The Cork International Choral Festival has been committed to fostering awareness and appreciation of new choral music since the late Aloys Fleischmann initiated the commission of new works to form part of a Seminar in 1962. 2016 was the 48th occasion that the Festival has presented such a forum to present, discuss, and enrich our knowledge of the process of composition. To date 150 works from 127 Irish and international composers have been commissioned. The full collection of these scores is now housed in the Cork City Music Library and is available for consultation. Digitised pages of scores are now also available for perusal on the Library website. This year, following lengthy discussions with interested parties (including The Arts Council), the Festival widened its vision to present a Choral Symposium, and Symposium Fringe over three days. The Festival invited one of the world’s leading specialists on choral music, Paul Hillier, and the Festival’s choir-in residence, Chamber Choir Ireland to curate and lead the Choral Symposium in two sessions.
A new style of presentation offered symposium attendees a more relevant and engaging approach to how texts are selected, the related process of composing music appropriate to the text, and the input of the singers as to its accessibility. Two new works were featured, and given their world premieres in Cork – A Half Darkness – text by Aoife Mannix and music by Stephen McNeff (jointly commissioned by CICF and CCI), and Changed Utterly by the winner of this year’s Seán Ó Riada Competition, Amanda Feery (supported by the Ó Riada family). The premiere performances of both works were integrated into CCI’s Friday evening concert programme. The Seán Ó Riada Competition is a composition competition which invites the submission, under pseudonym, of new works from Irish composers and is a collaboration between the Cork International Choral Festival and Chamber Choir Ireland. In addition, this year’s Symposium featured performance readings of works by Criostóir Ó Loingsigh and Peter Moran, selected by the Seán Ó Riada Assessment Panel. All the named composers were present and played an active part in the symposium. We thank Majella Hollywood, Chief Executive of the CCI, for her commitment to continue the involvement of Chamber Choir Ireland in this project. Both organisations are confirmed in their opinion of the importance of this symposium to the continued understanding of, and commitment to, the development of choral composition in Ireland.
In addition we presented a Choral Symposium Fringe offering a diversity of interesting talks and illustrated practical sessions on related aspects of choral practice over three days, curated by John Fitzpatrick, Festival Director. We draw attention in particular to the presentation by the internationally regarded Finnish composer, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, whose Prologue to Romeo and Juliet, also received its premiere performance by Chamber Choir Ireland in its Friday Gala Concert.
Both compositions received their world premieres by Chamber Choir Ireland in their Festival Gala Concert.
Commissioned Piece A Half Darkness
Stephen McNeff studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and undertook post-graduate research at the University of Exeter. He was Associate Director of Manchester University’s Contact Theatre in 1979-80. From 1980-84, as Composer-in-Residence and Associate Director of the Music Theatre Studio Ensemble of the Banff Centre and then Comus Theatre Canada he won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for his opera The Secret Garden (1985) based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. His theatre music in the 1990s saw McNeff receive a Scotsman award for the National Youth Music Theatre production of Aesop at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival before an unconventional staging of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland by the Donmar for the BOC Covent Garden festival in 1994 brought him wider attention. He was appointed ‘Composer-in-the-House’ with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2005. During his two-year tenure, he wrote a number of works for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and its contemporary counterpart Kokoro. Since 2002 McNeff has been a Visiting Artist of Dartington International Summer School, South West Music School and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. www.stephenmcneff.co.uk
Stephen McNeff’s Music is published by Edition Peters.
“When I was growing up in Wales my parents – both from the North of Ireland – used to refer to the ‘Free State’. My mother never referred to Ireland as anything other than ’home’. Like many of the Irish diaspora, I was acutely aware of the troubled nature of Ireland’s coming into being as a republic and the inherited responsibility of understanding the past and the sacrifices made to reach that goal. On my trips back to my birthplace in Belfast I tried to gain a better understanding of my heritage, but it is only really now when a centenary focuses thoughts that I have taken to music to essay into the past and reflect on the tumultuous events of 1916. Paradoxically, Aoife Mannix and I have arrived at our objective obliquely by starting the summer before Easter 1916 where, in the West of Ireland, Padraig Pearse was in retreat, teaching, writing and thinking. For a rebellion at least partly inspired by poetry and a deep awareness of history, this approach was right for us. It also allows us to expand our thoughts into a wider world and the influence and profound awe of the country and elements that is never far from the mind of anyone who has ever witnessed the harsh beauty of that landscape.”
Stephen McNeff, March 2016
Commissioned Poet for A Half Darkness by Stephen McNeff
Aoife Mannix is the author of four collections of poetry and a novel. She has been poet in residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live. She has toured internationally with the British Council. She has a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London.
“Being from Dublin myself, I was delighted to be asked to write this libretto as part of the Easter 1916 centenary. As part of our research, composer Stephen McNeff and I visited Padraig Pearse’s cottage in Connemara. I am very grateful to Cillian de Grás for showing us round and giving us such a fascinating insight into what that last summer before the Rising must have been like. I hope that the poetry in my words captures some of the incredible beauty of the landscape that inspired the rebellion.”
Aoife Mannix, March 2016
Commissioned Piece Changed Utterly
Amanda Feery is currently completing a PhD in Composition at Princeton University, New York, having completed a B.A. in Music in 2006, and an M.Phil in Music and Media Technologies in 2009 at Trinity College Dublin. Past collaborators include Crash Ensemble, Fidelio Trio, ConTempo Quartet, Orkest de Ereprijs, Lisa Moore, Cora Venus Lunny, Michelle O’Rourke, Zoe Conway, and Paul Roe. She has participated as a composer fellow at Ostrava Days Festival (Czech Republic), Soundscape Festival (Italy), Bang on a Can Summer Festival (U.S), and the International Young Composers Meeting (Netherlands). She was winner of the West Cork Chamber Music Composer Award in 2009, and the Jerome Hynes Award in 2013. Current and future projects will see Amanda take on a largescale multimedia work for vocal quartet So Percussion, and commissions from Ensemble Mise-en, Bearthoven, Jacquin Trio, and cellist Amanda Gookin. www.amandafeery.com
The text for this piece comes from a small number of messages I collected from Twitter on May 23rd 2015, the day after Ireland voted yes in the Marriage Equality Referendum. I was initially struck by one message I saw that day;“All changed, changed utterly”. Some of the other messages were poetic, beautiful, and strangely biblical in their turn of phrase.
All changed, changed utterly
A day when we rediscovered
The sky has not fallen in
Gone are the dark clouds that had me down
Oscar Wilde smiles in his grave
The very air tastes different
Twitter, in its transience, creates rolling waves of news activity, which can result in the positives being lost, so I wanted to archive some of the messages from that day, and give them some sort of permanence. I also decided to set this text because I think it captures the feeling of momentous change. To me, that is what the 1916 centenary celebrations are attempting to encapsulate – a reflection on the change of the last 100 years.
Amanda Feery, March 2016.