The Classical Music Establishment Strikes Back

Michael Dervan’s new book, ‘The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916–2016’, is, like the Composing the Island festival last September, an attempt at addressing the ‘invisibility of composers in Irish life’ – but not all composers, writes Toner Quinn.

For a time as a teenager all I wanted to be was a composer. I sought out biographies of the greats, from Bach to Ravel, read manuals on orchestration, entered competitions. Then my performance side developed more and it took a back seat, but my abiding interest in the craft of composition stems from those days.

My early idea of a composer reflected my music education – the classic, pyramid type: classical music at the top and folk music at the bottom, starting with plainchant and working its way through fugue, sonata form, Sturm und Drang, serialism, and all the other agreed signposts. Once I learned more about traditional music, classical music, popular music and the wider contemporary music world, that pyramid dissolved into a world with not so much a clear structure, but rather a sparkling criss-crossing world of personal and community expression that could be understood in much more open ways. Continue reading

Which Political Party Should Get the Music Vote?

The Journal of Music looks at what the parties are promising for music.

What is the Government’s vision for our musical future? How can we ensure that young musicians realise their potential? How should Ireland’s music infrastructure be developed over the next five or ten years? How can we help musicians and composers achieve international success?

As long as basic services such as health and housing are inadequate, it is difficult to generate detailed or prolonged public discussion on music. Nevertheless, those concerned about Irish musical life do have a case to make. The figures are there – Arts Council funding, upon which music is heavily dependent, has been cut by 29% since 2007.  Continue reading

When Stravinsky Came to Dublin in 1963

RTÉ orchestras will perform two nights of music by Stravinsky this weekend. We take the opportunity to look back on the composer’s visit to Ireland in June 1963.

In advance of RTÉ’s Stravinsky weekend this Friday and Saturday at the National Concert Hall, a reader has sent The Journal of Music a range of newspaper clippings from June 1963 when the composer visited Ireland.

Aged 80 at the time, Stravinsky was in Dublin for a concert of his music at the Adelphi Cinema on Middle Abbey Street in Dublin, part of a festival of music presented by the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading

Will 2016 be a Turning Point for the Irish Harp?

Having a harp on our coins only really matters if we give meaning to that symbolism, writes Toner Quinn.

In the summer of 2014, I returned from three days at An Chúirt Chruitireachta, the Irish harp school that has taken place in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth, for thirty years. That evening, I happened upon a discussion on RTÉ 1’s Primetime about the Irish Government’s then budgetary plans.

It wasn’t long before I began to notice the large image intermittently flashing up on the television screen behind the discussion. It is an image that in Ireland we have become so used to that it is sometimes almost invisible to us, and yet there it was, at the heart of our national affairs, its presence a perennial reminder of the depth of Irish musical expression, and it is still reaching out to us one thousand years on. Continue reading

Time to Reignite the Fight for Music in 2016

RTÉ Lyric FM is in the news because of its schedule changes, but the strength of the response is a positive thing.

As 2016 begins, and the economy starts to recover after the crash, how will musical life in Ireland fare? Will it benefit in proportion to the improving economy? 

In Ireland, the cost of music is underestimated. Music is expensive. Musicians and composers of all genres develop their work over decades and they require a substantial infrastructure of venues, promoters and organisations to assist them in reaching their potential and creating the experiences that enrich our lives and our society. Continue reading

Why We Need a Traditional Music Infrastructure

The world of the professional traditional musician appears to be contracting, writes Toner Quinn.

First published in The Journal of Music on 7 July 2015.

In 2012, when we launched a listings service on The Journal of Music, it was in an effort to capture what was happening musically, as in concerts, festivals and other performances. There are not enough writers and editors in the world to track the range of activity in contemporary music life, but using the internet and enabling readers to contribute suddenly presented that opportunity. The key was creating a listings service that was flexible enough to accommodate a huge range of styles, but organised enough to make sense of it all.

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The End (and the Beginning) of the Experimental Music Festival

Published in The Journal of Music on 29 April 2015

Far from ‘anything goes’, programming a festival of experimental music may be the most difficult type of all. With a new artistic director, the Borealis festival in Bergen, Norway, seized the challenge, writes Toner Quinn.

A brown duffle coat and a cap pulled down. A full, warm, airless room. The audience stood close to the small stage. Shoulders up, he walked around the stage. Hands first in pockets, then wrapped fully around the microphone, then in his pockets again. Halted, at times breathless, conversation; sparks of humour; he would withdraw to the back of the stage to examine his guitar, pick a few notes, then put it down again. He circled the stage a few times more, and then Richard Dawson walked to the front left corner without his guitar, closed his eyes and sang.

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Who Will Invest in Irish Music?

(Published in The Journal of Music on 10 March 2015)

The next steps for the Irish music industry require ‘strong leadership’, says a new report, but where will it come from?

A little while ago, I had a conversation with a man in Conamara, someone who has spent forty years campaigning for the Irish language.

As he related to me some of the details of his campaigns – regular tussles with the state, attemping to elicit support for the minority language community in the west – a question occurred to me: in those forty years, I asked, had any private individual of means ever approached him, intimated that he or she appreciated his efforts, and offered financial support for his ambitious ideas. The answer, to my genuine surprise, was no.

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‘Our media have a great deal to answer for’: Benjamin Dwyer’s new book asks hard questions about Irish musical life.

Throughout 2014, BBC Radio 3’s Breakfast programme played a work by a British composer every morning, part of a year-long project called ‘Best of British’. It made for an impressive line-up: Britten, Skempton, Bax, Nyman, Elgar, MacMillan, Bryars, Delius, Tippett, Warlock, Purcell, Adés, Walton, Maxwell Davies, Dowland, Birtwistle, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Moeran, Tallis and dozens more. A few Irish composers made the list too: Stanford, Field and Trimble.

These names are actually typical of the station’s content. If a listener to BBC Radio 3 isn’t already familiar with their work, they Continue reading

Should artists call themselves start-ups?

This week, Enterprise Ireland announced a €200,000 fund for four counties in the south-east of Ireland to ‘boost start-ups’. In September, it announced a fund of €200,000 for three counties in the north-east. In March, start-ups in the county of Cork received the same fund. Enterprise Ireland also announced a €500,000 fund aimed at stimulating start-ups among graduates, and, with Hoxton Ventures, a €5.9 million venture capital fund for early-stage businesses. 

As well as this type of funding for start-ups, there are accelerator programmes, incubators, digital hubs, seed funds, venture Continue reading