Wayfarers: A composition written as a response to the 1916 Rising

ONE of the major aspects of the 1916 Rising commemorations has been the activity focused around cultural aspects, writes Cathy Desmond

The events of conflict a hundred years ago have proved a spur for all sorts of arts events both retrospective and brand new, culminating most extensively in Composing the Island, a three-week musical survey of a century of Irish classical music.

Tomorrow, Triskel Christchurch in Cork presents ‘Wayfarers’, a new composition by Cork-based Ian Wilson, inspired by the writings of Patrick Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, and contemporaries. The work received its premiere at Dublin’s National Concert Hall last Saturday.

Born in Belfast, Wilson is one of Ireland’s most prolific composers, having built up an impressive international profile with commissions from the BBC, RTÉ, and various premier ensembles over the last two decades. Wilson, who has made his home in Cork for the last five years, is no stranger to the notion of a musical response to troubled events.

The composer fled his Belgrade apartment with his family during a spate of bombing during the Balkan war. His creative response to that turmoil was his first violin concerto, written for Cork virtuoso Catherine Leonard.

Padraig Pearse
Padraig Pearse

Although ‘Wayfarers’ is written as a response to the 1916 Rising, Wilson says: “I was concerned not to get caught up in the notion of revolt and rebellion per se but rather to examiner the human element in all that. The work is structured in nine movements. Five dramatic poem settings for full choir are interspersed with settings for soloists and string quartet of extracts from letters by Plunkett to his fiance, Grace Gifford and from Pearse to his mother, as well as Roger Casement’s last words. The choral settings are dramatic and quite complex musically.

“In between, the four solo settings are simpler and more intimate. The idea was to follow the shift of focus from the broader view of major events right down to the intimate human details.”

Wilson, who performs himself as one half of improvising duo CrOw, is well known on the vibrant sound arts scene in Cork. For ‘Wayfarers’, he uses a more conventional sound world when he directs a formidable range of high calibre musical forces. Joining Chamber Choir Ireland and the Vanbrugh Quartet for the performance will be soprano Abbi Temple and baritone Jeffrey Ledwidge.

“The combination of choir, soloists, and orchestra is a strong thread in classical music and Wayfarers uses a reduction of that established 19th-century format with a 21st-century sound world,” says Wilson.

Performances of new music outside Dublin tend to be sporadic. Tony Sheehan, director at Triskel Arts Centre and one of the co-commissioners of the work, has no hesitation in backing Wilson in this new musical adventure.

“There is no denying that putting on contemporary music can be a challenge but it’s important to do it and it’s worth it,” said Sheehan.

“Triskel has a proud reputation of supporting new music and I think the beautiful acoustic and visual setting of Christchurch and the involvement of the Vanbrugh and Chamber Choir will make it a most memorable event.”

  • Wayfarers by Ian Wilson will be performed at Triskel Christchurch, Cork on Friday

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