A New Story

A New Story

A double CD entitled Music from Ireland 2011 will be given to the visiting parties of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama during their state visits to Ireland in May. What does this collection say about contemporary Irish musical life?

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Fionn Regan, reassuringly familiar

How fascinating this week to see the British head of state laying a wreath at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance in honour of those who have fallen in the fight for Irish freedom. The ceremony was so knife-edge fragile that all the main players remained silent, the emotions sounded only by the Last Post and the two poetically, politically, and musically-opposed national anthems. It was a reminder that when words fail, music takes over. It must have been a challenge, then, to compile this snapshot of Irish music. What could this collection positively say about a country in the midst of yet another identity crisis?

But Music from Ireland 2011, despite its bland-as-bromide title, does tell a new story. Drawn in four chapters – Indie and Rock, Classical and Contemporary, Traditional and Folk, Jazz and World – it speaks of ethnic diversity, cultural fusion and world vision. Traditional Irish forms and sensibilities have for a long time adapted to the needs of a global market – quality-assured, optimistic, up-beat – and they sit snugly here in the company of surprisingly straight-shooting, and always well performed, essays in modern jazz (Metier’s ‘Cascade’), Congolese song (Niwel Tsumbu’s ‘Mysterious Woman’), and Country and Western (We Cut Corners’ ‘A Pirate’s Life’).

Predictably, given the international occasions it celebrates, this collection is best characterised as an exercise in amiability. Lisa Hannigan’s ‘I Don’t Know’ and Fionn Regan’s ‘Put a Penny in the Slot’ will be as reassuringly familiar to the western world’s grandparents as to its schoolchildren. Even the Classical and Contemporary chapter does its best to avoid unnecessary brooding and portrays a wide-eyed innocence, with part of Jennifer Walshe’s Nature Data and Julie Feeney’s ‘Impossibly Beautiful’ sitting nicely beside each other as examples of the kind of ‘kooky beatitude’ that’s come to define much of Ireland’s contemporary music scene.

The collection will stream online for a limited period.

Published on 19 May 2011

Peter Rosser (1970–2014) was a composer, writer and music lecturer.

He was born in London and moved to Belfast in 1990, where he studied composition at the University of Ulster and was awarded a DPhil in 1997. His music has been performed at the Spitalfields Festival in London, the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and by the Crash Ensemble in Dublin.

In 2011 the Arts Council acknowledged his contribution to the arts in Northern Ireland through a Major Individual Artist Award. He used this award to write his Second String Quartet, which was premiered in 2012 by the JACK Quartet at the opening concert at Belfast's new Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC).

Peter Rosser also wrote extensively on a wide range of music genres, with essays published in The Journal of Music, The Wire, Perspectives of New Music and the Crescent Journal. 

He died following an illness on 24 November 2014, aged 44.

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