Separate and Together

Separate and Together

A concert in Donegal found unity in the vitality of contemporary Irish composition's diverse strands.

CMC Solo Series Tour
Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny
16 June 2011

The Contemporary Music Centre is a promoter and archive of music by recent and living Irish composers. At 19 Fishamble Street in Dublin it has one of the best facilities among the international Music Information Centre (MIC) network, and is one of the best functioning of the MICs in Europe, in terms of its success in disseminating the work of its composers on the web, in publications, recordings and broadcasts. Nowadays CMC is also about getting the music off the shelves of its library and into people’s ears in the form of live events. The Solo Series Live tour – an offshoot of a series of Diatribe Records releases - reached Donegal, Cork, Bray and Carlow and presented four soloists, allowing each to present their personal vision of contemporary music in a mix of Irish and non-Irish composers.

The Letterkenny concert in the striking Regional Cultural Centre (pictured) had four solo sets: Isabelle O’Connell (piano), Paul Roe (bass clarinet and soundtrack), Izumi Kimura (piano) and Simon Jermyn (bass guitar). Expecting an excessive level of variety, I was pleased at the end by how the concert hung together, pretty much against all odds. There were plenty of odd things about it: firstly a not-ideal combination of a small piano and challenging acoustic, then a huge contrast in the seriousness of the repertoire, which ranged from childlike piano pieces through solidly engaging works to sometimes wandering, quasi-indulgent improvisation. And the level of performance skill did not seem homogeneous either, with Jermyn not really displaying the same kind of virtuosity and polish of the others.

In a long concert that was never boring they presented fourteen works before coming together as a group with a well thought-out improvisation that flowed naturally from Jermyn’s colourful solo set. In terms of vision, O’Connell and Roe had the sharpest focus on what is happening in Irish contemporary music. Kimura’s set was true to her interests and persona, but for me it had too many slight things, in particular short works by Japanese composers – I wished she would showcase her home country better, as it has no shortage of fantastic piano composers.

The highlights for me were all Irish pieces: Gerald Barry’s Triorchic Blues from Kimura, Ed Bennett’s Monster from Roe and Donnacha Dennehy’s Reservoir from O’Connell. Jackdaw for bass clarinet and tape from American Wayne Siegel was probably the audience favourite and presented the fun side of contemporary music in the best possible sense. With little focus on how the international works fitted in, the concert was at its best an un-curated anthology of recent Irish work. But aimed at an audience unfamiliar with this music, it put across the variety and vitality of Irish composition today without providing or imposing any agenda.

Published on 27 June 2011

John McLachlan is a composer and member of Aosdána.

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