David Fennessy (b. 1976 Maynooth) began his musical life as guitarist in a school rock band but had no formal musical training until the age of fifteen when he decided to study classical guitar. He became interested in composition whilst studying for his undergraduate degree at the Dublin College of Music. In 1998 Fennessy moved to Glasgow to study for his Masters Degree at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama with James MacMillan. He was later invited to join the composition faculty and has held a teaching post there since 2005. Fennessy was shortlisted for the Gaudeamus Music Prize in Amsterdam in both 2000 and 2006 and was a finalist for the Philharmonia’s composition prize in 2004. His music has been chosen to represent Ireland at the International Rostrum of Composers. In 2006/2007 Ensemble Modern awarded Fennessy a scholarship to study at their prestigious International Academy in Frankfurt. A Dewar Arts Award (Scotland) enabled him to live in Germany for 12 months where he created several works in close collaboration with the musicians of the Academy. In 2010, he composed BODIES, written for the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and La Rejouissance – La Paix commissioned by Ensemble Modern for their 30th Anniversary celebrations, and also received a prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award. This British award, providing significant support over three years, aims to give artists the freedom to develop their creative ideas and contribute towards their personal and professional growth. In 2010/2011 he was a Fellow of the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.
Fennessy’s music theatre work Pass the Spoon – a collaboration with director Nick Bone and visual artist David Shrigley – was premièred in Glasgow in November 2011. The creation of the work was made possible by a Vital Sparks Award from Creative Scotland. Following a first contract with Universal Edition for his orchestral work This is How it Feels (Another Bolero), David Fennessy signed a major agreement in 2011 for his main catalogue of works. Recent significant works include 5 Hofer Photographs for solo violoncello and Haupstimme, a work for solo viola and ensemble premiered by Garth Knox with Rednote Ensemble at last year’s Huddersfield Festival. Since 2012 he has been working on a trilogy of large scale works based on the diaries of the German film director Werner Herzog written during the production of the 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo. Fennessy’s music has been performed nationally and internationally by many groups including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Modern, Hebrides Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the RTE Concert Orchestra.
David Fennessy’s music is published by Universal Edition.
In 2014, David Fennessy was commissioned by Cork International Choral Festival and Chamber Choir Ireland to write Letter to Michael, the first in a ‘triptych’ of works for Chamber Choir Ireland to be composed between 2014 – 2018. Letter to Michael drew on letters written by an in-patient in a German psychiatric ward around 100 years ago pleading to her husband to visit, writing page after page the single phrase “sweetheart come”. The second piece in this triptych has been commissioned for the 2017 Cork International Choral Festival and continues the theme of emotional outpourings born of extreme circumstances. Whereas Letter to Michael was a desperate cry for help, Ne Reminicaris interweaves a passage from Lassus’ Penitential Psalms with an impassioned affirmation of life, as experienced upon waking from a coma.
The Seán Ó Riada Competition was initiated in 1972, and today, the present format of the Seán Ó Riada Competition offers a platform for Irish composers to have their work judged and rewarded purely on its own merits without the judges being influenced by the reputation or status of the composer. All compositions are submitted under a pseudonym, with the author’s real name not being revealed until after the judges’ decision has been made. Works composed in the Irish language are encouraged. The competition has, as a central aim, the intention of providing Irish choirs with fresh, authentic material for inclusion in their programmes. The competition has attracted the attention of many highly-regarded composers, with past winners including Solfa Carlisle, Rhona Clarke, Patrick Connolly, Frank Corcoran, Séamas de Barra, Eoghan Desmond, Michael Holohan, Marian Ingoldsby, Donal MacErlaine, Simon MacHale, Michael McGlynn, Kevin O’Connell, and last year’s winner, Amanda Feery. With nearly 200 compositions being submitted in the past 7 years of the new format, the Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition clearly highlights the number of composers now working and living in Ireland, and further demonstrates the Cork International Choral Festival’s continuing commitment to encourage the composition and performance of contemporary music.
Growing up, John trained in piano and oboe performance and also, was part of De La Salle Senior choir who won the schools competition at the Cork International Choral Festival in 1984. In relation to the text for his composition based on Jonathan Swift’s poem A Description of a City Shower, John explored the effect of our Irish weather on city dwellers; in particular, the regular bouts of rain showers. It was a great surprise for him to win this prestigious award and has acknowledged how this win encourages him to pursue musical composition further.
Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition Shortlisted Composers
Michael Doherty – The Art of Dying
Criostóir Ó Loingsigh – Scél Lemm Duib*
* Both new compositions will receive their world premieres by Chamber Choir Ireland in their Festival Gala Concert. See this page for more details. As part of the Choral Symposium the Festival will feature City Shower (winning composition) and Scél Lemm Duib (runner up) as part of Chamber Choir Ireland’s exploration of composition, performance and treatment through a performance-reading under the direction of Paul Hillier in an interactive workshop session on Friday 28th April at 2pm in CIT Cork School of Music. See Seminar on New Choral Music for more details.