Perfect State began its life as a violin and cello duo and was commissioned by Irish Modern Dance theatre for a show of the same title. There was originally another slow movement too but I felt as a concert piece that it worked better without it and so it was dropped.
The instrumentation in the more recent string ensemble version is also fleshed out a little. 8 violins take the original violin line and 4 cellos take the cello line. I also added a new bass line, played on 2 double basses, after David James (RTÉ CO principal cellist) suggested it might help add an extra bit of weight to the lower bass end for this new instrumentation, bringing the piece to its final conclusion and, hopefully, perfect state.
The Shannon Suite is one of the first pieces I ever wrote. It was originally a solo guitar work, written for John Feeley. Each of the three movements represents the lakes Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg found along the course of the river Shannon, Ireland’s longest river.
The Shannon (in Irish ‘Sionainn’) inherited its name from an old Irish legend which tells of how the red berries of a rowan tree once fell into a shimmering well full of salmon. They were said to have eaten the berries which gave them the red spots on their backs, but it also gave them something more, great wisdom. Men, it is told, went to great lengths to catch these fish of knowledge in the hope that they could eat them and gain their wisdom. Women were not permitted to partake in the catching of the salmon but one bold and brave young woman, Sionan, defied the law to try her hand for one of these witty swimmers herself. She was successful and after eating her catch it is said that a torrential flood exploded from the well and carried her through the Irish countryside where she was eventually spat into the sea, never to be seen again. The remaining river inherited her name and is so called to this day where it flows full and strong, almost dividing the country in two.
The new version for sax and guitar (arranged by Gerard McChrystal) has been toured extensively by both Gerard and Australian born guitarist Craig Ogden. The original version for solo guitar has and still is receiving many performances/broadcasts.
I first got a call about Hopkins on Skellig Michael in 2002 from RTÉ lyric fm producer Eoin Brady who had received a copy of Paddy Bushes’ vivid and thought provoking poem with the suggestion of setting it to music. It was another year before a budget was allocated and work began on the piece. Paddy, Eoin and myself took a trip out to the treacherous rock that is Skellig Michael, some 16 km off the coast of south-west Ireland to see first hand for ourselves the setting of Paddy’s poem in which he places Gerard Manly Hopkins on an imaginary voyage of self discovery.
Over a millennium ago, a group of 7th century Christian monks, driven by their faith and dedication, built the most incredible of structures on Skellig Michael to bring them closer to God. A monastic outpost perched on the summit of the island’s highest peak is accessible only after a steep climb via over 600 slate steps carved out of the rock itself. It is a true testament to the endurance of man and George Bernard Shaw after a visit there in 1910 couldn’t have put it more succinctly by describing it as: An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.
The commission for The Pilgrim’s Return came on foot of a phone call from Gerard McChrystal who came up with the notion of commissioning a piece for soprano sax and string quartet for his collaboration with The Smith Quartet. Gerard had some ideas himself of the sort of piece he wanted and I just kept an open mind. He was listening to a lot of Bulgarian and Greek folk music at the time and wondered would it be possible to do something in a similar vein. I made no hard promises but I think the influences definitely filtered through particularly in the dance like feel of the first and third movements.
The three movements – Homeward Bound, Journey’s End and Hero’s Welcome - reflect on the feelings associated with coming home from a long journey and being filled with the joy associated with the repatriation of loved ones in familiar surroundings. Whether you picture a prodigal son returning or a labourer arriving home from work in the evening, I tried to evoke the sense of relaxing and renewing. It was originally commissioned with funds from the AC of Ireland and is now also available in numerous arrangements.
Around and About was written during a stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, in Co. Monaghan after I returned from what can only be described as a shaky stay in Istanbul. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake shook the region for just under a minute on the 17th of August, 1999 causing widespread destruction and the deaths of over 17 thousand people. Hundreds of thousands were left homeless. The prospects of another large scale quake occurring left everyone on tender hooks and many, often violent, aftershocks did occur during the months that followed leaving everyone on constant alert and readied for house evacuation.
Shortly after I returned to Ireland, Irish guitarist John Feeley and flautist William Dowdall commissioned a new work for flute and guitar. I wanted to do something light to counter what I’d experienced during my Turkish residency and I also wanted to somehow pay tribute to the late Sir Tyrone Guthrie. The resulting piece, Around and About, (The Garden, The Lake and The Woods) is a reflection on the grounds of Tyrone Guthrie’s estate at Annaghmakerrig, in County Monaghan, which he left to the state to facilitate artists in their creative endeavours. The piece is dedicated to his memory and it has since been arranged for a number of different combinations including flute and vibraphone, flute and piano, and Sax and piano.