunset. In Māori mythology, mountains are sometimes personified as ancestors, and in this case the mountains are my mother as she lay dying. The singer is entreating her to surrender. The choir forms clouds of sound which coalesce into exclamations of wonder. Beneath them, the mountains rise and fall for the last time and their breath evaporates into the sky.
Commissioned by the 2023 Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki Auckland Arts Festival, supported by Creative New Zealand.
Requiem is for my parents – Dennis and Dene Kelly – and dedicated to friends and loved ones who have all experienced different forms of loss; Pete, Judy and Danny Cox; Malcolm and Julia Black; Kaye Glamuzina; Helen Medlyn; Mahinārangi Tocker; and my sister and brother, Phillipa and Peter Kelly.
I - The Prayer
II - Requiem
III - Where Sea Meets Sky
IV - Bright Death
V - High Country Weather
Poetry by Bill Manhire, Sam Hunt, Ian Wedde, Chloe Honum and James K Baxter.