New Music Dublin Festival

Handprint – Saturday March 8th 2014

Perhaps the most significant programme at NMD 2014 was the ‘Handprint’ concert with pianist Thérèse Fahy, in the Kevin Barry room at the NCH. It was a programme entirely of world premieres, and each by an Irish composer. This is the event that most lived up to the billing of the festival as New Music Dublin 2014. An added enjoyment for me was seeing the instrument I try to play myself at the service of contemporary sound.

The aforementioned world premieres included:

Raymond Deane – Legerdemain
Benjamin Dwyer – Étude
Michael Holohan – The Forge
Grainne Mulvey – Calorescence
Bill Whelan – Waiting for Riad
Siobhán Cleary – Leda and the Swan

Programme notes are available at the NMD website. In addition, the Handprint concert was just the first in a series of performances which form a new project for Thérèse Fahy, with more detail available on the CMC website.

I was thrilled to have a perfect view of the performances from the third row. From the purely performance point of view, it is safe to say that Fahy has a marvellous technique, fully up to the multitude of demands of these new scores. The concept behind ‘Handprint’ was the dearth of music, written for smaller hands such as hers, by modern composers. Hence the compositions are all commissioned by Fahy with a view to catering for the smaller-handed pianist.

In general the works utilised the entire range of the keyboard, often contrasting high and low registers together in different hands, presumably as some kind of compensation for not writing achingly widespread chords  for each hand to convey complexity and depth. The two works that most stood apart for me were the two written by the female composers. Mulvey’s Calorescence was just that, it was a burning performance from start to finish, with remarkable demands made on the performer which were met with seeming calm (but could not be easy for anyone!). Cleary’s Leda was the other work that seemed the most ‘pianistic’ of the concert, yet displayed a definite journey and satisfyingly original voice. Regardless of the intent however, I think the foot stomps and finger ‘flicks’ on the piano case did not project sufficiently or make sense to me in the context of the rest of the music. Perhaps some form of amplification would have helped, or piano preparation if they were felt to be necessary inclusions to the work.

 

Overall however there was no doubting the quality of the Fahy’s performances or the quality of the music throughout. The attraction of new Irish music was also evident by the capacity audience and rapt attention throughout. I imagine new commissions add financial considerations to concert making, but if New Music Dublin is to live up to its name over the next few years, I think this concert is a good signpost of where the future must lie.

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