A vision of home that has few ideas for classical music

Only one living Irish composer is part of the NCH’s seven-concert series for the 1916 centenary

Last week the National Concert Hall announced a series of seven concerts under the title Imagining Home. The venture, which will run through Easter Week, is "the National Concert Hall's initiative as part of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme".

Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys and Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin were present for the announcement, along with NCH chief executive Simon Taylor.

Humphreys said the concerts “will reflect on the ideals which inspired the 1916 leaders and how they impacted on Ireland’s interaction with the world, on our literature and on contemporary and traditional music.” The NCH as a national cultural institution, she said, “will be a focal point for the commemorations and will help us to explore our past and look to the future through music, song and debate”.

Ó Ríordáin highlighted the importance of the fact that "culture and the arts are central to our Ireland 2016 programme" and that the Imagining Home concerts "will allow us to enjoy the wealth of artistic and creative talent for which Ireland is known globally. Given the role of artists in the events of a century ago, it is only fitting and right that they take such a central position in our Easter Rising commemorations."


Taylor said: “Our ambition in devising such a diverse range of historical, cultural and artistic activities is to speak of Ireland’s cultural journey over the last 100 years while also looking forward to the next century. We hope the programme will capture the imagination and facilitate reflection, commemoration, celebration, debate and an active reimaging of our shared future.”

The focuses of the seven concerts will be America; England; Into Europe; On Revolution; The Literary Imagination; This Is Ireland; and Out of the Tradition. There will be a concert called simply Imagining Ireland at the Royal Festival Hall in London at the end of April.

Imagining Home is one of four 2016 projects involving the NCH. There is also Song for 16, an all-island song competition for schools involving the Walt Disney Music Group; and, in conjunction with Dublin Port, a project to commission a series of songs by "some of Ireland's leading contemporary song writers".

The largest project, presented by Bord na Móna in association with RTÉ and the NCH, is scheduled for September. Composing the Island: A Century of Music in Ireland will comprise six concerts (both RTÉ orchestras will be involved) and a further 20 concerts of choral, instrumental, song and chamber music. If there has ever been a larger, more concentrated celebration of Irish music, I have not heard of it.

Regarding the Imagining Home events, you might wonder what such a theme might bring in the area of classical music. Name any Irish composer or performer you like in the classical field and the chances are they will have spent years of their training abroad. Such is the paucity of performing opportunities at home that many of them settled abroad. The cultural journey that's open to exploration is very large indeed.

But that exploration is cast aside in Imagining Home. Just two of the concerts feature classical music. Into Europe will feature Barry Douglas playing some Nocturnes by John Field (1782-1837) and conducting his Camerata Ireland in Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's 1960 Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.

The On Revolution part will include the specially commissioned Casement/Conrad by Donnacha Dennehy to a text by Colm Tóibín for baritone and bass soloists with the Crash Ensemble.

The message is clear. The largest Government-funded musical institution in the State does not have the imagination to include other than a single living Irish composer, Donnacha Dennehy, into a seven-concert series that will “speak of Ireland’s cultural journey over the last 100 years, its place in the world today and its shared future”. What exactly Field and Penderecki have had to do with that journey is anyone’s guess.

There was considerable upset in the classical music world about the exclusion of classical music from the 2014 Ceiliúradh at the Royal Albert Hall in connection with President Michael D Higgins's state visit to the UK. I doubt if there's another European country where, in similar circumstances, such a slur would have been allowed. Now the NCH's paltry, partly off-topic representation of classical music in Imagining Home brings to mind Oscar Wilde's quote that escalates from misfortune to carelessness.

Song recitals

The last week brought two excellent song recitals. First was a cunningly composed evening at the Hugh Lane Gallery, when German baritone Benjamin Appl and British pianist Gary Matthewman eschewed applause between songs in favour of a flow that involved brief, to-the-point introductions to the music.

Appl’s voice is gorgeous, rich, easy and commanding, and his style is every bit as faithful to the words as to the music. The evening hopped around between languages and periods, following various themes rather than following more purely musical groupings.

The standout performance was of Marian Ingoldsby's specially commissioned Yeats setting, Never Give All the Heart, written in a harmonically rich, musically eclectic manner.

And on Sunday afternoon at the NCH, the English duo of tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis gave an intimate performance of Schubert's song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin. It was unforgettable.

  • mdervan@irishtimes.com