Anselm McDonnell Wins Seán Ó Riada Competition with Rory Gallagher inspired work

The winning composition will premiere at Cork International Choral Festival Anselm McDonnell has been announced as this year’s winner of…

Michela Del Tin
20 February 2024

The winning composition will premiere at Cork International Choral Festival

Anselm McDonnell has been announced as this year’s winner of the prestigious Seán Ó Riada composition competition. The competition invites submissions of new works annually from Irish composers and is held in collaboration with the Cork International Choral Festival and Chamber Choir Ireland. 

Anselm McDonnell's winning composition, ‘Gallagher’, - a homage to the music of Rory Gallagher, will have its world premiere at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork on Friday, May 3rd, at 7.30pm. 

McDonnell, from Belfast, collaborated with author Tim MacGhabhann on the composition, after they bonded over a mutual love of the famous guitarist, during their time as resident artists at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. The musician piece weaves several quotations from the musician’s work into a musical texture that plays off the rich imagery in Tim's poems. 

An Irish/Welsh composer, Anselm McDonnell has composed over ninety pieces for various ensembles, including orchestras, chamber groups, choirs, soloists, and electronics. His talent and musical prowess, which include having his music performed in thirteen countries, have earned him this prestigious recognition. The performance of ‘Gallagher’ will be part of the Cork International Choral Festival’s annual collaborative concert with choir-in-residence, Chamber Choir Ireland, led by their Artistic Director Paul Hillier. This promises to be a night of exceptional musical talent, marking Hillier's 16th and final year as Artistic Director. 

The Seán Ó Riada competition, which has been running for over 50 years, provides a platform for Irish composers to have their work judged and rewarded solely on its own merits. Submissions are made under pseudonyms, ensuring anonymity until after the judges' decision has been made. The competition aims to present Irish choirs with fresh, authentic material for their programs and has attracted renowned composers throughout its history. 

Commenting on the news of his win, Anselm McDonnell said, “It's an honour to have been chosen as the winner of this year's Seán Ó Riada Competition for ‘Gallagher’ my collaboration with author Tim MacGhabhann. I'm looking forward to working with Chamber Choir Ireland again, as they bring such a rich sound and interpretive nuance to new compositions. I'm excited that the work's premiere will be part of the Cork International Choral Festival, especially given the close link between Gallagher and Cork, his childhood home and burial place.”

Chamber Choir Ireland member Eoghan Desmond, composer Rhona Clarke, and Conductor of Chamber Choir Ireland, Paul Hillier, who evaluated McDonnell's winning piece, summarised their reaction, stating, "The text is strong and the music responds to it well without losing its own character. The musical textures are nicely varied, keeping things fresh, yet focused, and the vocal lines work with imaginative variation. While challenging, it is accessible to a wide range of high-level amateur choirs. The composer's use of rhythm and texture creates an engaging piece for singers and audiences alike." 

With more than 240 compositions being submitted in the past 10 years of the new format, the Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition illustrates 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. Past winners include 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, Amanda Feery, Criostóir Ó Loingsigh, Donal Sarsfield, James May, Peter Leavy, Norah Constance Walsh, Darragh Black Hynes and last year’s winner Laura Heneghan.

This year’s Cork International Choral Festival which is set to bring Cork to life with song takes place from 1st – 5th May 2024.

More about the Composer: 

Anselm McDonnell (1994) is an Irish/Welsh composer who has composed over ninety pieces for orchestra, chamber groups, choirs, soloists, and electronics. His music has been performed in thirteen countries and includes commissions by the London Symphony Orchestra, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, BBC Concert Orchestra, the Crash Ensemble, BBC Radio 3, British Council, and NCH Dublin. 

His music features on eleven CDs, including two self-released albums: Light of Shore and Kraina. In 2023 he had portrait concerts dedicated to his music in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand, by the TACETi Ensemble. 

His music has been played at NCH Dublin, LSO St. Luke’s (4 performances), Wigmore Hall, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Hugh Lane Gallery (4 performances), and New Music Dublin Festival (10 performances). 

He is a Jerwood+ resident composer with the LSO for 23/24 and was recently resident composer at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris (Oct/Nov 23). His recent interview with the BBC Music Magazine features in their March 2024 issue. 

His compositions have been described as 'abrasive and compelling' (Irish Times), 'bright as fluorescent light’ (Journal of Music) and 'perhaps the contrasts and complexities that it contains are a musical reflection of the multi-layered nature of what it means to be a composer in a community as complex as Northern Ireland.' (Robert Hugill)

Cork International Choral Festival

Bringing Cork to Life With Song Since 1954

01 May ~ 05 May, 2024