Up North!

Courtesy of Nordic Sounds magazine, Fergus Sheil, director of Crash Ensemble presents Up North! a unique cross-fertilisation of Nordic and Irish composers and musicians. The Dublin contemporary festival takes place from December 5th to 8th.

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Where can lovers of contemporary music, Christmas shopping, trendy night life and the world’s finest pubs have all their appetites fulfilled at once? With its new festival – Up North! – Dublin is the city that will be bursting out all over for a long weekend in December (5th to 8th).

For four days you can immerse yourself in fifty works by thirty-seven composers – twenty five of which (exactly half) have been written in the first three years of the 21st century! You can plunge into twelve world premičres – nine of which have been specially commissioned for the festival. You can dive into ten concerts given by eight performing ensembles; and after all that you can wallow in as many pints of Guinness as you like!

After a long absence from the cultural calendar, the regeneration of a contemporary music festival in Dublin is a matter of great excitement. Up North! was brought into existence by a unique partnership between Crash Ensemble – Ireland’s most exciting contemporary music group – and Network North, the cultural project of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Up North! is an Irish/Nordic festival – featuring a stunning array of new work and some of the most exciting of Nordic and Irish music.

With typically ambition and enterprise Crash Ensemble has pioneered this new festival for Dublin to expand the variety of contemporary music available to Dublin audiences. Together with the Project Arts Centre – Temple Bar’s cornerstone cultural institution – and Music Network, who are based in nearby Dublin Castle, they have mounted an extensive programme of concerts, workshops, seminars and discussions.

In close collaboration with Marianne Möller and Anders Beyer from Network North, they have devised the festival programmes have with particular emphasis on certain areas that are also areas of specialisation for Crash Ensemble. In general, a new generation of composers is championed – often those on the threshold of a major breakthrough. Most of the concerts also feature mixed media and electronic works. Up North! is so up to date that half of the works in the festival have been written in the last three years!

Central to Up North! is the concept of interaction between Irish and Nordic artists and composers. Intrinsic to the planning of the festival was the commissioning of a large number of new works. Artists from one side of the Irish/Nordic partnership will play commissions by the other side. In eight principal concerts, nine specially commissioned works will be the focal point.

In commissioning composers, the festival sought to showcase a cross-section of some of the most exciting names on both sides of the partnership. South-African-born Irish composer Kevin Volans (b. 1949) is one of the highest-profile composers writing for the festival. He has had major successes in many areas, but perhaps none greater than his six string quartets. Indeed, the Kronos Quartet recording of Volans’ first quartet – White Man Sleeping – has become the best-selling string quartet recording ever. Volans will write his seventh string quartet for Norway’s Cikada Quartet.

Donnacha Dennehy (b. 1970) is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s fastest rising stars. Artistic Director of Crash Ensemble – who host the festival – Dennehy has had his unique brand of meticulously crafted yet cheeky music commissioned and performed throughout Europe and North America. He has also been instrumental in bringing electronic and multimedia music into the mainstream in Ireland. His new work for the festival will be performed by Danish electro-acoustic group Contemporánea.

Ian Wilson (b. 1964) is also an Irish composer whose works are heard with increasing frequency throughout Europe. Wilson is no stranger to Nordic musical life, and his orchestral work Running, Thinking Finding won the composition prize at the 1991 Ultima Festival in Oslo. Wilson has written a new work – Eat, Sleep, Empire – which will be performed by Finnish ensemble Avanti! at the Up North! festival. The last name from Ireland is Jennifer Walshe (b. 1974), who is quickly establishing a name for herself with a unique type of experimental music. Walshe relishes the possibilities of new sounds produced by extended techniques and she is writing a work for the virtuoso Swedish choral group The Rilke Ensemble.

An impressive line-up of Nordic composers are also busy putting the final touches to their works. Finnish composer Kimmo Hakola (b1958), who has had great successes with his earlier string quartets, is writing an eagerly awaited third quartet for the festival. Hakola’s gutsy, muscular approach will be well captured by the dynamic young Irish Callino Quartet. Icelandic composer Hilmar Thordarson (b. 1960) is writing a new ensemble piece for Crash Ensemble, while in the same concert a second commission can be heard: a new work for ensemble and electronics by Ejnar Kanding (b. 1965), artistic director of one of Denmark’s leading electro-acoustic groups, Contemporánea. A third premičre is also on offer in Crash Ensemble’s concert – the curiously titled I dreamed today of a donkey that looked like a greyhound by Norwegian composer Mark Adderley (b. 1960)

A further festival highlight will be a Swedish premičre: a song cycle for singer, ensemble and electronics by Kent Olofsson (b. 1962). Olofsson’s ear for unusual and memorable textures and sounds is striking. So too is his ability to marry them seamlessly and naturally with electronic sound worlds. His new work will be performed by Concorde – another of Ireland’s leading contemporary music groups. Concorde’s programme will also include premičres of new works by their director Jane O’Leary (b. 1946) and young Irish composer Rob Canning (b. 1974). This concert will also involve the celebrated Dutch bass clarinettist, Harry Sparnaay.

Those taking time out of the social schedule to attend the festival’s one late-night event will be rewarded by a challenging and imaginative event. Whispering Gallery is a collective of Dublin-based musicians, writers and artists of many different backgrounds who are devoted to experimental, improvised and sound art. In an ideal collaboration, our last commissioned composer, Řyvind Torvund (b. 1976) will collaborate with Whispering Gallery on a work that will explore the relationship between improvised and written music. Torvund comes from an artistic background and has established a reputation by embracing a multitude of art forms in his work. This event certainly promises to be fresh and stimulating.

Also in the area of improvised music, Up North! is fortunate in being able to play host to yet another interesting collaboration – this time between Irish jazz guitarist Mark O’Leary and Oslo’s Cikada Quartet. O’Leary has established an enviable reputation in the area of jazz/improvised music, and has collaborated with many Nordic artists. Cikada, who regularly work with jazz musicians, were delighted to seize the opportunity for an additional collaboration here, and the result will be an improvised concert that will provide an interesting contrast to many of the other festival programmes.

Reaching out to students and younger performers is also a central feature of the festival. Many of Dublin’s universities and music schools will host workshops, masterclasses and open rehearsals given by festival participants. And with such an array of composers and performers on hand, there will be an opportunity for discussion sessions and lectures in connection with the Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin.

Up North! will certainly be a springboard for the future. It is hoped that this new contemporary music festival will become an annual event in Dublin – perhaps concentrating on different areas of repertoire each year. In addition the partnerships built up over the course of this year’s festival will lead to much greater knowledge of one another’s music and exciting prospects for further Irish/Nordic collaborations throughout the region.

With the generous financial support of the Irish Arts Council, the Nordic Council of Ministers and NOMUS, this action-packed four-day event is bound to challenge, stimulate and entertain!

For further details contact: admin@crashensemble.com and

Fergus Sheil is director of Crash Ensemble

This article first appeared in Nordic Sounds nr. 4, 2002 – MIC would like to express gratitude for being allowed to reproduce the text.

For a presentation of the performing groups and commissioned composers, click here.

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