The Irish Canon: mad ambition, madder promotional strategy
The stated aim of a new concert series is to create a new canon of Irish works and make them repertoire standards. Good luck with that
Soprano Michelle O’Rourke: has cultivated a back-to-nature vocal loveliness. It’s mesmerising in small doses, but less impressive over longer spans
It has to be a world-record attempt. I’m talking about a new series of concerts, The Irish Canon, promoted by the Association of Irish Composers.
The record would relate to holding a function to launch the series more than a month late, after three of the 10 concerts have actually taken place. The association also got the co-operation of the Contemporary Music Centre in this tardy endeavour, and the centre has so fully entered into the spirit of the thing that none of the five concerts announced for next year yet feature in the events calendar section of its website, cmc.ie.
The Association of Irish Composers could also be seeking a record for the chutzpah of its stated aim, “to create a new canon of Irish works, by ensuring multiple performances of music by Irish composers, and taking the first steps towards making them repertoire standards”.
This is a high bar, and not one that anyone in the musical world can claim to be able to deliver. Even the likes of Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh don’t assume that repeat performances are going to turn the songs of their successful acts into “repertoire standards”.
The record attempt I have in mind is along different lines entirely. The composers’ organisation has produced a double-sided A4 flyer for the new series. It has the names of the performers for each of the 10 concerts printed twice, once with photos, and again with a list of venues, times and dates. In the 250 or so words on the flyer you won’t be able to find the name of a single composer whose work will be performed, let alone the name of any of the works that have been deemed ready for canonisation. If you have come across a concert series crazier in its ambition than this, or madder in its promotional strategy, let me know.
The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating, and there was a dismally small turnout for soprano Michelle O’Rourke’s Irish Canon recital at the National Concert Hall’s Kevin Barry Room on Tuesday, quite a contrast to the Ergodos Musicians programme she took part in at the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green the previous Saturday.
The Ergodos programme was devoted to a selection of song arrangements for a line-up of voice, saxophone, cello and guitar, stretched-out, laid-back arrangements that just didn’t work for me.
O’Rourke has cultivated a kind of plaintive, back-to-nature vocal loveliness, which is at the opposite end of the scale to the norms of the highly trained voices to be found in song recitals and on the opera stage. It’s mesmerising in small doses, but less impressive over longer spans, because too much of what’s obviously different ends up sounding the same.
In Tuesday’s programme, the works that made the strongest impression were Judith Ring’s Mouthpiece and Linda Buckley’s Q, both for voice and electronics. Mouthpiece was a focused exercise, the live voice presented against a tapestry of often extraordinary effects recorded by mezzo soprano Natasha Lohan. Q was a polystylistic journey with the kitchen sink thrown in. Among the evening’s three world premieres, it was Andrew Hamilton’s playful O’Rourke that made a mark.
Blown out of the canon
The issue of a canon is a very real one for Irish composers. It’s at its most problematic when it comes to orchestral music, primarily because there are so few opportunities here for orchestral performances.