I am working with mezzo soprano Siân Cameron and pianist Nicki Rose to create a new song cycle using Virginia Woolf's letters to her sister Vanessa Bell. These beautiful letters - some of the finest ever written - reveal a fascinating sibling relationship of creativity, humour, passion and emotional complexity.
Our challenge was to find a sound-world and voice for Woolf's words. Woolf describes her own writing as pouring a "jug of champagne over a hairpin". Her words demand intensity and simplicity: Truthful, focussed lines of melody poured over with rich resonances and fizzing colours.
Early on we worked on casting the relationship between singer and pianist as that of Virginia and Vanessa. Their musical ideas respond, intertwine, support... "infuse souls" (a description from Woolf's final diary entry). This is perhaps most evident in the beginning of the third song: 'A Dancing Light' where piano and voice notes arise and disappear into one another.
We were awarded a grant from Arts Council Wales and a Chagrin Award from Sound and Music to create and document three initial songs from the song cycle. We are now looking for funding to complete the 30-minute cycle setting letters written throughout Woolf's life.
Here is the film by Alex Bull, featuring performances from Siân and Nicki and discussions about the project.