Irish Times writers review a selection of recent events

Irish Timeswriters review a selection of recent events

Homburger, Guy

St Audoen’s

Church, Dublin


Biber– Mystery Sonata No 1 (exc.). Benedict Schlepper-Connolly– Star. Barry Guy– Aglais. Simon O'Connor – Petrfyde Floures. Barry Guy– Hommage à Max Bill. Bach– Solo Violin Sonata No 1 (exc.). Garrett Sholdice– Sonate. Biber/Guy– Mystery Sonata No 9.

This short concert in a small and ancient church intertwined music from the baroque and the present-day. The players were Swiss-born violinist Maya Homburger and her partner, double-bass player, composer and eclectic musician Barry Guy, both of whom match their baroque specialism with a commitment to new music.

The intertwining was enhanced by a request for no applause until the end of the final piece. This way, the programmatic fluttering of angels’ wings in the prelude to the baroque

Mystery Sonata No 1

, by Heinrich Biber, segued delicately into the wholly different sound-world of Benedict Schlepper-Connolly’s


. This, too, was boldly programmatic, inspired by an early-morning drive on West Cork’s Béara Peninsula, with shimmering harmonics in both instruments and pizzicato outbreaks from the bass creating nervous excitement around the old Latin prayer, “Stella maris” (“Star of the sea”).

Harmonics also featured in Guy's Aglais, second of three butterfly-named pieces written to complement the solo violin sonatas and partitas of Bach. Characteristically for Guy – whose eclecticism includes jazz – even his written-out music can have an improvisational feel to it, which here eventually calmed to long, serene high notes.

In his Petryfyde Floures, Simon O'Connor displays his professed commitment to attaining beauty by straightforward means such as single notes and simple intervals. He ends almost tonally, with the bass's slow alternating notes and violin's gentle comments.

The substance of Garrett Sholdice's Sonatecomes from a chord progression in the Adagio movement of Bach's G minor Sonata for Solo Violin, which Homburger played as an introduction. The new piece has an exquisite delicacy, something akin to spectral music: slow single notes from both instruments, little motifs, combining, separating, yielding something tender and sorrowful, a modern-day moving of the baroque-style Affections.

The concert concluded with part of the ninth of Biber's Mystery Sonatas, here combined with an "interlude" composed by Guy, his bass part turning chameleon-like through various styles and functions, above which Homburger's violin sang melodic figures with echoes of the Biber. MICHAEL DUNGAN

Ensemble ICC

NCH, Dublin

Amanda Feery

– Forra.

Michael Gallen

– Sinai.

David Bremner

– Dreaming in Boxes.

Neil O’Connor

– Radio Aurora.

Shane McKenna

– From Front to Back.

DE McCarthy

– Sonata.

Natasa Peterson

– Andalucian Tales.

Ian McDonnell

– Percp.

The ambience of Ensemble ICC’s concerts at the Kevin Barry Room of the National Concert Hall is a lot more casual than you’ll find at most concerts. Ensemble ICC, the performing arm of the Irish Composers’ Collective, presents evenings on the lines of a student showcase rather than a more formal event, and there are even more informal short workshops before the performances.

If you wanted markers for the presentation style, you got them from the spoken introductions, which professed ignorance as to the pronunciation of the titles of some pieces (and, to be fair, Ian McDonnell's Percpwould trip most people up). At this concert, there was one blatant discrepancy which went unremarked, relating to a piece referred to in the printed programme as From Back to Front, from Shane McKenna. The work is performed from an animated graphic score which is projected for the audience to see, and the clearly stated title in the projection was From Front to Back. McKenna's work, for piano (David Bremner) and percussion (Maeve O'Hara), was perhaps the evening's most extreme instance of a fascinating idea resulting in a pretty indigestible outcome. It was as if McKenna had chosen to ignore the successful graphic work of composers such as Morton Feldman, Barry Guy and Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, and to start again with an anything-goes approach. McKenna showed bright ideas and a sense of adventure, but somehow seemed to have taken insufficient account of the blunt banality of the final outcome.

DE McCarthy’s Sonata, for an electronic keyboard tuned to the pitches of a number of related harmonic series (he described it as Pythagorean, which seems a misnomer), set up an intriguing premise but then locked itself into too simplistic an exploration of the strange-sounding intervals he had at his disposal.

The pieces which best seemed to match ambition and delivery were David Bremner's Dreaming in Boxes, a slightly old-fashioned-sounding exercise which worked its way through a hiccuping trajectory, and McDonnell's Percp, for piano, marimba and electronics, which engaged through its slightly deranged-sounding boppiness. MICHAEL DERVAN

Balsom, ICO/Korsten

RDS, Dublin

Hummel– Trumpet Concerto. Mozart– Impresario Overture. Haydn– Trumpet Concerto. Beethoven– Symphony No 3 (Eroica).

IT'S ALL change at the Irish Chamber Orchestra. For its new season, the orchestra has moved its Dublin venue from the National Concert Hall to the RDS.

The concert hall of the RDS has been spruced up for its new association with the orchestra.

The books that line the walls have been tastefully covered with sliding panels so that they no longer soak up sound. There are sound-reflecting baffles on either side of and above the platform, which, like the floor surfaces in the raised seating at the back of the hall, is still carpeted.

The change in acoustics was immediately noticeable on Saturday during the orchestra's first appearance in the refurbished venue.

The sound is still dry – the separation of the accented chords that open Beethoven's Eroicamade that perfectly evident. However there is a lot more clarity, as if a kind of sonic undergrowth has been cleared away.

Warmth and tonal beauty haven't yet been secured, at least not in the face of the full house that showed up on Saturday, but the venue is now more orchestrally viable than it has ever been, in my experience.

The chamber orchestra is undergoing other changes too. It is breaking away from its strings- only basis, with most of this year's programme exploring the much larger and more popular repertoire that is opened up by adding wind instruments to the strings.

Happily, this means that the tiresome dependence on arrangements, which was such a feature of the orchestra's activity in recent years, is a thing of the past.

Saturday's programme was clearly intended to be a grand statement about the new order.

It offered a first-class but underrated overture by Mozart (from the one-act Singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor – The Impresario), trumpet concertos by Hummel and Haydn played by celebrated trumpeter Alison Balsom and Beethoven's great EroicaSymphony.

Conductor Gérard Korsten showed an approach to the classical repertoire that was tight and urgent.

The Eroicawas driven with fire and energy and, with an orchestra of lighter weight than is usual for this work, the fleet Scherzo and taut finale made a greater impression than the first two movements.

Balsom played the two concertos with easy brilliance, a little too consistently brassy, perhaps, but with the effortless showiness that audiences love from trumpeters.

A partial standing ovation at the end of the evening boded well for the orchestra's next outing, which will see it playing Osvaldo Golijov, Barber, Steven Mackey, John Kinsella and Mozart in Limerick, Cork and Dublin at the end of October. MICHAEL DERVAN

Clark, RTÉ NSO/Maloney

NCH, Dublin

Rimsky-Korsakov– Capriccio espagnol. Prokofiev– Violin Concerto No 1. Donnacha Dennehy– Crane. Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Suite.

THE RTÉ contribution to Friday's Culture Night included two concerts at the National Concert Hall and a genuinely conversational pre-concert conversation between composer Donnacha Dennehy and David McKenna, executive producer of cross-media and arts at RTÉ.

Dennehy's orchestral work, Crane, was premiered by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Gavin Maloney.

It's a piece that successfully translates the tight, rock- flavoured punchiness of the composer's writing for his own Crash Ensemble to the larger and more variegated sound world of the symphony orchestra.

Craneis a legacy of the building boom, the collapse of which has so devastated the Irish economy. The original idea involved what would have been the strangest of urban ballets, with the music played live and broadcast on radio and Shobana Jeyasingh choreographing the movements of cranes atop the Dublin skyline.

The manner of Craneis broadly minimalist, its big, bold, repeating gestures often surrounded by quieter musical activity, which functions like a kind of lubricating musical spray.

The rock-band thump of the outer sections presented Dennehy as a composer who seemed locked into the attractions of heavy-duty kick-drum effects, like someone who just won't let go of their mullet hairstyle.

The central section is in a much lighter style, inspired by the remarks of a crane operator who told the composer that up in his cabin, he could "watch the whole world go by" and leave the troubles of daily life down below.

The titling and floating music of this section clearly provides a whole new avenue for Dennehy to explore.

Maloney unfolded the music of Cranewith energy and patience. He was less successful in the 19th- century travelogue exoticism of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnoland there was a negligible sense of balletic connection in his overweight and often stilted account of a suite from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Maloney was in top form, however, in the evening's concerto, capturing both the lyric lightness and occasional bite of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto while keeping the orchestra in a perfectly submissive balance to the soloist, Elaine Clark.

Clark, the orchestra's co-leader, gave a lovingly detailed performance. Her playing seemed to be based on the premise that it was worth paying attention to every last contour and flicker of this most appealing of concertos. MICHAEL DERVAN