Beckett Chamber Music Series Begins This Weekend

Barry McGovern

Beckett Chamber Music Series Begins This Weekend

Rare concert performance of Beckett’s radio play 'Words and Music' among range of works to be performed over three events.

A series of three Beckett-inspired chamber music concerts begins this Saturday 24 June at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin.

Curated by musicians Sarah Sew and David Collins, the series (24, 27 and 30 June) features, among several works, a rare concert performance of Beckett’s radio play Words and Music with Morton Feldman’s score; a performance of Schoenberg’s early Verklärte Nacht and his melodrama Pierrot Lunaire; and the premiere of a new work by Sebastian Adams based on Irish folk music.

Among the artists collaborating are actors Barry McGovern and Stephen Brennan, director Everett Frost, singer Michelle O’Rourke, Artistic Director and violinist Sarah Sew, violinist Ioana Petcu-Colan, conductor Finnegan Downie Dear and many more.

The theme of the first concert is ‘Instrumentalising Folk Song’ (Sunday 24 June, 7pm) and features works for violin and piano by John Larchet, a piano trio by Frank Martin, and the new work, for piano trio also, by Adams. Adams’ new work takes every letter of an Irish folk song (the name of which remains a secret) to create a row of pitches that he uses as the timeline and seeds for his music. The work is also inspired by Beckett’s plays Happy Days and Waiting for Godot. The ‘web of connections between language and music’, he says, ‘are like a block of fine marble, a rich quarry’ from which he has created the work.

‘Schoenberg and Poetry’ (Wednesday 27 June, 8pm) presents two important works that span the development of Schoenberg, from late-Romanticism to twelve-tone – Verklärte Nacht (1899) for string sextet and Pierrot Lunaire (1912) for mixed ensemble and narrator. Barry McGovern will reads the poems by Richard Dehmel and Albert Giraud that inspired both works, in English translations.

McGovern and Stephen Brennan – critically acclaimed for their portrayals of Vladimir and Lucky for Beckett on Film’s production of Waiting for Godot – reunite for Words and Music (Saturday 30 June, 8pm) and play the spoken roles of Words/Joe and Croak with a conducted ensemble of musicians playing the role of Music/Bob. The performance is directed by Everett Frost, who produced and directed the American national broadcast premieres of Beckett’s five completed radio plays. Preceding Beckett’s radio play are performances of Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 for solo flute and chamber works by Morton Feldman.

Frost has said about the work:

Words and Music originated as a BBC commission for a radio play given in 1961 to John Beckett [cousin of Samuel]… In the ensuing collaboration, Samuel Beckett dramatizes the initially reluctant efforts of Words (called Joe in the play) and Music (Bob) to collaborate under the duress of Croak, their imperious, though ineffectual, club-wielding master – an old man seeking erotic satisfaction in the sublimation of music. In Words and Music, Beckett once observed, ‘Music always wins’.

The play premiered on the BBC in 1962. Sadly, and for reasons never understood, John Beckett withdrew his music soon thereafter…  And so it remained until 1985 when I raised the prospect of including Words and Music in the American national broadcast premieres of all Beckett’s extant radio plays as part of the celebrations of his eightieth birthday.

The problem was that Words and Music required half the play to be written by the composer for whom Beckett had specifically designed it. A different composer would result a different drama. We tiptoed tentatively into a discussion of possible composers and he brightened when I suggested that a commission might be easier if the composer were an American, and immediately suggested Morton Feldman. He had been both pleased and amused by Feldman having created a very long piece for the Rome Opera from his very short poem, Neither. Feldman accepted with alacrity and humility.

The performance of Words and Music is almost sold out. Tickets for the three events range from €15 to €25. There are only 75 tickets available for each performance. A three-concert ticket is €50. 

For further information and booking visit www.beckettchambermusic.com and smockalley.com 

Published on 19 June 2018

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