A Masterclass with David Lang

Whirling Dervishes

First Impressions

Friday, Cora and myself had an opportunity to present the violin concerto to an audience in the Kevin Barry Room at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I’ve never been in that room before. It was a nice surprise – a big old room with a lovely acoustic and some great speakers. We presented our third movement – “The Dance of the Dervish”.


composers David Lang and Ciarán Hope

David Lang was wonderful. I had no idea what to expect. I had done a lot of listening to his music over the past week and fallen somewhat in love with Mountain and Concerto (world to come). He was very complimentary and very insightful. The big takeaway was that we should be determined in our intent to use authentic Arabic drummers. David felt that this philosophy in particular will contribute best to the life of the concerto which he said he believed would be a success for us. It was honestly very sweet of him to be so polite and nice about the piece. He was opinionated in a nice manner for the entire masterclass, so I can only hope he would have said something more if he had a genuine problem with the piece.

Film Music versus Contemporary Music

We also discussed the contrast between working in film and for ourselves. We laughed at the experience of being under the thumb of someone who can fire you compared with writing for yourself where you can’t be fired. It was an interesting conclusion that we reached, in that we should look carefully around us to discover who can fire us and who can’t! I was mentioning that there is also a kind of creatively divergence (in my eyes) in the sense that the freedom to do what one wants comes with its own consequences. As composers we really need to create some boundaries during the creative process so as to control a potentially infinite writing duration!

Tradition versus Originality


composers David Lang and Ciarán Hope

David spoke about being careful with music when we dip our toes in any traditions or styles. It was a very good point to suggest that if we are not careful as composers, people can often judge the music harshly and say we are not being ‘authentic’ to the tradition. If however, we take ‘aspects’ of the tradition and do our own thing with them, that is quiet different. For example, using an Arabic drum but not playing Arabic style with it. I was very comfortable with this view, because in our case I felt we have taken an Arabic scale (Lydian flat 7), and a Sufi rhythm (Saghezi) and used them as thematic material for a movement in an orchestral piece. The Sema dance, the Sufi practice of whirling or meditative turning through which dervishes aim to attune with God, has been passed down since the 12th century, as have the Sufi music, sacred chanting, poetry and the etiquette of the tradition. Cora and I have definitely been inspired by these traditions and chosen to use them as a launching point for the inspiration of the music and its thematic evolution.

The Role of the Commissioner

During the masterclass, David also had an interesting chat with Cora about the role a commissioner plays in the process. He was very interested in the fact that she spoke about playing Arabic music styles with Yurodny and her wish to have an Arabic flavour within the concerto. He also shared a philosophical view that he sensed a commissioner was possibly commissioning a piece because they may have looked at the repertoire available to them and at some level felt unsatisfied with what was there and thus wanted to explore possibilities. It was a deep philosophical perspective. In essence:

Why is there a desire for something new at all?
What drives that desire in us?

Reflection on the Music

The great mystic poet Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi

I made my own mini discoveries while preparing for the class and observing the various themes in the movement – The Dervish theme, the Whirling theme, the Chaos theme…

I suddenly realized that there was amazing synergy between the themes, their response to each other and their frequency of entry. It was particularly obvious after marking them in yellow highlighter on the page!

I remembered that the Chaos theme ultimately attempts to pull the violin through various closely related maqam as the battle begins for the consciousness of the melody……

I remembered that the Dervish theme symbolically represents a Dervish getting ready to partake in the meditative Sema dance ritual.

My own level of clarity on the music was also nice to sense. I think Cora and I can both say that we came away from the talk with David with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and belief in the journey we are on together…

Sema is to struggle with the notion of one’s self,
like a dying, bloodstained bird, fluttering in the dust.

– Rumi

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Clearing a Forest of Thoughts

Its funny, I had a haircut and grew a beard before coming to Annaghmakerrig and it has led to many interesting conversations comparing the new and old me. I think the change certainly played its part in the energy of the moment – Moving On!


25 Seasons of Annaghmakerrig

 Inspired by a beauty, trapped for eternity in the rings of time….

My thoughts are like trees in a forest, swaying by the breaths of a restless ego, blocking me from living, crushing my soul and blurring her true purpose.

I long for a distant Bell, that can calm the roaring winds, distract me from this chaos, and bathing me in the sanctuary of its eternal song.


A New Philosophy

TG Composer Roomsm

Composers Room

Move On‘ – In so many ways, this residency has done a great job at driving home this philosophy. Move on with the violin concerto, move on towards performances of the concerto, move on with the film score suite, move on emotionally, move on with composing and creativity, move on with my expectations of myself, move on with my ideas and move on with life……

Unlike last time, I didn’t get to play anyone my work at Annaghmakerrig. It never came up in conversation, so it seemed like it wasn’t something that was worth pushing. Instead, I shared Etude in Film Score CD’s with anyone who wanted one. In the end of the day, many will be lost, mislaid and possibly even thrown out. But for now, they will hopefully cause some mental and emotional stimulation for those that will listen. If anyone is somewhat inspired or seeks out my other music its a bonus!

Annaghmakerrig  Analysis of the Concerto

I fully analyzed the concerto. On a macro level, I examined all the issues I felt existed in the movements. I have definite alterations in mind for the melody that I know I will make, but that will be a process of doing several creative passes of the mockup and modifying the solo part in real time to capture the modifications that are already in my head – it will be moving the music towards its final melodic destination.

TG Clarinet ReedssmI used my clarinet on the residency and it was actually really nice to play from the concerto score. I actually recorded some of the more prominent clarinet parts into the mockups to try and bring a little more life to the music and improve the accuracy of the representations. Its amazing how much my intonation has weakened without regular playing! I thought it would be primarily my stamina. It was a good wake-up call to start some serious practice again, which is a good thing….

Back to the analysis: For now, I’m specifically trying to move the music to a place where I can make those final micro-alterations to the melody. I think I finally have the critical notes to do that. Some of the things I’m planning on modifying include:

  • introducing some phrases a few bars earlier or later
  • adding some light orchestration in certain stops to fix some ‘joins’ as I call them
  • extending some sustained chord holds
  • optimize some woodwind/brass ‘voicings’ to strengthen my intended texture in places
  • removing strings entirely from one episode or maybe switching to pizzicato
  • drifting further away (in the orchestral reflection) from the subject during one episode
  • introduce some late appearing ideas in earlier episodes so that the material breathes more

While writing this blog entry, I’ve also realized that I want to work a little on ensuring that the orchestral contour respectfully follows the emotional peaks and valleys of the music more. I want the orchestral texture to reflect this desire a little more, possibly as a nod to Beethoven’s powerful personal style in his violin concerto. So, I suspect that’s my next week or two of work already planned out then!

 Artistic Inspiration

TG SCore and RecordersmSome of the best times at Annaghmakerrig involve artists sharing their work. All repeat visitors know this, and this time was no different. One night, I was fortunate to watch a short documentary by Hilary Fennell that blew me away. It dealt with deafness and its profound effect on musicians. It really moved me as I reflected on the battle I have with my own senses and warned me how I might feel if I were to experience this. Afterwards, we listened to some poetry (Brendan Cleary, Mary Dorcey), some prose (N. M.Kelby), some tranlation (Mona de Pracontal) and the outline of a film project (Naomi Goodman). Finally, after playing some of his wonderfully fresh compositions, Acrobat singer Mark Healy decided it was a musical night and a bit of song and dance – thank God for my lovely clarinet – it lovingly save me from humiliating myself with some poorly executed dance moves!

This month, I read a lot of the poetry of Mary Dorcey at Annaghmakerrig – 2 books in fact! Its been a great opportunity to step outside my own process and creative hamster wheel to grab some free inspiration from other artists. We’ve been talking a lot about combining poetry and music and examining several of her poems as possible starting points. Our endless conversations have really left me with a lot of food for thought on how I see the world and our place in it as artists and humans.

I’ve also seen some great art and heard wonderful philosophies. This week it was Michael Geddis’s micro-art processes that truly inspired me. His intense dedication to detail reminded me of my own approach to the concerto and it’s as if my own philosophy on the creative process became a little clearer by observing him using his tools and unique methodologies in his art.

The World moves on,
life at Annaghmakerrig moves on,
as do I….



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An Audience at Annaghmakerrig

Poetry, painting and animation,
conversations through lake walks, slushy runs in fresh snow…..
What is not to love about February,
in beautiful enchanting Annaghmakerrig?

A creative space away from the world,
frozen in time,
surrounded by writers and artists bursting with talent.
The perfect tonic for a weary spirit,
a concerto audience to witness a stop on its journey….

Tyrone Guthrie Center

Tyrone Guthrie Center

The Past

Concerto Tools

tools of the trade

On my last residency, I spent hours noodling on the pianos, grasping at sound, clutching at musical patterns, hunting for the inspiration to placate a writing block I was entertaining as I fought to evolve the primary thematic variation of the concertos first movement. I spent 3 weeks, in my timeless creative black hole, and ended up discovering the enchanting aleatoric development for the first movement within the old creaky walls of the house.

The Present

This February, I returned like a triumphant emperor, with a full concerto, mocked up to hint at its full potential but in need of some gentle nurturing and caressing. Arriving at Annaghmakerrig is always like a prodigal return homecoming. The rooms are frozen in time, unchanged, as if the estate was waiting for you to come back to her, and continue your illicit spiritual romance with Muses. The staff provide a welcome dose of familiarity, and your first 7pm dinner completes the celebrations.

An Audience with Artists

Cora and I have been preparing to ‘test’ perform the music. I think ‘performances’ are what the piece needs. It needs time to breathe, to find its own legs, and its own voice. The music has to start living now that it has been conceived. It was a long gestation period, but its now born onto paper and ready to grow into the universal consciousness. Its funny, but in the Entertainment Industry, everyone has test screenings of films all the time, but within the  Music Industry its often only that big ‘premiere’ that gets talked about.

Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Tyrone Guthrie Centre – Composer Room

An interesting thing happened on this writing trip however. Through conversation and friendship, fellow artists and writers started to hear about the music and curiosity grew. Its a natural bi-product of conversation, particularly among creative people about things they are creating. Slowly I had a stream of artists coming to the ‘composers room’ to listen to some music, which invariably turned into playing some Mother Teresa score and then hesitantly playing some of my mocked up concerto through moderately OK speakers that have a buzz!

This process snowballed into a Sunday night mini concert that saw the entire table of artists retire to the composer room after dinner to listen to music. I gave everyone an option of what they could listen to and waited for a consensus. In the end, samples of the film score and the ENTIRE concerto were played. I would by lying if I said I was not a little nervous. The mock ups are only what they are. They lack the correct dynamic range. They lack the rich, deep, fat, warm dynamic timbre that comes from live instruments and my ‘non’ mix.


Annaghmakerrig Lake

Annaghmakerrig Lake – Feb 2015

I was surprised with was the universal embracing of the music that occurred. I don’t know what I expected, but certainly not that! The first critical audience GOT what I was trying to say with the music. They also felt the contrast between movements which was such a relief. It was hard not to come away feeling good about the music, immaterial to how much writing I got done!

I discovered, yet again, that the points I am nervous about in draft 1 are painfully obvious to me when I am listening with any audience – be it an audience of 1 or 15 people!

The Letters

The Letters - Music by Ciaran Hope

The Letters – Music by Ciaran Hope

Incidentally, The Letters score translated well too. Watching a few scenes and sharing the music with friends was almost a novel experience for me finally! There was a lot of emotion brought to the scenes by the score. Many artists were moved by the story and its intent. It was really encouraging and affirming to experience. I guess I gave an impromptu class on film composing for artists!

I can’t believe it will be a week before I am back again…..

My dear Annaghmakerrig,
can you share the burden of our longing
for just a few days more?

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A December Surprise

A December Surprise

Having spent several days sleeping longer than I’ve ever slept before and enjoying some creative rest, I am thankfully feeling more like myself again. I am amazed to say that as of December 1st, after a frantic autumn, there is a living breathing draft of the violin concerto in existence.

Hope Concerto draft 2014

Hope Concerto mov1 2014

Did I just type that? I need to absorb that concept for a few more seconds………. (Deep breathing)…….

Honestly, the first thing I wanted to do this month was nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. In October, during a bit of karate misadventure, I managed to detach some rib muscles and for the last week of writing I got extremely sick due to the pain medication decimating my immune system. Thank God Cora was there to encourage me and help with the score markings. What can I say, the writing Gods were setting out a challenge from above! I was almost completely unable to sleep or rest, and all my waking hours were spent battling with frustration and discomfort as my best friends. I think, on many levels, I  actually struggle to remember a lot of the last 2 months, because I was emotionally overloaded, afraid I would quit because of the severe bouts of pain and tiredness.

How Does It Feel?

I feel satisfied. For the first time since I started this journey with Cora, an end is truly in sight. The draft is nice and strong, and after a few weeks away from it, the changes I dream of adding will be a lot clearer.

The Work Cave

The Work Cave

Yes, I did incorporate the chord progressions I mentioned in the last post – the ones from my dream! It was too insane a creative intervention to ignore! In the end, I was really surprised how the unusual concept brought a whole new creative dimension to the variations in mov. I and gave me a nice original stream of thought and evolution of the thematic material.

Of course there are many many things that I had to resist fixing, improving, or altering, so as to stay focused. Completing an actual finished draft from beginning to end had to remain the primary goal. I kept reminding myself that Beethoven completed his masterful violin concerto in 4 weeks, so I could surely manage to pull together the missing pieces before my self imposed deadline! It was worth it in the end.

How has it Evolved?

I’ve done my best to incorporate my ideas and many of Cora’s exquisite improvisations in the concerto. The three-movement form of the piece became clearer as the orchestrations, twists and turns started to fall into place. It has a strong shape right now. The movements are provisionally titled:

Hope Concerto draft 2014

Hope Concerto draft 2014

I – Theme and Variations

II – Meditation on a Chant

III – The Dance of the Dervish

I thought the titles best captured what the music is trying to say. At least it’s the best way I can express it for now……

There is a constant pattern of musical subjects appearing and then decomposing in an almost meditative fashion. But underneath the surface, a musical current is irrevocably pulling the concerto along towards an approaching destination. This battle between the fragmentation of the ideas and the underlying journey of the music creates a nice creative tension.

I’ve touched on aleatoric concepts in the draft and for now, they are notated, but there is a chance that I might let sections fall into a stronger aleatoric freedom before I am finished. Lutoslawski was a strong influence here, but I have to somehow figure out a way of mixing chance and order, as both coexist in the piece.

I’ve done a lot of restructuring. In Mov.2, I did more than I expected, while mov. 1 got an almost complete rewrite, working off the same material I originally planned for it. Then there is mov.3 which is massively expanded and the thematic material was let breathe and dance around, like a butterfly in a field.

What’s Next?

I’ve loved every minute of the collaborations that have gotten us – the composer and the soloist – to this point. Visiting to try out new ideas with such a talented soloist is a composers dream. The last time I visited, I brought the laptop, and let Cora hear the embryonic orchestrations and structure that I was developing. We had such fun improvising around the written material. Experiencing her interpret complicated moments of a large scale concerto and making them sound like Monday morning warm-up exercises is nothing short of breathtaking.

As far as I can see, to advance this draft, I have a few important remaining tasks ahead of me. For a start, I know there are instances where I’ve wanted to convey more with the orchestrations than I am currently saying, so I think that will be the focus for my first set of alterations. I feel I can evolve the texture in the overall context of the concerto now that it is all drafted in front of me. The ideas are clear in my head, so this should be a fun creative expansion of the sound.

Musical Form

Musical Form

After that, I want to have another look at the structure – the form. Its something I’ve discussed ad nauseam with Cora, Ladislav and just about anyone polite enough to listen. There is a certain sense of clarity about the form now that it’s typed up. I want to re-consider the rate of progression through the material and even to examine the order of some of the variations in mov. 1.

And last but not least, I want to revisit the solo violin line. I intend to sculpt it more. I think that is the best description. It finally has the contour that I was after, but there is more to draw out of the line. I have to sit down and organically pull the improvisational concepts into line with the more organized material. I think doing this will bring a strong clarity to the solo violin and help it grow in authority. I’m trying to find a better balance maybe, between the written, improvisational and aleatoric characteristics of the music.

In another week or two, lets see what a pair of fresh eyes brings to the process…….

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A Lucid Dream of a Violin Concerto

So, I was having a restless sleep one night last week and the strangest thing happened – I was having a dream about the concerto. I was standing in front of an orchestra, feeling nervous about the rehearsal we were having in a small rehearsal room that looked more like an over-sized classroom. I wasn’t sure if the musicians respected me enough as a conductor or if I could exude enough confidence to control the mass of disinterested players in front of me.

2013-08-28 03.13.47As if that wasn’t weird enough, suddenly the regular conductor enters the room and they all tap the top of their stands with their bows and sit to attention and I was really confused. I realized I was sitting at a piano with a piano player observing the rehearsal. As they started to rehearse their parts, the person at the piano with me started asking me about my intention for the chords, playing what I had written and being insistent that I explain myself and say if this is EXACTLY what I wanted. I was confused, because the sound from the orchestra was gorgeous and exactly the surreal experience I was hoping it would be.

I could hear Cora playing the ‘astral’ violin part from another room or space on top of the orchestra and it all sounded fantastic to me. Seriously!

Then it got weirder. I was now in a house with the piano player who I still could not https://i0.wp.com/i.ytimg.com/vi/QThHTE7uARo/0.jpgidentify but appeared to be a female form who was working hard to have me focus on my intended texture. She made me look at her fingers on the piano as she played the chords and clearly played out this three chord sequence that was the fundamental building block of the texture. After watching forever, in my dream, I took manuscript and wrote down the three chord progression and mentally stored the concept of how it was being used. The idea was that the structure from the chord, could be deconstructed and triggered throughout the instruments of the orchestra to create an echo chamber of sorts based on the chords themselves. It was shocking, beautiful and trippy writing it down!

Just before waking up, a close friend of mine who passed away a number of years ago picked me up in the car and we went to the funeral of another of our friends who as far as I know is still alive! I woke up, a bit overwhelmed by it all, but quickly grabbed my notebook (at 5am) and wrote down the chords before it passed into memories past…

Do you want to know whats funny now, a week on? I still vividly remember the chords, the orchestra and the texture and the sensation that it brought to the music. Its going to have to get written in…

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Irish Contemporary Music Centre Article

The Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland

The Irish Contemporary Music Centre (CMC) published an article about Ciaran’s composer residency in Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris. The CMC is Ireland’s national archive and resource centre for new music and supporting the work of composers throughout Ireland. Its free library and sound archive contain the only comprehensive collection in existence of music by Irish composers.

Here’s an excerpt about the process of working on the piece for Cora:

….We are collaborating closely on the subtlety of the piece, blogging and skyping regularly. Cora often surprises me with emailed movie-demos so that I can see if passages are sonically as I intended. Her 1738 Nicolo Gagliano violin has some amazing resonances and we are doing our best to make it sing!

Click here to read the complete text.

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Summer in Paris: 10 Inspiring Things To Do

During my summer in Paris composing, I’ve been doing everything I can to try and accept whatever inspiration the city can provide. When I am not locked away in my room battling the frustration of trying to write some quality music, I do my best to venture out into the city to see how I can nourish my mind, body and soul. I’ve come up with a list of adventures that I think will help anyone looking for some inspiring things to do during a summer visit to Paris.

1. Picnic by the Seine

The Seine, Paris, Summertime 2013

If you want to be inspired by Parisian life, grab your vino from the local store, some cheese, some chips and some fruit and head on down to join in the summer fun by the Seine. It really kicks off in July once the sun has arrived and lasts for the rest of the baking summer months. Go down to metro Pont Marie, then make your way to Quai d’Orleans. You can go right down on either bank, with Notre Dame Cathedral in plain view. If you forgot your booze, not to worry – there are an abundance of entrepreneur’s wandering along offering bottles of beer to those that run out. People sit down by the banks of the river, enjoying the cool evening air, fine food, wine and company. So, if you want to feel Parisian for an evening, skip a restaurant and try the quintessential Seine picnic. People watch, boat watch, and listen for sounds of music wafting over the water as the sun sets on the extraordinary Paris skyline.

2. Organ Recital at Notre Dame Cathedral

Speaking of Notre Dame, I’ll sum this one up by saying that you haven’t lived until you have heard the organ in this cathedral at full tilt. Its almost like you are vibrated on the ground you stand on. You don’t feel it in your eardrums as much as in your veins!  There are concerts most Sundays through the summer for less than €20 at around 7-7.30pm and you can actually pick up a ticket at the door. If you are really industrious and want to visit the Cathedral and maybe even hear some music for free, get up early and head to a Sunday morning mass! Its free to attend and there are several every Sunday!

3. Tour de France

Tour de France, Paris 2013

Tour de France, Paris 2013

What could be more French in July than the world famous Tour de France and you don’t even have to go hunting for it in the mountains! For one day only, it comes to you in Paris! It inspired me at least! The fun starts early as crowds gather around the Champs Elysee, the Tulleries, and the Seine trying to get a good viewing spot on the final stages annual route. Don’t bother trying to get down by the finish line on the Champs Elysee as its blocked with VIP seating….. rather, find a mid-spot near the Tulleries, or even grab an early sitting spot on the wall of the Seine before they are taken. If you are a late arrival, the river view is still only 1 deep compared to 5-10 deep in other viewing spots! If you are industrious, there is a great view from the McDonald’s on the Champs Elysee, but you might need to plan ahead and be prepared for multiple reorders to keep your 1st floor seat by the window with the perfect view.

4. Sunday Concerts in Jardin du Luxembourg

Check the schedule on the bandstand (near the Rue Soufflot entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg). There are free concerts all summer and again, get there early to get a seat. Otherwise slouch in the shade against one of the myriad of trees surrounding the bandstand and listen to the beautiful strains of Chopin streaming through the air. Imagine all the great poets, artists and composers who stood listening to a little summer music in this wonderfully romantic park over the centuries. Join in solidarity with their memory for a warm summer afternoon and seek the inspiration that drove them.

Chopin at Jardin du Luxembourg

Chopin at Jardin du Luxembourg

In our modern setting, the piano is mic’d up so you don’t have to worry about being right up on top of it to have a good listening experience. However, be warned, the locals are ruthless in chasing down vacant seats and don’t expect any chivalry based on age or gender…. its first come first served..

5. Musee d’Orsay

For me, art seems to come alive in the sunny summer months. Seriously. I went to Musee d’Orsay and was blown away by the art in this museum that bridges between the more antique material in the Musée du Louvre, and the more modern exhibits at Centre Georges Pompidou. It was just what I needed. You will see enough Impressionist and neo-impressionist paintings to do you for a lifetime. Walking from the baking summer sun into the air conditioned museum, you really get a sense of the rich colors of the painting and for the non artist composers like myself, the significance of light in the creative process. It was definitely one of my favorite things I’ve done this summer.

6. Bastille Day

Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower

Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower

Le Quartorze de Juillet (14th of July), also commonly known to foreigners as Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale, is one of the major party events in Paris each year.  My personal suggestion would be to head to the Champs de Mars by the Eiffel Tower for the once in a lifetime experience of hearing the symphony play some fantastic French music with a backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and the setting sun. Once the sun goes down, expect a solid 30 minutes of eye popping fireworks behind the Tower and a mesmerizing light show on the tower itself. If you want to see the orchestra clearly, stay in the Champs de Mars. If you want to see the fireworks clearly, without the Eiffel Tower in the foreground, go to the Seine side of the tower.

7. Bal des Pompiers (Fireman’s Ball)

Firemans Ball – Paris.

If a night of dancing is your inspiration, then this is the special event for you! On the 13th July the local firehouses in the different arrondissement’s of the city throw ‘balls’ or parties for all. Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) night from about 9pm to 4am the party kicks off. Various events take place including music, DJs, drinks, and even a firemen striptease! There may be an entrance fee, but its often free, and a traditional ‘barrel’ might be left out instead for donations. Either way, tourists and locals still come out and dance the night away!

8. FREE Museums – 1st Sunday of the month

Musee National du Moyen Age Thermes de Cluny

Musee National du Moyen Age Thermes de Cluny

If you happen to be in town for the first Sunday of the month, what better way to seek some inspiration than to visit the usually pricey museums for free! Crowds are insane so choose wisely. I choose Musee d’Orsay last month and after about 20 minutes of cuing, I was in so it wasn’t too crazy. Its also a nice way to get in out of the Parisian heat for a few hours! All other times, you can expect to pay €8 and up to get into anything frankly!

9. Music at a French Cafe

Jazz at Nouvelle Mairie

Jazz at Nouvelle Mairie

To feel Parisian, or at least a cultured tourist in Paris, try heading to a little cafe where there are some musicians playing French Jazz. You will not be sorry. Its a memory that will stay with you a while, gets the creative juices flowing and you get to meet some locals and listen to some fantastic music. Try the little cafe Nouvelle Mairie near the Centre Culturel Irlandais.

10. Centre Culturel Irlandais

Centre Culturel Irlandais

Centre Culturel Irlandais

My last idea is a bit different but what the hell! Enjoy a quick summer visit to the historic Centre Culturel Irlandais. If you are here on the 16th of June, have a unique night out by taking in the annual Bloomsday event at the CCI which commemorates and celebrates the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904). Alternatively, have a picnic in the beautiful courtyard or ask for a quick tour of the old library, or even drop in for 11.30am mass (celebrated every Sunday morning in June and July) which is a rather unique French experience. For me, working on a composition about the building, this was a perfect way to wrap up July. Its almost like a trip back in time to 18th or 19 Century Paris, as the building has maintained its distinguished character over the years. The gorgeous little chapel in the ancient Latin Quarter of the city reminds me of the chapel in the front square at Trinity College in Dublin, and is host to a small and welcoming Irish community every Sunday. After listening to typically Irish hymns, and a sermon by the resident Irish priest, food and snacks are served afterwards in the beautiful courtyard. Its well worth a visit.

Centre Culturel Irelandais

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Artistic Adventures in Paris

An Exhibition at Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne

Paris you are creation, blanketed in frustration.
The search for magic, at angelic intervals,
for pitched sentences of vibrating words,
Console me with your wisdom……

I took the time a week ago, to venture out with fellow Artist in Residence, Margaret O’ Brien, to an art opening at Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, more commonly called MAC/VAL.  It was featuring an artist called Ange Leccia.

Logical Song (extrait), 2013.
Arrangement vidéo, 32‘ en boucle.
Courtesy galerie Almine Rech.
© Adagp, Paris 2013.

Friday was also my first day on the metro or bus, which we took to get there! I know, the small things in life right?! Anyway, if I was honest, I would say that at first sight, I was not impressed when I walked in. A video was playing on several massive wall installations in a giant exhibit space, maybe a hundred people were standing there looking vaguely interested and horribly intellectual, and the artists video subject was doing an average at best performance of Supertramps The Logical Song. I took a deep breath and promised myself I would give it a chance.

Post Modern Modernism

As I wandered around the gallery, with Margaret’s patient help, I started to understand a Charles Freger : Wilder Mannlittle more about the art we were checking out. Surprisingly enough, she felt it is not as modern as what is actually going on out there. As we joked about post modern modernism while looking closely at some photography in an exhibition of work by Charles Fréger called Wilder Mann, she gave me some pointers about the photos we were looking at and also about the video presentation for the Logical Song. She suggested that maybe the artists were exposing layers that we usual covered up.  Maybe, not being a singer was a reason the subject was on camera, peeling back layers of social norms and making us look at a more raw state of existence. This concept actually allowed me to experience everything in the exhibit with a new sense of understanding and appreciation.

Charles Freger : Wilder MannFreger’s photographs focused a lot on uniforms, masks, disguises and costumes as an almost second skin. The literature suggested that his work focused on “the construction of identity” and “the representation of the social body”. This actually made perfect sense. We look on these ‘costumes’ as weird and crazy, but yet in cultures we dress outlandish in terms of what other era’s or even other cultures might perceive. Considering that a lot of these pictures capture variations of ritualistic dress from religious or pagan past and present, its actually quiet fascinating trying to look on our existential actions as an outsider.

Making Sense of it All

Mac/Val, Paris

Mac/Val, Paris

After looking at various other exhibits, including Les Grands Verres by Dominique Blais, we went back in to the main exhibit room and sat through the entire Logical Song presentation – a series of videos arranged to music but in particular Supertramp’s the Logical Song. The “film exhibition” was somewhat like an intimate diary, or collection of films of the artists life, from the past and present. You could see a theme running through the work if you watched it all. We are invited to “interfere in the privacy of his reality, at the same time, returns to the spectator.”

Ange Leccia - Logical Song

Ange Leccia – Logical Song

As we watched and absorbed the piece, I noticed a rhythm of images, that helped lure the viewer on a journey through the timeline. The clips were actually very cleverly transitioning and thoughtfully ordered. For me, it was wonderful to watch an artist do their own thing and still connect with an audience on a level I had not seen before. Although I felt you really needed to be open minded, and a thinker at some level to appreciate the work, it was beyond a shadow of doubt, artistic and exceptional.

The Artistic Legacy

So what did the day achieve for me? Well, afterwards, Margaret, her friend Claudia and myself obviously went to a bar and had wine and hot chocolate as one does in Paris! Chatting about life and nationalities, it was a nice conclusion to a day of personal artistic stimulation.  Before returning home to my patient computer and even more patient musical ideas, we walked further through the city and looking at some gorgeous architecture at Hôpital d’instruction des armées du Val-de-Grâce and the interesting square tower of the Institut Oceanographique at the corner of Rue Gay-Lussac and Rue Saint Jacques. Finally, after walking Claudia to the metro, it was time to come home after a really enjoyable break.

As of now, I am finally feeling connected to finishing the 2nd movement of the concerto and hope to work on this week. I am thinking if I were done with that movement by the end of the month it would be a huge start. Is it too big of a daydream? Possibly! 10 lingering cues to complete in The Letters, several suite ideas jotted down on manuscript. Doing battle with a lingering dose of insomnia, a loud construction crew on a nearby street and a level of stress I haven’t felt in years, only time will tell how this plays out…

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A Nobel Laureate at the Centre Culturel Irlandais

an alley meets a rue..

an alley meets a rue..

Paris you are my Milonguera,
guiding me unnoticed
through my slow steps,
With a slight of hand
and a subtle leaning,
back and forth between feeble attempts to embrace the melonga,
and the impossible task of avoiding the seduction of such an enchanting partner……

An evening with Seamus Heaney

Aside from working on my intentions for the final direction of the concerto or working on more cues for the Mother Teresa film The Letters I’ve been living 24/7 for the last 3 months, I do once in a while stray out into Paris. Seriously! After finishing a cue demo, I rushed to be ready in time to attend Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney‘s poetry reading in the courtyard here at Center Culturel Irlandais.

I headed out just after 7.30pm and was surprised to see the courtyard quite full already.

Seamus Heaney at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Photograph: Des Harris/The Picture Desk

The Irish Times felt that an “otherworldly hush” descended for the 8pm readings in Paris, but I was more inclined to feel that as it had been raining all day, it was a surprise to see clear skies and a chilly but drying cour! Renowned Irish poet and fellow CCI artist in residence Gerry Smyth was already seated and I happily joined him. For a change, I brought my camera, ready to record and use as reference material for composing after enjoying an earlier poetry reading which was also part of Le Marché de la Poésie Poetry Festival.

When he came out, he seemed more frail than I had expected. When he started to read, itMarché de la Poésie was actually quite amazing. It reminded me of watching The Dave Brubeck Quartet on my 30th birthday as they shuffled out onto the stage at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and then this frail old little man literally lit up that piano! Sheamus, wasn’t quite so tiny, old, or frail, but he struck me as being both very introspective and very enlightened.

In a brief interview, Seamus gave some interesting insight into his process. When asked about his 2006 stroke, he mentioned that much and all as he didn’t wish for it, he had a new source of inspiration since then.  He was particularly struck by the fact that 4 guys had to carry him to help save him and it reminded him of a healing in the Bible where 4 men carried in a man to be healed. It struck him, that without the men carrying, would the man have ever been healed? It was a fascinating concept.

Seamus’s poetry was deeper than I expected and his reading was strong and evocative as he did battle with the birds in the courtyard as they intently sung to the heavens as dusk fell.  He even joked about it, spontaneously quoting a poem The Blackbird of Belfast Lough from memory. Reading from his heart, he seemed very connected with his words and his intent. It was very powerful to watch.

Afterwards, I hoped to maybe meet him, but it didn’t come to pass. What a shame. My evening came to a nice close however, when another cue was cleared for The Letters. Yay! Only 11 left now. Let me share with you, a little memory – Seamus reading his first poem of the night “The Given Note” about the Blasket fiddler who retrieves the mysterious Port na bPúcaí (The Fairies’ Tune) from Inisvicillane. You can read the poem and a great overview by Rachel Holstead at RTE.ie.

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The Parisian Experience – Centre Culturel Irlandais

Rue Clovis

Rue Clovis – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

Its June and I’m honoured to be starting a three month residency at the stunning Centre Culturel Irlandais in beautiful Paris!  I thought I’d be finishing the concerto over the last 2-3 months, but instead found myself working around the clock on a film score I’d been waiting 10 years to do! Now in Paris, my focus shifts to working on a suite for orchestra and completing the concerto.

When I arrived in Paris, the first thing I did was actually sleep for a few days. I totally crashed and burned and had no energy to even think! Now that I’m feeling more functional again, I’m excited at the possibility of finally taking the concerto to the finish line while I’m here.

The Centre Culturel Irlandais

The CCI building that I’m living in consists of two wings surrounding a gorgeous large Parisian courtyard.

English: Centre culturel irlandais - Paris Fra...

English: Centre culturel irlandais – Paris Français : Centre culturel irlandais (Vue général des bâtiments, côté cour) – Paris V (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Renovated somewhere between 1769 and 1775 to accommodate an ecclesiastical community, it still has that sense of spirituality with one of its wings housing a serene chapel and an incredible library.

I’m excited that I will get to check out the library which apparently has a collection of about 10,000 books, half of which date from the 15th century. Its going to remind me of the Long Room in Trinity I hope! The books (in English, French, Latin and Irish) mainly deal with theology, history, geography, philosophy and music.

Aside from that, I’ve bumped into some of my fellow Artists in Residence here who are at various stages of their stays. Writers/Poets Jaki McCarrick and Gerard Smyth as well as visual artist Margaret O’ Brien have all been incredibly welcoming to me and after we have dinner this weekend I’m sure I will have lots more to share about their work and experiences.

The Paris of Great Composers

Paris from a Window

Le Panthéon National, Rue Irlandais – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

Its amazing what a town can do for inspiration. For many years Prague used to provide that inspiration and even though I have barely arrived, I can already tell that Paris oozes inspiration. The CCI is in the historic Latin quarter of Paris in the 5th arrondissement. I can see the imposing Pantheon from my bedroom window and take a 5 minute walk to the bustling Rue Mouffetard and its Parisian sensations. As one of Paris’s oldest and liveliest neighbourhoods (settled by the Romans around 53BC), its such an exciting prospect to be here working and living, soaking myself in the culture.

Thinking of all the great composers who were inspired by the city at some point on their creative journeys, I really do get goose-bumps realizing I am following in their rather large footsteps. From Stravinsky’s crazy premiere of Rite of Spring, to its famous residents such as Mozart, Prokoviev, Faure, Debussy, Offenback, Liszt, and Verdi, Paris contributed some real magic to their work during their lives.

I also found some great information on Eurochannel.com about some of their stays, so to round off the blog, I am officially making visiting their former homes part of a Parisian “Bucket List” this summer!

Verdi – 65, avenue des Champs Elysées: Paris 8 ème: Following the success of The Force of Destiny, Verdi moved to Paris.

Debussy – 56 rue Cardinet: In 1902, Claude Debussy arrived and began work on Pelleas et Melisandre. At the time, he was in a relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, left to be with her friend Rosalie Texier (who he would later marry) and was also romantically linked with singer Thérèse Roger! Whew! So who really inspired the lyrics for the opera?

Offenbach – 11 rue du Lafitte: Offenbach lived on Chaussée D’Antin, now known as Grands Boulevards, in 1858.

Fauré – 135 boulevard Malesherbes: During the summer of 1887, Gabriel Fauré began to compose one of my favourite pieces – his Requiem. Both his father and mother died that year as he began writing yet Fauré denied any relationship between those events and his Requiem.

Mozart – 8 rue du Sentier: An then there is Mozart. On March 11th, 1778, Mozart and his mother moved to Paris in search of work.

Prokofiev – 5 rue Valentin Hauy: Prokofiev lived in Paris on and off, from the 1920’s. In the 1930’s, living in the neighborhood of Breteuil, he began to work on his Piano Concerto No. 4 for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein commissioned the work, but was prevented from playing it because he could not understand the notes. Thank God Cora is checking on the Concerto as I’m writing it!!!

Paris Workspace

Centre Culturel Irlandais, Rue Irlandais – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

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