|ISCM Irish Section
Annual Report 2005
The Honorary President of the Association of Irish Composers, James Wilson, died on August 6th 2005. He had enjoyed a long and productive career on the Irish composing scene; he was 82 at the time of his death. Nevertheless, this came as a shock to all of his colleagues, since he was such a vital presence and was clearly very active up to this moment. He had an extremely warm and engaging nature, always keeping a fresh and open attitude to new music. As well as his own considerable body of music, he left his mark in the form of his influence on and support for a number of generations below him.
In November 2005 the AIC organised two concerts at Airfield House, Dundrum, Dublin. The first was a tribute to Jim Wilson, so it centred on his music and that of composers whom he taught or knew well. Darragh Morgan (vn) and Mary Dullea (pf) were the performers, and also gave very informed input into choosing the programme. Apart from Jim's music, the programme included music from Anthony Payne, John Buckley and Martin O'Leary. The next day was a concert of clarinet, violin and tape music, with pieces by Derek Ball, Stephen Gardner, Steve Reich, Jane O'Leary, Zack Browning, Ronan Guilfoyle and Ed Bennett. The performers were Paul Roe (cl) and Leonie Curtin (vn). Many of the pieces had first been commissioned by Paul Roe in a group commission he organised earlier in the year.
AIC also, from time to time, assists others financially to realise their projects. This year we helped two composer-led bodies: the Young Composers Collective (YCC), and Ireland Promoting New Music (IPNM), helping them realise a concert each.
In February 06 we once more held our two composition competitions, for Irish and for international composers. The winners were Victor Lazzarini (Brazil) and Hugh Martin Boyle (Ireland). As in previous years, the winning works were performed in the Mostly Modern Series.
Plans for 2007 include bringing the ISCM ensemble-in-residence, Antipodes, to Ireland in October for events in Derry, Dublin and Maynooth. While in July we hope to bring the Gillespie Trio to Grahamstown, South Africa, for concerts to include string trios from five Irish composers.
Since the last report we have not enjoyed any notable increase in our ability to promote music directly. However, in our capacity as a representative body lobbying on behalf of composers we can record some success this year. We have, in conjunction with writers' and visual artists' representative bodies, made a substantial contribution to the formation of the latest Arts Council policies affecting living artists. This is reflected in recent Arts Council policy documents, which put the living creative artists firmly at the centre.
Looking to the general contemporary music scene in Ireland, it has been another mixed year, but with more positives than negatives. Among the best events were festivals in Dublin and Sligo. In Dublin we had the RTE Living Music Festival's fourth edition in February, and for once the featured composer was in attendance (in three previous years the invited composers have tended to be unwell; we now talk of 'the curse of the LMF'). The presence of Steve Reich, and of Ensemble Modern, helped greatly towards achieving full houses at every single concert. It seems extraordinary to be able to say that you can fill our National Concert Hall for programmes entirely given over to music by contemporary composers - including such figures as Morton Feldman. Several concerts were received with standing ovations. RTE puts the composer in charge: each year the LMF is curated by a composer; Kevin O'Connell in 2005 and Donnacha Dennehy in 2006.
The second festival was the much smaller scale Sligo New Music Festival, curated by composer Ian Wilson. A tautly programmed event in this small North West city, the programme was challenging throughout, centering on Feldman and Nono, with Ferneyhough and other such figures on the side. Due to the choice of talented and experienced performers, this was a great success also. I must mention also the existence of a third festival in Belfast, Sonorities, which every May for many years has been a major part of the new music landscape. It stretches over more days than any other festival in Ireland. This is always a festival of interest and high quality.
Regarding the position of the composer in Ireland generally, it is a good country to try to make a living as a composer - at least when compared with other countries. For example all the festivals make a feature of commissioning work from Irish composers, and there are many other sources for commissions, including a scheme run by the Arts Council. Orchestras and other prominent performing groups or choirs usually commission a few pieces each year. Most of the commissioners stay on or close to the commission rates set by the AIC. Of course this does not make it a country in which a young person chooses to be a composer as a career per se; naturally the financial rewards are poor and can come rather late in life, if ever. But, thanks to various factors including the artists' tax exemption scheme and the artists' stipend available to a select academy of creative artists (which includes 20 composers as well as writers, visual artists etc), there is a handful of composers who exist solely by composing.
AIC is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, and receives some technical assistance from IMRO. Our board at present consists of Vincent Kennedy, Martin O'Leary, Gerry Murphy, John McLachlan and Linda Buckley. The position of Honorary President remains open for now.
For more information visit www.composers.ie or email