Jane O’Leary: Annual Concert of the IAWM, New York

A report from composer Jane O’Leary, whose work in a flurry of whispering was recently performed in New York as part of the International Alliance of Women in Music annual concert

In October 2013 I travelled to New York to attend a performance of my work in a flurry of whispering. The work was part of a concert featuring 5 pieces, selected following international submissions from members of the International Alliance for Women in Music. The performers were ensemble mise-en, a New York-based contemporary music collective led by composer Moon Young HA, and the other composers were Santa Buss from Latvia, Lina Jarnegard from Sweden, Ming-Hsiu Yen from Taiwan, and Yuko Ohara from Japan.

Jane O'Leary introducing her work at the IAWM Annual concert

Jane O’Leary introducing her work at the IAWM Annual concert

Having arrived in New York, I head for a rehearsal at NYU Music Center. in a flurry of whispering has previously been performed with Concorde and Garth Knox, so I was curious how this ensemble would interpret the work. As the musicians arrive I asked if there were any questions. Lots of questions. Slowly we work our way through the manuscript, realising again and again that marks on the page can never fully explain the sound a composer is looking for. After an hour we take a break. The conversation drifts around Irish connections; one musician asks if I know Michael McHale and another says her parents, from rural America, go to Ireland every year. Before playing the piece through, I ask them to listen to Dermot Healy’s poem, The Reed Bed, which provided the title for my music. As I read it, I can see eyes lighting up as they begin to comprehend the feeling of fragility I am searching for. They play the piece once more and it comes to life in a beautiful way, completely transformed. I am very happy.

Several of the musicians confess that they enjoy the freedom offered by my music, the fact that I ask them to listen carefully and make decisions themselves. There is now a sense that they have made the piece ‘their own’, which was my objective from the start.

Two days later, a final rehearsal of each of the pieces takes place before the public arrives for the 8 pm concert, which takes place at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street. The hall is full of enthusiastic listeners and the performers play with confidence, skill and care. Each of the pieces is distinctive and personal in style. I recite Dermot Healy’s poem before the performance of my piece and it sets the mood perfectly. You can hear a pin drop. Magic happens as listeners connect with the music.

This was the third performance of in a flurry of whispering. Each time the piece grows and matures, and I hear something new and fresh. These moments are to be treasured.

My thanks to the performers and to Moon Young HA for bringing the music to a new audience in New York, to the IAWM team for organising the concert and providing this opportunity to all of us, and to Culture Ireland for supporting my travel to the US.

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