A commentary on the programme for 17th February

This concert draws on a wealth of music heard in Ireland over the last one hundred years: music by Irish composers – male and female, British composers inspired by Ireland, and music made famous by Ireland’s finest opera singers.

The opera houses of Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Wexford saw regular performances from homegrown and visiting opera companies. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company was in Dublin during the Easter Rising of 1916 and had been due to perform several shows by Gilbert and Sullivan. The performances were cancelled, but there is a fascinating eye-witness account of the events in Dublin by opera singer Elsie McDermid, who wrote a 26 page letter to her mother, a copy of which is held at Dublin City Public Library.

Ireland has produced an incredible array of vocal talent over the last century – singers who have made huge international careers and appeared in all the major opera houses, from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to The Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Margaret Burke Sheridan, lyric soprano, also known as ‘Maggie from Mayo’ (1889-1958), sang at La Scala, Milan – and was well known for her roles in Puccini operas. Bernadette Greevy, mezzo-soprano (1940-2008), was known for her interpretation of Mahler, and made her operatic debut at the age of 18 at The Gaiety Theatre, Dublin – singing in Gounod’s ‘Faust.’ Harry Plunket Greene, baritone, (1865-1936) – was known for his concert and oratorio performances. He was a friend of, and wrote a biography of, Dublin-born composer Charles Villiers Stanford.

The programme includes settings of 3 poems by Padraig Pearse: two by Ina Boyle (1889-1967). A prolific female Irish composer, Ina Boyle led an isolated life, especially after the outbreak of the Second World War, and her works were not well-known in her lifetime. Nowadays her music is increasingly performed and recognised. TC Kelly (1917-1985) set Pearse’s most famous poem, ‘The Mother’, to music in the 1960s. This work was initially banned for broadcast by RTE, being considered to be too inflammatory! Written the evening before Pearse’s execution, it describes the feelings of his mother on the death of her two sons.

E.J. Moeran (1894-1950) was a British composer who had a great affinity with Ireland. He declared that ‘that the wild sea boards of Kerry’ were the principal inspiration for his music. He lived there collecting folk music, and writing settings of Irish texts, and died in Kenmare in 1950. Herbert Hamilton Harty’s (1879-1941) setting of ‘My Lagan Love’ was recorded and often performed by Ireland’s beloved tenor Count John McCormack.

Two other female composers feature this evening – Joan Trimble (1915-2000) was an Irish composer and pianist, who, later in life, became the proprietor of her family’s newspaper, The Impartial Reporter, in Enniskillen. Bernadette Marmion (b.1938) was commissioned to write ‘The Thoughtful Moon’ in 2014 for Jennifer Davis – who had won the Bernadette Greevy Bursary.

How wonderful to hear the new generation of Irish Artists who will provide us with a snapshot of a century of Irish musical life this evening.

Jean Kelly and Katie Rowan
Joint Artistic Directors 17th February 2016.

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