Fantastic Guardian review for Louth concert

Fantastic Guardian review for Louth concert

“The exquisite Gothic Voices built new music out of old”

Book of Hours review – The Guardian – Louth Contemporary Music Society


A medieval Book of Hours was an intimate thing, personalised prayers decorated in gold leaf for the wealthy, or simple print for the poor. The point was to punctuate the everyday with private moments of beauty and reflection – the 15th-century equivalent of a mindfulness app.

Contemporary classical music can tread awkwardly around notions such as “beautiful” and “reflective”, as though they’re anathema to complexity and intellect. Curators might court fans of the soft-grained or the tough but tend to avoid the collision. Not so at Louth Contemporary Music Society, where director Eamonn Quinn sidesteps protocol with a rogue charm and a quiet punk mettle – or maybe just a simple strategy of programming whatever he wants to hear.

The location is unlikely and perfect, debunking the delusion (again) that serious art only happens in world cities. Quinn started putting on concerts in Dundalk just over a decade ago. He invited the big names (Glass, Pärt, Lucier, Wolff, Gubaidulina, Riley, Sciarrino) and to his astonishment they came, infiltrating the Irish border town with world premieres and inflamed debate over late-night noodles.

The programming is un-faddish, un-cliquey, unpredictable, embracing the abstruse and the plainly sweet. This year’s edition ranged from the tender minimalism of Gavin Bryars to the saturated silences of Michael Pisaro to the restless cerebral bravura of Rebecca Saunders. And because it was all framed as a Book of Hours for our times, somehow the mix sat right: beauty and provocation given carte blanche to coexist, as any meditation might flit through multiple conflicting states.

Some of the concerts were at Dundalk Gaol, a former Victorian prison where notions of time and reflection must have meant a great deal. The exquisite Gothic Voices built new music out of old: 13th-century troubadour songs leading to sweet-sour music by Karen Tanaka and Linda Buckley. Pisaro’s new score Wind & Silence was the standout, setting words by Robert Lax with intent space and perspective, making the voices sound like sculptures spinning on an open prairie, wind blowing through them. Pisaro’s mighty silences can be confrontational as well as comforting.

In the same space was a concert devoted to Saunders, whose music is as athletic as Pisaro’s is stately. We heard fearless performances of Caerulean from clarinettist Carol Robinson, Bite (flutist Helen Bledsoe) and Solitude (cellist Severine Ballon). But it was Juliet Fraser premiering a virtuosically limber vocal piece that stole the show. O Yes & I is a stunning new Joyce setting that taps the action of a wandering mind – ideas firing so rapidly and untethered that forming actual words would slow her down.

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