The Compánach Concert
A fast-moving, audio-visual recital of Traditional Irish music, song and dance by Gerry O’Connor, Roisín Chambers, Fintan Vallely, Sibéal Davitt and Tiarnán Ó Duinnchín who perform in front of a changing, narrative backdrop of large-screen photographs by Jacques Nutan. The 120-minute show expresses the artistic depth, finesse and variety of the music as described in the new encyclopedia Companion to Irish Traditional Music. Based on the format of the book, the concert covers all Irish counties and regions, demonstrating hallmark styles and repertoire. For students of the music and of Irish culture this is a wonderful melodic display of information; for aficionados it is an exceptionally vibrant presentation of solo and group playing, sean-nós step-dance and singing.
A work in progress, this had an inaugural performance at the major French summer school of Irish music in Tocane, summer 2012. It was staged in its present form at Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, and at The Leuven Institute for Ireland, Leuven, Belgium in December, 2013, and at Ranelagh Arts Festival, Dublin, September 2014. It was performed at Aras Chronáin, Clondalkin, and at the From the Mountains to the Sea literary festival at Dún Laoghiare, Co. Dublin in March, 2015; the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre, The Naul, Dublin and Duncairn Arts and Cultural Centre, Belfast in October, 2015; at the William Kennedy Piping Festival, Armagh, in November 2015. Several performances are upcoming in 2016 (see EVENTS).
The Companion to Irish Traditional Music is an encyclopedia first published in 1999 to alphabetically document the nature and performance of indigenous Irish music. It was re-issued in 2011, doubled in size with c. 900 pages, and also as an e-book. The Compánach concert is based on its content, taking its A-Z format to illustrate tunes and song drawn from each Irish county, émigré region and ancient to modern eras. Over its two hours it uses the voices of solo, and unison duet and trio instruments, step dance, song in Irish and English, and large-scale photos to creatively document Irish Traditional music.
The visual motif for the concert is the Companion’s cover image – a profound painting by the Irish artist Daniel Maclise of an 1832 Halloween party in Co. Cork. In vivid colour, this depicts all the elements of Irish music traditions – the piper, fiddler and flute player, the boy with the tambourine, the young learners, the dancers – all performing in an animated community celebration. Present in this image too are symbolically-important figures: one of the earliest folklorists – Thomas Crofton Croker – and an early antiquarian – Fr. Matthew Horgan – both of them contributors to the philosophy which energised the 20th-century revival of Irish Traditional music. Compánach indeed takes all its aesthetic cues from this painting by using pipes, fiddle and flute, by opening with music collected by Rev. Goodman which is likely to have been played on that night in 1832, and by using the power of a visual narrative of 600 images rather than commentary to tell the music’s story.
Gerry O’Connor is a Dundalk fiddler, a versatile figure in Irish music who is solidly ‘of his place’ in the music’s traditions. He has toured Europe solo and with the band Skylark, and has many recordings, among them the seminal albums of Lá Lugh with the haunting singer Eithne Ní Uallacháin; he has also taught fiddle internationally over several decades.
Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn is an uilleann piper from Monaghan who has achieved all major Irish awards for his playing, most recently the Seán Ó Riada gold medal.
Roisín Chambers is a Connemara-style sean-nós singer and a fiddle-player from Dublin who has won the highest honours in Oireachtas, Fleadh Cheoil and Siansa competitions and has performed solo, with Salsa Celtica and The Bonnymen.
Sibéal Davitt comes from a background of Irish language and music and is an accomplished student of dance as well as being a superb sean-nós (old-style, free-form) step dancer.
Fintan Vallely, editor of the Companion and director of the show, plays the wooden concert flute. He has been one of the major public voices in Irish music since the early 1990s, the editor of many books and articles on it; like the others, he has performed throughout the world and has recorded and broadcast.
Jacques Piraprez Nutan is an award-winning Belgian photographer who was a neighbour and protégé of surrealist painter Renée Magritte. He has made the west of Ireland his home, and Irish topography, people and music his life’s work since the 1960s. A member of the Paris agency RAPHO, he has published in Time, Stern, National Geographic, and Geo, and has contributed music images to many music books and albums in Ireland.