'I'd still be fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch'

'I'd still be fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch'

Crash Ensemble's 10th 'Free State' concert – presenting the work of young and emerging composers – takes place at the NCH on 5 May. Anna Murray of The Journal of Music spoke to Garrett Sholdice, Enda Bates and Daniel McDermott about the impact the series has had on their work.

The ‘Free State’ concert series began in 2006 as simply a title for a programme of music by Irish composers, the first concert featuring Ed Bennett, Karen Power, Simon O’Connor, Stephen Gardner, Rob Canning, Ian McDonnell, Linda Buckley and Julie Feeney (performing her own music with Crash Ensemble). The title was used again in 2007 for an event marking the ensemble’s 10th anniversary in London. Composer Garrett Sholdice, whose solo violin work For Benedict Schlepper-Connolly was performed by Cliona Ryan at this 2007 event, recalls the ‘vote of confidence’ it gave him at this early point in his career:

I remember feeling like I was being taken seriously by these musicians in the world of music I wanted to work in – musicians I admired. I think the value of that kind of encouragement early in a career cannot be overstated.

The inclusion of his work in Free State also led to further performances of the piece in Amsterdam organised by Bob Gilmore. In 2016, Sholdice returned to Free State as guest curator and commissioned composer (The Root and the Crown) for a programme dedicated to Gilmore following the musicologist’s death.

In the years following, the series developed into a showcase programme incorporating works from open calls for submissions – the first of these were by Sean Clancy and Peter Moran in 2008. The following year the programme was dedicated to Kevin Volans, who selected works by Jonathan Nangle, Simon O’Connor and Jennifer Walshe to be performed alongside his own, making Volans the first in what could be called guest curators for the series.

After a year without a Free State concert, the series returned in 2010 (Free State Vwith a more defined remit – to ‘present a concert of all new Irish music from young Irish composers’ – a remit which it still follows. Enda Bates’ String Quartet 1 – which has been performed numerous times since, including on tour by Con Tempo in 2016 – was performed this year, as was his Calls from the Fog in 2012.

The Free State shows are a really great opportunity for emerging composers; they certainly meant a lot to me when I was starting out. The performance of Calls from the Fog at Free State 7 in the Main Hall of the NCH was a particular highlight, and the Irish premiere of that piece too.

Subsequent events have been programmed by Donnacha Dennehy, Dan Trueman, Andrew Hamilton and Raymond Deane, and the now annual event represents an important showcase for emerging composers. As well as the works selected through the open call process, Free State has also been a vehicle for some of the most enduring commissions produced by Crash Ensemble, such as Andrew Hamilton’s Music for people who like art, first performed at Free State VI in 2011, then by Ensemble Klang in Utrecht (2012); by Crash at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2012; at Bang on A Can Summer School by the faculty (2015); by Crash again at David Lang’s What?…Wow! festival (2015) and again at Composing the Island (2016); at the 2016 London Contemporary Music Festival by A genuine coming together; and in Paris the same year by Ensemble 2e2m. 

Daniel McDermott, whose work A Mathematician’s Apology will be premiered this year, and his third to be included in the series, spoke about his experiences to date with the event:

I think I have a way of writing music that suits that Crash/Bang on a can-type sound. I am very comfortable with the instrumentation and what it can do. Crash and Dennehy have always had a big influence on me as a composer. It is nice to receive the publicity and questions about the music plus the performance. Luckily enough for me Crash have done so three times and for that I am entirely grateful. Otherwise I’d still be fumbling around in the dark trying to find the light switch.

The six featured works for Free State #10, taking place next Friday 5 May and selected by artistic director Kate Ellis and members of the ensemble from an anonymous open call for submissions, are: Donal Sarsfield – The Snare Piece; Robert Coleman – In Fervorous Frenzyí; Daniel McDermott – A Mathematician’s ApologyTimothy Doyle – VeneerEric Skytterholm Egan –Fragments | of Shapes | Hewn | in White | Silence; and Finola Merivale – Emma Are Eye.

For more, visit www.crashensemble.com.

Listen back to more works from the Free State series below.

Published on 24 April 2017

Anna Murray is Assistant Editor of The Journal of Music. Her website is www.annamurraymusic.com.

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