May 2020

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.

BBC Radio 3 Premiere

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.

April 2020

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!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b055v0cw Listen to Classical Connections.

March 2020

Forthcoming interview on BBC Classical Connections with John Toal: April 12th 7pm.

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.

Stay safe everyone!

January/February 2020

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 2019

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.

Derek Collins conducts the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir & Gail Norris (Oboe)

November 2019

The first performance of November was a second outing for Anthem for Doomed Youth, and it was a pleasure to conduct the Cantiunculae Chamber Choir in St. Patrick’s Parish Church in Belfast.

PANIC Music Ensemble played the last in a series of concerts on November 13th, a performance at Dublin City University that included my piece Stutter. We’re currently preparing for a guest performance on Dec 12th at the Contemporary Music Centre Ireland, where we’re excited to be playing at their Christmas concert and premiering two of my collaborative works, Circle Machines and Where I go, I hear the noise.

Contemporary sopranos the Peridot Duo gave the New York and Boston premieres of Ezer in mid-November. I’m also delighted to find out that in March 2020 the St. Salvator’s Chapel Choir will perform Asphyxiate on tour in the USA, dates and venues tba.

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.

Video of Chris Roberts performing Hiraeth am nefoedd at the Sonic Lab in Queen’s University Belfast

October 2019

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.

September 2019

Book tickets for upcoming choral premiere of Sparrows’ Anthem at the Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry here. Concert December 14th, 25th anniversary of the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir.

A video of Esau’s Hunger for Double Guitar Orchestra & Electronics is now available on YouTube. Stunning light projections by Laurenz Theinert. Thank you to Tim Brady for conducting and Lukas Pearce and Michelle Elle for audio/film documentation.

YouTube of Vojtech Sembera’s new vocal project, featuring my piece Threads and Ribbons.

August & upcoming performances

Back from a trip to Canada for the premiere of Esau’s Hunger for double guitar orchestra & electronics, with a fantastic lighting projection arrangement by Laurenz Theinert. I also presented a paper about my writing for guitar at the 21C Guitar Festival in Ottawa. Recording/video will be available soon.

A project that has been in the works since last Christmas, I recently received a recording from Czech singer Vojtěch Šembera of my piece Threads & Ribbons. I’m grateful to Šembera for the amount of work he put in to this nuanced and detailed performance, and glad to be able to share it!

A busy Autumn ahead: Chris Roberts brings his Adra tour to Ireland, performing my piece Hiraeth am nefoedd in Limerick, Belfast, and album launch at the CMC in Dublin, and in Kilkenny. PANIC music ensemble is preparing for two concerts in Dublin (October & November) which will feature performances of my work Stutter. Chamber Choir Ireland will give the premiere of Tearing as it is Woven (date tbc). On November 9th, Cantiunculae give a second performance of Anthem for Doomed Youth in Belfast, and a new commission for the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir will be performed on December 13th at the Guildhall in Derry/Londonderry.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce two major projects I’ll be working on for 2020. The first is a new chamber work for the London Symphony Orchestra, featuring myself on guitar and written as part of the LSO Soundhub Scheme. Secondly, I am curating a programme for a chamber music concert for the National Concert Hall Dublin in 2020, as part of a series celebrating Beethoven’s anniversary. This includes a commission for the concert.