'One of the most difficult commissions I’ve tackled' – Kevin Volans on His New Uilleann Pipes Concerto
A new concerto for uilleann pipes and orchestra by composer Kevin Volans will be at the centre of the New Music Dublin Defrosted concerts this September.
The work – written for Waterford uilleann piper David Power, and commissioned by RTÉ – was due to be premiered by Power and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the festival in March, but the performance was cancelled due to adverse weather. It will now feature in the selected remounted events which take place on 21–23 September at the NCH.
Speaking to The Journal of Music, Volans described the composition of the work, beginning with the task of learning about the instrument, its capabilities and its limitations, which proved to be ‘surprisingly complex’.
I was very concerned to write a piece which respected the traditions of not only the pipes but also the ‘traditions’ of contemporary orchestral music. I wasn’t content to treat the instrument merely as an exotic sound source assimilated into new music, but neither was I prepared to reduce the orchestra to just providing lush accompaniment to some traditional music.
The concerto balances these elements of traditional and contemporary, soloist and orchestra to create a work in which each resonates with the other. Titled Gol Na mBan San Ár (The Lament of the Women at the Slaughter), after the traditional Irish air, the concerto occasionally directly references Power’s interpretation of the melody, which he recorded on his 2014 album The Eighteen Moloney.
In the concerto, the composer says, he sometimes allows ‘the orchestra to envelop and almost drown the soloist on occasions, in some virtuosic waves of sound’. He adds: ‘I don’t know if I achieved a perfect balance – it was one of the most difficult commissions I’ve tackled.’
Gol na mBan san Ár will be premiered on 22 September at the National Concert Hall.
For tickets and further information, visit www.nch.ie.