As part of the New Music Dublin 2021 festival, I was commissioned by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra to write a 20-minute work to be premiered at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. I wrote a five-movement piece called Eitilt, meaning flight. Here’s a programme note further below if you’d like to know more about the piece.
I was blessed in the clear and sure-footed conducting of David Brophy, who was not only wonderful in his own attention to detail, but also patient in enduring mine! To showcase the players, I incorporated several soloistic passages into the piece, and it was marvellous how the musicians relished these expressive cameos.

Úna Hunt’s leadership of the orchestra was terrific, and it was so enriching to see how the orchestra made it their business to really get inside the intent and purpose of the piece. The instrumentation was prescribed due to the limitations on space, so I knew I would not have a harp (which I always include if I can, for obvious reasons!), nor did I have the customary contemporary percussion section. Instead I had a set of four timpani, to which I could add items for timbre and resonance. Other players also contributed percussive elements with paper flicks, hand claps, palm slaps on their instruments, and overpressure in the lower strings. Although it was the size of orchestra you’d associate with late classical or early romantic symphonies – the string section with two double basses and four celli – there were still enormous possibilities for colour and timbral range.
Even though the festival was completely online, John Harris and the organisers did a wonderful job of creating a sense of occasion and community over the three days. The orchestra and concert hall management also had a great deal to contend with, ensuring everyone’s safety, and we were really fortunate that the performance could go ahead, depending as it did on everyone involved testing negative for Covid before entering the building.

Hand in glove with all of this was the support of the national broadcaster RTÉ LyricFM who broadcast and livestreamed the concert, as well as inviting me to do a pre-concert interview I did with Paul Herriott. It’s always lovely to have a chance to explain a little more about the piece for listeners who mightn’t have access to a programme note. The Contemporary Music Centre were very much engaged throughout the festival, with Jonathan Grimes creating podcasts throughout, to mirror the ‘interval buzz’ we’d normally experience at live concerts.

Eitilt Programme Note

  Eitilt was commissioned by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra for the New Music Dublin Festival at the National Concert Hall, Dublin in April 2021, conducted by David Brophy. The title means flight or airborne, – air being the carrier of sound, and as wind, it is also a metaphor for inspiration.

It is in five movements, and contains many musical elements inherited from Irish musical tradition. Some of these are newly composed, while others directly reference well-known Irish songs and anthems. There are associations with moments of national sentiment, as well as glimpses of audioscape from Ireland’s national broadcaster. Universal themes of joy, grief, and the preciousness of children are mirrored in Ireland’s trinity of song forms, the suantraí (lullaby), goltraí (lament) and geantraí (invigorating music), all of which are represented here. The suantraí of the fourth movement is paired with a hymn, suggesting the distortion of religion for authoritarian ends, sadly common in the Ireland of the last hundred years. The legacy of our national instrument, the harp, is glimpsed in melodic contours of the finale movement. A range of compositional techniques enables the creation of pitch and rhythmic systems, enhanced by occasional use of extended techniques to further enlarge the palette of colours. There are many instrumental solos throughout, to showcase the outstanding individual artistry of the musicians of Ireland’s National Symphony Orchestra, and to reflect the soloistic origins of many of the musical ideas in the work.

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