Tuesday, January 21, 2014

RTE Orchestra Horizons Series I

Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE), the Irish government-run media, funds and keeps the RTE National Symphony Orchestra.  The orchestra keeps a busy schedule of performances throughout the year, many of them at the National Concert Hall.  I hadn't been to see the orchestra since arriving in Dublin, but had heard they do good work.  When I found out (with a tip from Sara) about the (free) Horizons Contemporary Music Series 2014 in the Dublin Event Guide, I said, "Free orchestra concerts?  Sign me up!"

The series of free lunchtime concerts runs over four consecutive Tuesdays.  Each concert features the work of a different contemporary Irish composer, including a world premiere piece commissioned by the orchestra.  What a great program to support current composers, keep fresh modern music coming, and display it for a grateful daytime public.  Before each performance, the composer sits down for an interview with the director of the Contemporary Music Centre to talk about the new commissioned piece and modern composing in general.

National Concert Hall, Dublin
National Concert Hall

The first concert of the series was titled, "Catching Fire" and featured the modern Irish composer Rhona Clarke.  Before the concert at the National Concert Hall, I caught her pre-show interview in a side room where she described her own growth and development as a composer.  The concert featured two of her pieces, one from 2006 and one world premiere piece.  She went into great and interesting detail about her composing process and how her sound and style have changed through the course of her career.

Ticket and Program for RTE National Symphony Orchestra
Ticket and Program

The concert was prefaced by the director of the Symphony, and we were off.  Her first piece from 2006, Where the Clouds Go, was described in the program as "...moves from moment to moment in a dreamlike way, fragments of melodic line appearing and disappearing again."  The piece made use of interesting mallet percussion and muted brass sounds that took me back to my concert band roots.

Next was a piece by composer Gerald Barry inspired by the work of Baroque French composers, specifically Couperin.  From the program, the piece "...is defined by direct, bold rhythms and well-defined melodic lines, which seem to echo fragments of melody from music of past centuries."  This work for string orchestra (a small ensemble of the string section remained on stage- standard practice) did indeed use a wide range of the sounds capable of being produced by the string section, with starkly contrasting statements throughout.

Go, Solo No. 1 for Orchestra was the oldest (!) piece on the program, harkening all the way back to the grand old year of 1992.  The title, Go was described as a dual play on words.  Go, in English of course, means Start, leave, and, most powerfully, move!  Go also references the ancient but still much played East Asian abstract strategy board game of simple rules yet endless complexity, Go.  The subtitle Solo for Orchestra comes, from the program, "...referring to the large orchestra as a single instrument and his handling of orchestral timbres and balance..."  The instruments of a full symphony can produce an unbelievable range of sounds and dynamics, and this fast-moving, hard-hitting bruiser exposed the audience to a good many, if not all, of them.

The headline performance was the world premiere of the new piece by Rhona Clarke, Shift.  This work was commissioned by the RTE for this concert series specifically, and the composer introduced the piece with the director of the orchestra program.  As described in the program, "Extended techniques, deliberately avoided in previous work, are embraced in Shift, using harmonics and noise elements in strings, and bowed, timbral effects on percussion... The concentration is on blocks of sound and on the polar opposites between arrhythmic and rhythmic material."  The piece does indeed make use of these "extended techniques," and serves as a contrast to her earlier work, Where the Clouds Go- especially in the mallet percussion.  Clouds made use of mallet instruments in their more benign forms, vibraphone with yarn mallets, xylophone with its characteristic cutting brightness.  Shift uses the bowed technique to give the comfortable sounding vibes and crotales harsh, shrill, haunting overtones.  The strings made use of the con legno technique of playing the strings with the wooden back of the bow instead of the horsehair bowstrings.  This creates a scratching, grating, and sometimes alarming sound.  When used artistically, it can be very beautiful, and it was here.

Thank you, RTE Orchestra for programming such a great series.  Check back to this blog over the next three weeks for my own recap of the remaining shows in the series.  If in Dublin, look up the remaining concerts and reserve your (did I mention free!?) ticket.  If interested in hearing this performance, the show was recorded and broadcast on RTE Lyric FM, check the player in the link below.


National Concert Hall
RTE National Symphony Orchestra
RTE Lyric FM performance of the concert

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