I’ve been so grateful to have been able to participate in some musical activities this past month, including the premiere of a work that I didn’t think would ever be able to be heard! Thanks to a huge amount of work by Lelia Doolan, David Brophy, and countless others behind the scenes, Laniakeawas recorded outside in the walled garden in Coole Park, Galway on 26th September. I was asked to re-orchestrate the work down from its original ensemble of large orchestra and choir, to a smaller ensemble which could play in a safe environment. The Coole Culture event was supported by (among others), The Royal Astronomical Society,Galway Capital of Culture 2020, and Creative Ireland. It was such a joy to hear a premiere! Congratulations also to Timothy Doyle on his excellent piece Lente, which was played, and the third item on the programme was Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Watch the concert at the below link.
I was also able to travel to London this past month to work with players from the London Symphony Orchestra on my commission for the LSO Soundhub, and was pleased with this first workshop of materials. Plenty to do now on the piece, so it’s back to the desk for a few months as I hone this work and some other upcoming projects…
Well it’s certainly not been the summer any of us expected, and although many performances of my work have been delayed or cancelled outright, I’m grateful to still be writing music. Hopefully the projects in the pipeline will eventually come to light! Just an update on where my main pieces are at:
Laniakea, for large orchestra and choir, was meant to be performed in Coole Park, Galway on September 26th, but given the size of the ensemble, and the concert itself, this is obviously not going ahead. There are discussions around rescheduling the event, so hopeful this will still happen, although as a choir is involved I might be waiting a while…
My ongoing project with the London Symphony Orchestra for their Soundhub Scheme is the next major piece on my to-do list! The rescheduled concert is now down for Feb 13th 2021, and I hope to head over to London in late Sep to work with some of their musicians on the first draft.
In June I finished up two suites of pieces, one for solo clarinet (for Francesco Paolo Scola of the Ulster Orchestra. After working together on Scamper he requested a set of short pieces) When Aslan shakes his mane, and one for solo piano. The piano suite was written for Cahal Masterson, supported by Moving On Music, and will feature on my forthcoming portrait CD in 2021. There’s been a lot of work trying to organise funding for the CD, and decisions about what pieces are possible to record given the pandemic restrictions! I had hoped initially that it might be a collection of my choral works, but the current iteration features mainly solo instruments. I’m remaining flexible with my plans for what the finished album will look like, so we’ll see what becomes of it over the next few months.
I’m putting the finishing touches on Cross-Purposes and Refractions, two chamber works that have taken up most of July and August. Commissioned by the CRASH Ensemble and the Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, it’s been a pleasure to work on new pieces for musicians I have collaborated with on several occasions. Cross-Purposes will be released on CRASH Records sometime in the Autumn, and Refractions will feature in HRSE’s next season.
It’s always an inspiring experience for me to work with the text of Scottish poet Euan Tait, and I had the opportunity to use a poem he wrote for me, Babelsong, when I collaborated with NY-based pianist Adam Marks over lockdown. The score was an experiment in writing a one-page graphic score, and I greatly enjoyed the challenge (head over to the work’s page if you want to see it). Adam interprets the piece creatively and with nuance. I’m currently exploring a larger project with Euan which could keep me writing for quite some time, so keep an eye out for any updates on that…
And finally, the LSO gave my piece for solo cello, The Anguish of John Paton, a second, virtual outing during a streamed YouTube concert. You can watch Orlando Jopling of the LSO play it here.
I was delighted (and pretty shocked) to pass my PhD viva without corrections this month and become Dr. McDonnell – which really means I’m just very qualified in making noises… It was a great pleasure to discuss my work (over Zoom) with Professor Paul Mealor and Dr. Zeynep Bulut. Looking forward to many post-PhD projects now!
I just put the finishing touches on my commission Courage, dear heart for the National Concert Hall, Dublin, which is part of a concert I am curating for their Beethoven anniversary celebrations. The concert (which is currently scheduled for Nov 5th, dependent on the changing situation with live performances) reflects on the interaction between composers and texts by Irish authors expressed through piano trio and soprano, and will feature works by American composer Jessica Meyer, and Irish composers Piers Hellawell, Grainne Mulvey, Ryan Molloy, and Elaine Agnew. The performers will be the Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, and soprano Elizabeth Hilliard.
I’m very pleased to able to work with Hard Rain twice this year, as I’ve received a commission from them for a chamber trio as part of their PRSF Talent Development Scheme, for performance in late 2020/early 2021. It’s a year for chamber commissions, as I’m also excited to have been commissioned by the CRASH Ensemble to write a duo for cello and doublebass, which will be recorded for an album release and performed online in late 2020.
I hope to soon release a video that the Scottish filmmaker Oliver Mezger has made in response to my electronic piece Crossing the Firth. Oliver’s film Direct Shipping/Crossing the Firth creates a visual dialogue with my work that reflects on themes of crossing, thresholds, and in particular responds to the dangerous, often fatal, crossings made by migrants across turbulent waters.
At the start of May, my postcard Scamper, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, was broadcast three times, played wonderfully and agilely by Francesco Paolo Scola of the Ulster Orchestra.
Finally, I’m indebted to Francesca Hurst for the performance of this little piece as part of her Daily Dose of Piano series! Please have a listen, and make a donation to Francesca’s series.
4th May – Star Wars day, is also premiere day! My piece Scamper, commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for their ‘Postcards from Composers’ series, will be played at 8:30am, just before 4:30pm, and 10pm today. Please tune in to hear Francesco Paolo Scola, principal clarinet of the Ulster Orchestra, expertly playing this tricky little work. If you heard the piece and have come to my website to hear more, welcome, check out my Work Sample page, which has a varied selection of works for different ensembles. Hiraeth am nefoedd is in the same vein as Scamper, and I’d also recommend The Pearl and some of my choral works. If you’re interested in something more experimental, have a listen to Stutter, Esau’s Hunger, or take a trippy VR journey with The Testimony of John Paton.
To start with the big news, my piece for large orchestra and choir, Laniakea, has been chosen for a performance in Coole Park, Galway, as part of the Royal Astronomical Society’s bicentary celebrations! The premiere is scheduled for September 26th 2020, and will feature the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, the Symphonic Waves Youth Orchestra and be conducted by David Brophy. The main feature of the concert will be a performance of Holst’s The Planets, accompanied by five new works by Irish composers for the same orchestration (of which mine is one).
I’m also pleased to share my recently broadcast interview (12/04/2020) with John Toal on BBC Radio Ulster, chatting about my forthcoming portrait CD as part of the Moving On Music Emerging Artist Scheme. You can listen here.
Yesterday I put the final touches to a piece commissioned by BBC Radio 3, as part of their new Audio Postcards Project. This project features 20 composers from across the UK, commissioned by Radio 3 to write a 30-second snapshot of music for a solo performer from one of the BBC concert orchestras: a little postcard from isolation. Grateful to have been involved, more information on that broadcast to come!
Rather rapidly and unceremoniously (before the printers and QUB fully shut their doors), I handed in my PhD portfolio. Such was my haste that I didn’t have time to take a proper photo, just a shot of the boxes that contain 3.5 years worth of work. Phew! The list of people I want to thank is genuinely longer than my arm: if you have been involved in any way in lending your passion and skill to help me make music over the last few years I am so grateful, especially to my wife Sarah, who has listened to every minute of it (even the really weird stuff).
I don’t know what comes next. In the crisis we are facing and the rapidly shifting artistic landscape caused by it, that sense of uncertainty is even more pronounced. It reminds me that my hopes are not in something as fleeting as music, precious and powerful as it is, but in the one who has given it: my unchanging Saviour Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. It’s been a delight to spend this amount of time serving him by creating music. We celebrated by playing some appropriate social distancing sport – frisbee.
While March (and no doubt the coming months) featured some disappointing cancellations and delay to projects and performances, I’m very thankful to still have compositions to work on, and music to share with you! The U.S. premiere of Asphyxiate has been delayed for the foreseeable future, as has the world premiere of The Blue Bird by the Gesualdo Six in Dublin. PANIC is also unlikely to be performing at London’s Ikletick Lab in May, but I hope to have more PANIC news soon. Delighted to announce that Laniakea, a work for orchestra and choir commissioned by Coole Culture, is scheduled to be performed in Coole Park, Galway, September 26th 2020, as part of the Galway European Capital of Culture 2020 celebrations. The performance will be filmed for broadcast. Finally, I am able to share William Cole’s performance of Shards on a Beach.
Updates on the website have been a bit slow as of late as I’ve been working on the thesis and portfolio for PhD submission – which is coming up soon! January and February saw a couple of premieres: Tearing as it is Woven by the Chamber Choir Ireland, Eloheinu by Mosaic Voices, Shards on a Beach by William Cole of the Ulster Orchestra, The Anguish of John Paton by Orlando Jopling of the London Symphony Orchestra, and a performance of Stutter and presentation with PANIC Music Ensemble down in Dublin. Three of my short anthems, Hinneni, If ye love me, and More than Gold were chosen as repertoire for this year’s London Festival of Contemporary Church Music Festival.
I was delighted to be selected as an Emerging Artist with the Belfast based organisation Moving On Music, who’ll be supporting me in 2020 for a variety of projects, including a collaboration on a new work with pianist Cahal Masterson. Several exciting upcoming performances: PANIC will be playing at the MUSLab 2020 International Festival of Electroacoustic Music at London’s Icklectik Art Lab on May 2nd, and my electronic piece Crossing the Firth will also be played. On April 9th, The Gesualdo Six will premiere my work The Blue Bird, setting the famous Mary Elizabeth Coleridge poem, at St. Ann’s, Dublin. Tickets are available here.
Next major thing is the PhD submission, and I’m working away at this year’s two major pieces: commissions for the National Concert Hall Dublin and the London Symphony Orchestra, so updates may be delayed for the next few months!
December was a busy month of performances, Altnagelvin Hospital Choir premiered Sparrows’ Anthem, Elmgrove Primary School Choir performed my carol Children the Wide World Over, and PANIC Music Ensemble performed two pieces at the CMC Ireland Christmas Concert – Circle Machines and Where I go, I hear the noise. Recordings of these performances can be heard below.
London based male voice choir Mosaic Voices have commissioned a new work for January 2020 setting a Hebrew text from their Shabbat service (they are the professional choir of New West End Synagogue). I travelled over at the end of November to meet the choir and their artistic director Michael Etherton to discuss the new piece.
In other news, I’m grateful to I care if you listen TV for hosting a video of Stutter on their site, which can be seen here. Chris Robert’s October performance of Hiraeth am nefoedd is now available on YouTube, thanks to Craig Jackson and the Broadcast Team at Queen’s University Belfast for documenting the concert.
October started with the Irish leg of Chris Robert’s Adra album tour, playing my piece Hiraeth am nefoedd in Limerick, Kilkenny, Belfast and Dublin. The piece was also broadcast on the Sound Out programme on Lyric FM. The album had its Irish launch at the Contemporary Music Centre in Dublin, with reflections from composer and guitarist Benjamin Dwyer, who gave the album an extremely positive review. PANIC Music Ensemble performed two of my pieces, Stutter and a new work, Where I go, I hear the noise in Maynooth University and Dublin City University Chapel – recordings below. We also filmed a short promo video for the ensemble, which can be seen on the PANIC page of my website. For November, I’m looking forward to working with the Jewish choir Mosaic Voices, who have commissioned me to write a new work in Hebrew for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020.