Even weeks after the birth of twins, Victoria Kelly accepted a job she thought was too big to turn down: musical director for the 2011 Rugby World Cup Opening ceremony, working with 1000 musicians with an estimated audience of 60,000 at Eden Park, plus millions watching around the globe.
Leaving a creative meeting, Victoria stopped in her tracks when the magnitude of what she signed up for dawned. “I thought, ‘how on Earth am I going to pull this off?’ I stood on the footpath for about five minutes trying to come to grips with what was ahead and, meanwhile, I had a toddler and baby twins at home!”
After successfully shepherding that performance, nothing should overwhelm Victoria, 48, who has scored numerous New Zealand films, arranged music for musicians such as Neil Finn and Tami Neilson, performed with Strawpeople and The Bellbirds, and has written for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the NZ String Quartet and NZTrio.
So, during a global pandemic with the children schooling from home, Victoria took on another epic project: writing a secular requiem for orchestra, choir and soloists Jayne Tankersley and Simon O’Neill. An ancient Roman Catholic Mass and musical form, the requiem is intended to calm the souls of the dead. Its origins are religious, but Victoria is an atheist.
“I attended religious schools, so religion was a daily part of my life. The musical legacy of the church is profound. Even if you’re an atheist, you can’t deny God as a powerful idea and presence in the lives of people.”
Poems by Bill Manhire, Sam Hunt, Chloe Honum, Ian Wedde and James K. Baxter as well as the evocative images of photographer Anne Noble have inspired her because, she says, they talk about longing, wonder, the beauty of nature, love, loss and what it means to be alive.
“Requiem explores those themes; I’ve taken fragments of the Latin text to use like auras around the poems as a way of recognising the ways people have sought to understand our place in the universe – but there’s no mention of God.”
“I’ve taken fragments of the latin text to use like auras around the poems… there is no mention of god”
Victoria has long wanted to write a requiem, but her schedule was very crowded. “I became utterly exhausted as a freelance composer,” she says. “I became APRA’s Director of Member Services and instead of writing music myself, I worked on behalf of everyone else.”
During 2020’s first lockdown, the family borrowed a grand piano from Lewis Eady so Ashley could continue his NZTrio work, which had the side-effect of unlocking Victoria’s creativity. When the piano had to be returned, the family found themselves “grieving the loss of it” so they bought a more modest one.
“As the piece started to unlock itself after years of being an intangible idea, I realised I had to commit to it. But I couldn’t do that while working full-time, so I left my job,” she says.
It is written for people Victoria has lost. A beloved high school friend, Daniel might have some musical talent, so her mother bought a second-hand piano.
“I taught myself how to play it by ear; I started writing music. My first piece was called Jack Frost. It had three notes. I eventually had to have lessons .”
The lessons continued through some challenging years but the support at Iona College, where she boarded, was tremendous. “The deputy principal once even tidied my bedroom at school when I was studying for a music exam, so that I didn’t get in trouble with the matrons!”
One of those matrons, Nora Herron, used to drive Victoria to orchestra practice in Hastings. “They did everything they could for me to pursue music, which I think is an astonishing example of the power of teachers to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Victoria Kelly at Auckland Arts Festival 2023 is unsurprisingly a sell out show! But this will be recorded and broadcasted at a later date.