Stretching horizons was festival high note IRISH TIMES
Thu, Nov 30, 2000, 00:00
Frank Corcoran, director and guest composer of this year’s festival of contemporary music in Sligo,
seeks to disturb musical horizons; the new becomes the old and the old becomes the new,
a concept he has enshrined in a new word, “Seannua”.
This coinage (containing the Irish for old and new) he frequently brought to the attention of the audiences, but it was most vividly illustrated in the Vogler String Quartet’s concert: after Webern’s compact and painfully compressed Op.5, Ian Wilson’s nightmarish Wander darkling (written this year), Stravinsky’s stark Three Pieces and Wolfgang Rihm’s Quartet No.1 (written in 1970 and struggling to combine profundity with comprehensibility), Haydn’s Op.76 No.4 (Sunrise), unquestionably odd!
A lunchtime recital with Judith Mok (soprano), Colm O’Donnell (seannos) and Gabriel Rosenstock (reader), illustrated variously the capabilities of the human voice. The most recent work, John Buckley’s I am wind on sea (an early Irish text in his own translation) produced sounds of jarring primitivism that have been abandoned for the most part by western musicians; accompanied only by her own percussion (cymbals and wood blocks), Judith Mok could have been a visitor from Outer Mongolia.
In strong contrast was the gentle and tuneful mouth-music of Colm O’Donnell.
Rosenstock read some of his own haiku with warm feeling and engaging clarity and also provided the texts (in Irish)
for Corcoran’s Cuig luric. In these, the soprano was accompanied by the Mostly Modern Piano Trio and the composer used the words as springboards for elaborate inventions.
Although Saturday night’s concert contained Ligeti’s Six Pieces for Wind Quartet, Benjamin Dwyer Crow’s Vanity (a musical expression of understanding, if not of empathy, with Ted Hughes’s malicious and malignant bird of prey, written for cello and tape) and Donncha Dennehy’s Metropolis Mutabilis for tape solo (this was an apotheosis of traffic noises that might have been called “Dublin, the song of a great city”),
it was Corcoran’s night.
His Buile Shuibhne, a setting of Seamus Heaney’s translation, in which the composer was the impassioned reciter, accompanied by principals of the NSO and conducted by David Brophy, had a Shakespearian intensity that was reminiscent of King Lear. The four winds and the four strings and the percussion, now together, now at cross purposes, played as if their lives depended on it.
Equally committed was the RIAM Percussion Ensemble in Music From the Book of Kells and Goirt a’ Bhroin/ Trauerfelder.
Corcoran uses percussion in a subtle way, not relying too much on staccato rhythms; Goirt a’ Bhroin was both tocsin and knell, dirge and curfew, making its point by reticence and not overstatement.
Also in the concert was Corcoran’s new Wind Quintet (his third), recently commissioned by the Arts Council and played by the Daedalus Quintet.
Sweeney’s Winderies is its subtitle;
the composer writes: “It is in no sense programmatic. It is wind . . .”
An uncomfortable work, raw like a wound that still oozes, this was its first performance anywhere.
The other works, though performed abroad, have had to wait till now for a public performance in Ireland.
This festival, in the welcoming ambience of the Model Arts and Niland Gallery, makes some amends for the neglect. Yet another work, Lines and Figurations for bass-clarinet and marimba, was performed on Sunday, flanked by Concerto for Violin and Percussion by Lou Harrison and Concerto for Flute and Percussion by A. Joliver.
Richard O’Donnell conducted the RIAM Ensemble and principals of the NSO in these piquant blends of the oriental and classical.