Concert Review: ICC10: Máire Carroll, piano

Friday, January 23, 2015 - 7:45pm

Composer MARTIN O'LEARY reviews the performance by rising piano star Máire Carroll at ICC10.

This concert presented a very wide range of stylistic and compositional approaches which demanded much of the performer, the youngest of the festival – and the youngest ever engaged by the ICC. On this evidence she is a sparkling advocate for the many strands of new (and sometimes what sounds like older!) music being written by the younger generation of Irish composers. She not only presented and performed the music with élan – she also – rather more significantly for a new music concert – interpreted the music, and indeed championed it. The seven composers represented in the programme owe her a considerable debt of gratitude, as did the receptive audience. The music chosen for the programme ranged from exploring the inside and outside of the piano, to emotional highs and lows, all of which seemed pianistic. This is in itself a tribute to the performer. It is to be hoped that she will be heard again – and soon – in many more contemporary Irish composers and their music.

Daniel Barkley’s Microsonata: something old treated the styles of the past to which the title makes reference with some affection, introducing subtle inflections which personalised the musical substance in a gentle manner, mirroring his desire (as stated in the programme note) to “look backwards and find new nuances and nooks”. The miniature scale also suited the presentation of material without resource to development or intensification. The balance between a backward glance within a contemporary framework and a language that is lodged in the past with occasional hints of a more contemporary engagement, is problematic and not completely successful in this piece, but the result is engaging. Ben McHugh’s Ag, by contrast, sustained a more modern angularity throughout, spiced as this was with some quasi-tonal splashes and octaves which kept the listener – and perhaps the composer as well – on edge. Peter Moran’s Transcriptions 2 and 4 achieved a jazzy fluency using arabesques which clearly reflected their origins in improvisation. The first piece had its initial stability eaten away by insistent figures, whereas the second used equally insistent repetition to engender tension: these pieces were, to my mind, the most accomplished on the programme. Peter Leavy’s imaginatively titled The Robots' Guide to Rapture began with purposeful sparseness and delicacy, before a stimulating journey through register and gesture to a quite dark conclusion which seemed to this listener at odds with the eponymous “rapture”. The “relationship between musical process and expression” (to quote the composer) was frequently involving and always pianistic, if demanding.

Daniel McDermott’s The Dream about being a person (The Blues) paralleled to some extent the polystylism found in Barkley’s opus, although to my ears there was excessive repetition initially. There were many beautifully imagined details, but the work seemed overlong. Máire Carrroll’s considerable skills were called upon to provide much subtle shading of the repetition characteristic of this work. Maria Minguella’s Only C Mi was exploratory within the minimal material used. It was rather episodic, and lacked dynamism overall, but was striking within the programme for its use of the strings of the instrument more than the keys. Richard Hughes’s Prelude No. 6 was effectively programmed to conclude the concert. Its command of gesture and pianistic writing were its strongest features – a more personal idiom for the composer – the youngest on the programme – will surely follow.

In conclusion, the concert showcased the composers and styles featured, which were often contradictory (and why shouldn’t they be?) – the ICC’s raison d’être to “shape the Irish new music scene around its composers” was manifestly in evidence. Furthermore, as the festival booklet stated “anyone who wishes to compose should be given the opportunity to have their works performed by excellent musicians”. With a performer as committed and accomplished as Máire Carroll, this concert was a successful fulfilment of this aim.

Martin O’Leary is a lecturer in composition at NUI Maynooth and a committee member in the Association of Irish Composers.
Máire Carroll was the first and only pianist to be awarded the €10,000 Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Music Bursary in 2012. See
Main photo (at top): Máire Carroll performing at ICC10, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, November 2014. Photo by Daryl Feehely