Director’s first full festival hoves into view

New Music Dublin to open with Crash Ensemble on the front steps of the National Concert Hall at sunset

Director John Harris: lumbered with new commitments?

Director John Harris: lumbered with new commitments?

 

There’s a great, thought-provoking line by GK Chesterton in which he claims that “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”. I first came across the idea from someone who used it to explain the amount of time he spent playing golf. And I’ve often thought of Chesterton when looking at the way the New Music Dublin Festival has been handled by its original stakeholders: RTÉ, the National Concert Hall, the Contemporary Music Centre and the Arts Council.

Their behaviour, of course, may be well founded. It may have been more important that the festival actually happen than it be done well. There may have been no better option than for the festival to be shoved first in one direction then in another, without any care for cogency or consistency. It may have been best to prioritise other projects and have no festival at all in 2016. It may even be best that after a consultant’s report recommended appointing an artistic director that that new director – John Harris – be lumbered with major commitments entered into before his appointment.

Harris’s first full festival has now come into view. He’s going to open with Crash Ensemble on the front steps of the National Concert Hall at sunset (6.03pm) on Thursday, March 1st, with a new e-Greeting by Gráinne Mulvey, followed by Ed Bennett’s Accel and veteran minimalist Terry Riley’s Loops for Ancient-Giant-Nude-Hairy-Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle, the piece the composer wrote for his first visit to Ireland courtesy of Eamonn Quinn’s Louth Contemporary Music Society in 2007.

Running throughout the festival will be new installations by Danny McCarthy and Jürgen Simpson as well as Karen Power’s Sound Choir, and installations are not the only immersive experiences that will be on offer. The largest, on the morning of Sunday 4th is The Secret Music Trail, a 170-minute walking tour devised by Ergodos’s Garrett Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, which will take three groups of no more than 30 individuals on, well, a secret music trail to discover music along the way. The starting times are 10.30am, 11am and 11.30am. Among family friendly activities you can engage in a Pokemon Go-like pursuit of new music experiences around the NCH on Saturday morning and afternoon.

Late-night events will include a session from Garth Knox and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (10.30pm on Thursday 1st), a screening of John Ford’s The Informer with Garth Knox’s score (10.30pm on Friday 2nd) and a double bill of Donnacha Dennehy’s Disposable Dissonance and Gérard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (10.30pm on Saturday 3rd). The hugely influential Grisey, who died in 1998 at the age of 52, is a leading voice in the world of spectral music, and it’s over 10 years since his Vortex Temporum was last performed in Ireland, by New York’s Argento Ensemble at the National Gallery in 2007.

The festival’s daytime concerts are by the Fidelio Trio (including Ann Cleare’s 93 Million Miles at 1pm on Friday), Concorde (including a new work by Ed Bennett at 1pm on Saturday), and the RTÉ Contempo Quartet (including Dave Kerr’s new From There To Here at 3pm on Saturday). Simon Smith gives the Irish premiere of Stockhausen’s Natural Durations, the third “hour” of the incomplete cycle Klang (Sound). The performance takes around 140 minutes and the event is a “lock-in” – you can leave during it, but if you do you can’t come back.

Full information on these events, and the already announced orchestral and choral concerts is at newmusicdublin.ie.

Simon Smith gives the Irish premiere of Stockhausen’s ‘Natural Durations’
Simon Smith gives the Irish premiere of Stockhausen’s ‘Natural Durations’

The New Music Dublin festival has had to face a lot of dark mutterings over the years and has come in for criticism for perceived artistic imbalances, with grievances ranging over the areas of musical focus, the nationalities that have been given greatest prominence, and also gender balance. This year, just under one third of the music so far announced is by women.      

Gender balance has also been quick to surface in relation to the new Irish National Opera company, though the company’s hand could be seen as effectively tied in certain respects. Irish National Opera’s major brief from the Arts Council is to restore native productions of the great works of the mainstream repertoire to Irish stages. And that repertoire became calcified long before female composers had even the access to the opera houses of the world that they have today.      

I asked INO’s artistic director, Fergus Sheil, what the public and company’s funders, the Arts Council, could expect. “I’m open to suggestions about how to untie the knot when it comes to standard repertoire,” he said.

He also told me: “In the broader picture we already have projects in train that will start to redress the balance. We have a project coming up as part of Dublin City Council’s MusicTown Festival that will feature a female director and a female conductor.

“Clearly,” he said, “an even bigger issue is the imbalance between male and female composers in the world of opera. I’m working on a pro-female intervention into this situation, which will be ready by the autumn.”     

The extent of the imbalance in the world of opera can be gauged by the fact that Wexford Festival Opera, an international leader in the highlighting of neglected opera, has since its foundation in 1951 not yet managed to find a place for an opera written by a woman. 

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