The Past Week

It has been an incredibly busy week, but one that has been extremely fruitful and afforded me the opportunity to hear a lot of wonderful music have some incredibly insightful discussions about music and work with some fantastic musicians. On Monday my PhD viva voce took place, which was the culmination of a little over three years of research and composition. It was an incredibly interesting, stimulating and enjoyable debate and really forced me to stand behind all I have been saying and doing for the past number of years and afforded me the opportunity to solidify my compositional thought. I passed with minor corrections which was the best possible outcome for me and I am grateful to my examiners for such an interesting debate, as I am to my supervisors for all of the help and support I have received over the past number of years.

This process was quickly followed by a flight back to Ireland to hear a new orchestral piece of mine Toile Brûlée in Dublin’s National Concert Hall performed by the UCDSO, conducted by Ciaran Crilly. I was so honoured to have been commissioned by the UCDSO on what was a very special event for the orchestra, their 10th anniversary and the group did a fantastic job on what was a difficult piece for them, performing with the energy and sensitivity that the piece required. They followed this with a truly riveting performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which was truly stunning and resulted in a sold out National Concert Hall standing ovation, testament to the amazing effort and Trojan work that Ciaran Crilly and the orchestra invested in both pieces. It was a fantastic experience to work with the orchestra and a pleasure to have gotten to know the players after the concert.  

On Thursday I was one of the immensely fortunate attendees at composer Ed Bennett’s group Decibel performing a portrait concert of his music culminating in a performance of Dzama Stories with the unbelievable saxophonist Paul Dunmall as soloist. I have always been fond of Decibel having worked with them a number of times on my own music. However, on this occasion they really were something else. Beginning with Sometimes Everything Falls Apart the group built up minimal textures delivering the heartbreaking poignancy contained within the notes before unleashing a torrent of sound at the piece’s climax. This was followed by two pieces which seem to have become stock-in-trade for Bennett; Monster for Bass Clarinet & Electronics performed expertly and ferociously by soloist Paul Roe and Stop Motion Music which I have heard many times before. This time however, the group seemed to have internalised the music and really executed the piece perfectly with the required animation and intensity that this music so deserves. The highlight of the concert came however with Dzama Stories an extended multi-movement composition with Paul Dunmall as an improvising soloist. The group were superb from beginning to end, providing a sometimes intense and violent, sometimes lyrical and beautiful backdrop for Dunmall, like some crazed alchemist, to wail his Soprano and tenor saxophones over his musicianship judging perfectly just the right material to throw into the space provided by the ensemble. It was truly a wonderful experience and Decibel seemed right at home in the surroundings of Stan’s Cafe at A.E. Harris. Credit is also due to composers & Birmingham Conservatoire students Cameron Dodds and Josh Herring who provided support and like two fine chefs procured a a delicious set of electronic music h’orderves, creating just the right ambience before Decibel took to the stage.

The week finished with an incredibly interesting talk given by composer Richard Baker with BCMG which dealt with the poietics of his latest commission for the group The Tyranny of Fun. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear Richard talk so animatedly about the gestation of his piece and much of what he said resonated deeply with my own practice as an artist. It’s so welcoming to know that one isn’t completely insane and that other artists hold similar views as to the nature of musical material and where it can come from.

This week has given me much to think about and I am very grateful to everyone who had any part in its events, particularly to all of the well wishes I got from Friends & Family on Monday! For now however, it’s back to composing…

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