Reimagining Belfast

Fiddle-player Conor Caldwell’s diverse new album is inspired by both the historic work of collector Edward Bunting and the sounds of contemporary Belfast, writes Toner Quinn.

Conor Caldwell’s 2016 fiddle recording with Danny Diamond, North, was edgy and meditative, the emphasis on raw, spontaneous, unaccompanied duets.

Albums such as North appear to be a response to what writer Alex Ross calls the ‘cult of precision’ in modern recorded music; scrapes and the sense of a live performance are in, concern about technical perfection is out.

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Strange Type of Orchestra Love

The RTÉ orchestras report has made recommendations in response to a crisis, but we have not heard enough discussion of the issues that caused it, writes Toner Quinn.

This week in The Journal of Music, we published an article detailing the wide range of issues revealed in a new report on Ireland’s two full-time orchestras – RTÉ Orchestras: Ensuring a Sustainable Future.

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Is Music the Glue That Will Get Us Through?

When we have instant access to every piece of music that we love, anywhere and anytime, something profound has happened, writes Toner Quinn.

Are you a listener who describes the music they listen to as ‘my music’? That is, when you are talking about the music that you have on a digital device, do you feel that it is yours, or that it somehow represents you? Perhaps it is organised in a way that is unique to you, which makes it possible for you to enjoy it on demand, and you adjust it as your mood changes. How attached are you to the experience? Is ‘your music’ now an extension of you?

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Liam O’Flynn: An Appreciation

A tribute to the great uilleann piper who died on 14 March 2018.

One of the great Irish traditional musicians of our time has passed away. Liam O’Flynn, aged 72, died yesterday (14 March) after a battle with illness over the last year.

So much that we take for granted today can be traced back to the impact that his uilleann piping had in the 1970s and after.
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The Orchestras are Only One Part of the Question

The debate around RTÉ’s orchestras points to deeper challenges – it’s essential that we keep this conversation going, writes Toner Quinn.

The last time support for music in Ireland hit the national news agenda was in December of 2015 when RTÉ Lyric FM dropped its Sunday morning music programme Gloria. A petition gathered over 3,000 signatures, letters and articles appeared in the papers, and Senator David Norris raised the issue in the Seanad.
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Dig it in Galway

The Galway Jazz Festival is on an ambitious new path – with over 40 events over 4 days held in October. Toner Quinn attended three sold-out shows at the Mick Lally Theatre.

Galway Jazz Festival began in 2005, but had slimmed down one to just one day of events by 2015. In 2017, a new team were determined to put it back on the path towards growth. Matthew Berrill (Artistic Director), Ellen Cranitch (Director) and Ciarán Ryan (General Manager) programmed more than forty events over four days (5–8 October), and set about a serious publicity campaign that created a real sense of anticipation. By the time the event was officially launched on 6 October by Carl Corcoran, Ryan could say from the mic, with real excitement, that people ‘were buying tickets like never before’.

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The Edges of Revolt

What makes a political folk opera work? Do traditional musicians go far enough in their experimentations? And what is the ‘social side’ of classical music? Toner Quinn reflects on a range of questions raised by the musical riches at this year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival.

I’m picking up fragments of a conversation at the next table in Kilkenny’s Marble City Bar. It’s initially good humoured but then starts to heat up. ‘The EU is a German project, not a European project!… What Ireland should do is… What we need is… no, no, no… listen, that won’t happen…”. The accents are Irish, British, Eastern European. Nothing special about a chat like that in Ireland these days? If you were at Kilkenny Arts Festival this year, it certainly felt different.

The previous night I had attended Counting Sheep, a folk opera by musicians Mark and Marichka Marczyk and featuring the Lemon Bucket Orkestra. There was something about the way Festival Director Eugene Downes spoke about it as he introduced a different concert on the Monday night that compelled me to go. ‘It’s about freedom,’ he said, pausing, still obviously dwelling on the performance he’d seen that night.

There are two ways of attending Counting Sheep, ’viewing’ and ‘immersive’. Immersive enter first. Marichka sits at the piano playing accompaniment to Mark Marczyk’s fiddle. We sit at, or around, a table (the viewing audience are seated further back) and a cast of perhaps ten begin to serve food and drink – bread, broth and bright-coloured drinks. Moments later, the Ukrainian special police – the Berkut – will appear and forcefully charge down the table. The audience scatter. What was festive turns into horror – with the audience at the centre. Continue reading

From Crisis to Combustion

Daring performances in ‘The Second Violinist’, a new opera by Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh premiered at the Galway International Arts Festival, explore a range of personal and musical crises, writes Toner Quinn.

Where does it all go wrong for musicians? How do they get to the stage where they waste their gifts? For those who are close to them it can be perplexing, but musicians and composers naturally carry a large bag of insecurities. One slight jolt can change everything.

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Music in the Wake of Manchester

The suicide bombing at Manchester Arena was the second such attack at a music event in two years. What is to be the role of music in this ‘age of anger’, asks Toner Quinn.

I was going to surprise my daughter the next morning with some chat about Ariana Grande.

It was Monday night around 11.25pm. Winding down, I was watching a Hozier song cover and scrolling through the comments. Someone pointed to another of his covers, of Ariana Grande’s ‘Problem’.

Ariana Grande, a name I hear often. A star that compels my daughter to sit as near as possible to the TV whenever she’s on. I would listen to the cover and tell my nine-year-old about it. As I switched between Hozier, Grande singing ‘Problem’ and other YouTube suggestions, suddenly a New York Times alert flashed up in the corner of my screen: ‘Ariana Grande… bombing… Manchester.’ I thought my tired eyes had mixed up the lines on my computer screen. But no.
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Concertina Journey

Concertina player Cormac Begley’s creative journey has been one to watch, and his new solo album is an assertive next step, writes Toner Quinn.

With so much commentary on traditional music giving the impression of homogeneity – a music that carries heritage, ancestry, regional styles and community values in one go – it is worth emphasising that all creative journeys in this genre are actually unique. Where musicians end up may be reminiscent of one or other artist; how they got there is not.

Concertina player Cormac Begley’s creative journey has been one to watch. As a student of psychology in Galway in 2008 he founded the concert series Tunes in the Church. In 2015, he established Airt, a residential school for musicians and artists in his family home of West Kerry.  Continue reading