The final instalment of the Irish Composers’ Collective’s In Dialogue series took place last Friday in the Wood Quay Venue. In Dialogue was a series in which members of the ICC were chosen to submit works for various instrumental ensembles which were paired with a masterwork in the chosen genre. New works for this concert were composed by Rachael Lavelle, Robbie Blake, Daniel McDermott, Seán ó Dálaigh, Kevin Free and Luke Smyth and were presented alongside Igor Stravinsky’s eclectic Three Pieces for String Quartet. All music was performed by ConTempo String Quartet.
First of the new works performed was Robbie Blake’s twist left ear-bud into shape. This brilliant piece represents all the best of what contemporary music has to offer to both the initiated and uninitiated listener. It began with the four performers solemnly inserting plugs into their ears then picking up kazoos and diving into a zany passage of music vigorous in its simplicity and abrasive in its absurdity as a follow-up to the reserved and theatrical opening. When the kazoos were laid down, each player took off into their own part with seemingly little regard for their colleagues. The resulting texture was a dazzling kaleidoscope of different tunes vying for supremacy. The light-hearted humour imbued in this cat-and-mouse between the four players acted as the perfect counterbalance to the almost provocatively bizarre preceding passage for kazoos. The piece ended with all four players standing one by one and jogging on the spot in front of the audience, a suitably inscrutable ending to a piece which ran the entire gamut of and indeed challenged the very notion of musical meaning.
Seán ó Dálaigh’s how to build an island was an entirely different though no less fascinating affair. The piece consisted of the composer narrating excerpts from two texts (one in English, the other in Irish) while the quartet interacted with his words, echoing and reverberating the rhythm and contour of their delivery. In his programme notes for the piece, ó Dálaigh writes of the quartet’s music as “generating a physical space,” which is an accurate and telling description. The regular dynamic period resulting from the regular jolts of interaction with the narrator gave the music a hazy and hypnotic quality. It enveloped the listener, drawing them into the generated space and creating a mood of reflection and introspection.
Rachael Lavelle’s eejanaika, conceived as a musical representation of the Eejanaika roller coaster in Japan which holds the record for most inversions, was a more conventional piece. Musically, it was a brilliant balance of catchy and accessible tunes and ostinato and, highly chromatic and cacophonous passages. Frequent use of interlocking tremolo glissandi in the violins over a jaunty and excitable ostinato in the cello brought to life wonderfully the combination of thrill and terror induced by the roller coaster. It was both commendable and refreshing to see a composer take on the challenge of writing tonal and metrically regular music and produce such an excellent, compelling and thoroughly contemporary work.
The range of music on display in this concert was truly phenomenal. It speaks volumes for the strength of contemporary music in Ireland that an organisation of the ICC’s size has members who produce works of such diversity, profundity and excellence.
ICC’s next concert series For the Voice begins on June 5 and will consist of three concerts for various combinations of voices and instruments as well as the incorporation of operatic and dramatic elements.