The Irish invasion at the 2012 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

Crash Ensemble performing at the opening concert of the 2012 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Photo by Laura Mateescu.

UK-based Irish composer and writer Ailís Ní Ríain reports on the recent Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, which took place from 16–25 November 2012

Huddersfield is an old industrial mill and market town in West Yorkshire, Northern England, half way between Manchester and Leeds and has got to be one of the most unlikely contenders for a world renowned contemporary music festival which has now been running annually for 35 years. The festival runs over ten days and I’ve seen both Xenakis and Stockhausen walk down the streets of this town between the packed concert schedule. I’ve been attending the Festival since 1997 and this opening weekend focus on Irish music was well overdue.

The Irish took the contemporary music audiences at the festival by storm opening the festival with a portrait concert evening dedicated to the work of Donnacha Dennehy – including the UK premiere of As An Nós (2009), Glamour Sleeper and his 2007 work, Grá agus Bás with Iarla Ó Lionáird, which ended the concert to generous applause from the packed audience.

The Crash Ensemble looked smart and sassy as they enthusiastically took to the various stages to perform a batch of works by Irish and American composers which pulsated and provoked our ears. Their ‘American Originals’ late night programme explored the edges of the American contemporary music scene and featured the premiere of a new work by Glenn Branca alongside UK premieres of work by Nico Muhly and Arnold Dreyblatt.

The Dublin-based singer Michelle O’Rourke accompanied by Kate Ellis on cello gave an impressive and thoughtfully programmed ‘Shorts’ programme including two stunning pieces by Judith Ring and Garrett Sholdice alongside some John Cage. Also on as part of the Shorts series was Deirdre Gribbin’s festival commission Reflected Glory, a music piece with video which was premiered by the Smith Quartet’s cellist Deirdre Cooper in the Lawrence Batley Theatre.

The final Crash concert was entitled ‘Irish Mavericks’ and included the wonderful and bizarre Music for People who like Art by Andrew Hamilton, Ed Bennett’s Stop Motion, alongside some terrifically individual works by Gerald Barry, Linda Buckley and Kevin Volans. The sheer variety of music, boldness of ideas, emotion and humour made for fine musical entertainment, and was aptly ended by a grateful audience member shouting ‘Drinks on me’. Thirteen Irish pieces presented over four days left one with the feeling that stylistically, Irish contemporary music is broad-minded, not without humour, fiercely independent, and certainly not easily defined.

Further information on Ailís Ní Ríain is available on her web site, www.ailis.info.

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