Joan La Barbara: Woolfsong
Woolfsong: An Opera in Progress

Monday, October 11, 2004
Frederick Loewe Theater, NYC

Joan Labarbara - vocalist
Kurt Ralske -live video imagery
Kenji Bunch - viola
Cornelius Dufallo - violin
Steve Gosling - piano
Tim Kiah - bass
Rubin Kodheli - cello
Jesse Mills - violin
Taimur Sullivan - saxophone


La Barbara's newest work explores the artistic process and the creative mind, focusing on Virginia Woolf and the fascinating way she wove her ideas. While it may seem strange to do a wordless opera about one of the great writers of the 20th century, Woolf's words serve as the basis of inspiration for La Barbara's musical composition. On October 11 at NYU's Frederick Loewe Theatre, La Barbara will be joined by video artist Kurt Ralske and musicians from the ensemble Ne(x)tworks in a collection of excerpts from WoolfSong, an opera in-progress.

La Barbara writes:

"My compositional process often begins with stream-of-consciousness writing, generating a list or series of words and phrases about a selected topic or theme. I then read through what I have written, finding the music that these words inspire in me, and proceed on to generating sketches and constructing the musical material.

"I recently began work on a new opera exploring the artistic process and the creative mind, specifically focusing on Virginia Woolf and the fascinating way she wove her ideas and revealed her ever-changing characters. At this point in the development of the work, I am not setting Woolf's magnificent words, rather, I am using them as the basis of inspiration for the musical composition as I previously used my own words. As I read through Woolf's works, I select segments and phrases that have particular resonance for me, and then reflect back on these as I compose. Sometimes my interpretation is quite literal; other times, it is the essence, the solidity or fragmentation, the color, gesture or emotion that I try to invoke. I am also using the form of her works to inform the architecture of my musical structure.

"My vision is that the musicians onstage are players and actors; all are Virginia Woolf and all are characters in her mind. The soundscape is designed to envelope the audience in the experience, moving from sound located onstage to sound that circulates around the audience, evoking a flow of specific images. In some cases, I am setting my impression of the images described by Woolf, translating from words to sound in much the same manner that I have generated multi-layered sound paintings inspired by visual art.

"My interest in Virginia Woolf began many years ago (in high school and early years of college). I was initially intrigued by the gender issues she raised and went on to explore my take on color symbolism in her work. Recently I have been fascinated with the way in which she exposes her characters, gently, carefully, as if they appear first in a mist or soft focus gradually reaching definition, yet ever changing, by the flow of the writing, and the shock of sudden clarity like the lightning bolt of a new thought. In reading her short stories, I became enthralled with the concept that sketches are the essence of thought, the bare bones without meat or decoration, left open for imagination to fill.

"I have asked video artist Kurt Ralske to help realize some of the visual ideas that have been generated from my recent readings of Woolf's work. We are exploring specific imagery as well as mood, and designing the flow of the material to reflect a specific pacing and palette of color. Kurt has designed software that allows him to combine material from his live camera with pre-recorded images.

"My process involves doing a series of public performances of this work in-progress to explore the material in real-time. I have always found that I learn an immense amount about the music in performance and in utilizing the talents of the wonderful musicians of Ne(x)tworks, I have found kindred spirits whose expertise help extend my creative ideas. For the October 11 performance, I will be joined by Kenji Bunch (viola), Cornelius Dufallo (violin), Stephen Gosling (piano), Tim Kiah (bass), Rubin Kodheli (cello), Jesse Mills (violin) and Taimur Sullivan (saxophone)."

-- Joan La Barbara, August 29, 2004