New Theatre, Temple Bar, Dublin
29 July 2007
‘Neck, pegbox and scroll’ was the attractive title of a concert devoted to works for cello and double-bass that took place in the New Theatre on 29 July. This was the latest event organised by the Young Composers’ Collective of Ireland/Comhaontas na Chumadóirí Óige na hÉireann. Waiting around for their elders or for established music ensembles to take an interest might be both unproductive and a drain on patience. Why not create their own opportunities and structures as predecessors like Donnacha Dennehy and Benjamin Dwyer have done? It doesn’t matter whether these particular individuals are or remain a coherent group or whether all of them remain in the game in a few years’ time. The experience of putting their work in front of the public is a constructive one, even if the intimate space of the New Theatre is less of a platform than the NCH – and even if most of the audience appear to know each other. De réir a chéile… Kate Ellis, well known for her work with Crash and elsewhere, performed the works for cello. Daniel Bodwell, who has played with Crash as well as in a variety of jazz and other contexts, took care of the double bass.
Brian Ledwidge Flynn’s jaunty Perv came in three sections. Where a nugget of melody threatened to escape and unfold, it was liable to be thwarted by a see-sawing repetitive pattern, suggesting that Steve Reich might be presiding over matters at a distance. Aengus Ó Maoláin’s Walton Empey worked somewhat similar territory but with a greater concern for texture. At this point questions were already beginning to suggest themselves. Aren’t there 57 different things you composers can do on the cello or double bass and wouldn’t you like to try a few of them? Aren’t you young and don’t you want to let rip a little? How many more mini-Reichs does the world need? Admittedly, Johanne Heraty’s Cello Solo gave Ellis something substantial to work on and there was further variety in what was to come. In Karen Power’s Cows, Coffee, Birds, Bees and a New Room for double bass, there was effective use of glissandi, complexity growing out of a simple idea, and a light hand with electronic effects; there were the phases, whether wheezy high notes or a suggestively unresolved ending, that Ian McDonnell’s Nomad moved through; and in Daniel Jacobsen’s Universe Blues the player had to use the bow percussively as well as conventionally, to pluck with the fingers and generally dig in.
But the questions lingered. What music do these composers listen to? Are they excited by music and its possibilities? Are they aware of the range of music, both written and improvised, that has been drawn from these instruments over the last fifty years? There was little to object to in the individual pieces, and nothing to object to in the performances, but there was a sense of homework well done rather than of ideas seized and developed. Next time, maybe Kate Ellis won’t have to spend as much time drawing the bow back and forth, back and forth, in a way that she could probably do in her sleep. Next time, maybe more of our young composers will connect a little more with the multiple energies of this world and open out more of the space that lies between us and the musical horizon.
Published on 1 September 2007
Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music and was previously co-editor of Graph cultural review