They think this is the next Gorecki

They think this is the next Gorecki


norman lebrecht

April 06, 2011

The Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy may not automatically be top of your morning, but he’s getting the kind of launch that most would cry for.

Dennehy has a release next month on Nonesuch. The first track, Love and Death, for singer (Iarla O Lionard) and ensemble, is a meditative setting of old Irish tropes. But the second, That the Night Comes, to poems by W B Yeats, sounds eerily familiar the moment the soloist starts floating over the Crash Ensemble (cond. Alan Pierson).
This will not have been the intention of the composer, who was doubtless double-dotting his darnedest to sound different. But the work is a long, slow, declining cadence and the singer is Dawn Upshaw who – on Nonesuch in 1992 – catapulted an obscure composer from Katowice to international bestsellerdom. Henry Mikolai Gorecki’s third symphony became the first by a living composer to sell a million copies.
Many tried ever after, with predictable futility, to emulate what Pierre Boulez dismissed as ‘holy minimalism’. Dennehy comes closest in atmosphere and vocal phrasing – the leaps he gives Upshaw to sing – to anything I have yet heard. Almost a tribute album.
This is not to suggest imitation, let alone plagiarism – far from it. There are audible affinities with Samuel Barber’s sonorities – Knoxville, especially – and the importation of Irish folk mode is unmistakable. This is a work of many influences, a captivating, contemporary composition.
And that’s before Nonesuch got to work on it. No-one is saying outright that this is the next Gorecki but that suggestion is out on the street and Dennehy’s residency at Carnegie Hall this month with Ms Upshaw (see press release below) will go further to planting the Gorecki link in the public mind.
It’s an astonishing launch for a new composer and I wish him well with it. Now watch those charts. Here’s the microsite.
Donnacha Dennehy: "Grá agus Bás" [cover]

Date: April 4, 2011 | Contact: Samantha Nemeth | Tel: 212-903-9753 | E-mail:


Participants Premiere Their Collaborations at a Carnegie Hall
Neighborhood Concert in Queens on April 16 and in Zankel Hall on April 17

This April, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, in partnership with The Bard College Conservatory of Music, will present a Professional Training Workshop led by soprano Dawn Upshaw and composerDonnacha Dennehy. In this intensive seven-day workshop beginning April 11, the duo will mentor four composers and ten singers on the collaboration between composer and performer in creating new vocal music. The participants will preview their new works for voice and ensemble in a Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Queens on Saturday, April 16 at 8:00 p.m. and premiere them in Zankel Hall on Sunday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m. The ensemble will be conducted by Alan Pierson.

Carnegie Hall commissioned four young composers–Shawn JaegerAviya Kopelman,Christopher Mayo, and Shen Yiwen–to write new voice and ensemble works for selected singers, three chosen by audition and seven from The Bard College Conservatory of Music graduate program in vocal arts, where Ms. Upshaw is Artistic Director. Ms. Upshaw and Mr. Dennehy mentored these musicians through the collaborative compositional process, leading up to these premiere performances.

The singers selected in this year’s workshop include: Fanny Alofs, mezzo-soprano; Julia Bullock, soprano; Jeongcheol Cha, bass-baritone; Leroy Davis, bass-baritone; Jeffrey Hill, tenor; Mellissa Hughes, soprano; Clarissa Lyons, soprano; Margot Rood, soprano; Nian Wang, mezzo-soprano; and Ilana Zarankin, soprano.

Mr. Jaeger describes his Letters Made with Gold–with texts drawn from Appalachian sacred and secular songs–as a piece about “being in love and knowing that you, and your beloved, will die. The cycle traces a progression from youthful passion and optimism through denial and anger to acceptance.” Texts in Mr. Mayo’s Death on Three-Mile Creek are drawn from death notices written by 20th century poet and essayist Jonathan Williams, who was greatly influenced by Uncle Jake Carpenter’s “Jot-em-down Book” of the 1800s, which was later transcribed as Uncle Jake Carpenter’s Anthology of Death on Three-Mile Creek, now considered one of the most important records of 19th-century rural North Carolina.

Ms. Kopelman’s Grief Measure is in three different languages–English, Russian, and Spanish–but are unified, according to the composer, by the universal emotions they express, each in its powerful way. Mr. Shen’s Taking Leave of a Friend, explores the eighth century, Tang dynasty poetry of Li Po beginning with a drinking song, With a Man of Leisure, moving through Ballades of Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which tell of romances from the past, and ending with a comb
ination of two poems, < em>Taking Leave of a Friend and Sit Alone With the Ching-Ting Mountain.

About the Workshop Leaders:
Donnacha Dennehy, who lives in Dublin and teaches composition at Trinity College, has received critical acclaim for his work, with The New York Times calling a recent piece “magnificently energetic,” and The Wire saying that he “has a sound world all his own.” His debut recording for the Nonesuch label, Grá agus Bás, featuring Irish singer Iarla O’Lionáird and Dawn Upshaw will be released on May 3, 2011. He has received commissions from WNYC (for the Bang on a Can All-Stars), Icebreaker, Percussion Group The Hague, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, among others. Upcoming commissions include a new work for Nonesuch artists Kronos Quartet and one for Ms. Upshaw and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Dawn Upshaw has achieved worldwide renown as a singer of opera and concert repertoire ranging from the sacred works of Bach to the freshest sounds of today. A four-time Grammy Award winner, she was named a Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation in 2007, the first vocal artist to be awarded the “genius” prize. Current season highlights include performances of works by Osvaldo Golijov and Joseph Canteloube at the Tanglewood Music Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a European tour with György Kurtag’s Kafka-Fragmente, reprising her celebrated role in John Adams’sEl Niño with the San Francisco Symphony, and beginning her second three-year term as Artistic Partner with The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.