NPR logo
Donnacha Dennehy: Crashing Through Cultures
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/135811500/135867817" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Donnacha Dennehy: Crashing Through Cultures

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Ireland has a strong tradition of folk music and poetry that is familiar to many Americans. But Dublin-born composer Donnacha Dennehy has transformed it into something completely different. Jeff Lunden reports.

(Soundbite of song, "Gra agus Bas")

Mr. IARLA O'LIONAIRD (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

JEFF LUNDEN: This is the first piece on Donnacha Dennehy's new CD. It's called "Gra agus Bas," which means love and death. The singer's plaintive cries sound very much like phrases from Irish folk music, while the accompaniment features a kind of pulsating minimalist shimmer, played by a classical music group called Crash Ensemble.

(Soundbite of song, "Gra agus Bas")

LUNDEN: And it's the crashing of these two styles that Dennehy wants to explore. Although he grew up in urban Dublin, both his parents came from County Kerry, and every summer he'd go there and hear sean nos music - folk music in the old style.

Mr. DONNACHA DENNEHY (Composer): And there'd be long all-night sessions in my grandmother's house, with singing, etcetera and poetry and people remembering 30-stanza poems and these would go right through the night. And as children, we would stay up even through these sessions. And, in these, many local people can sing in this old style.

LUNDEN: Dennehy wanted to incorporate some of that old style in his new work, so he got in touch with an expert.

Mr. DENNEHY: And Iarla O'Lionaird is probably one of the best exponents of that style today. So, I sought him out, actually, to work on this piece.

(Soundbite of song, "Aisling Gheal")

Mr. O'LIONAIRD: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: The two met several times and Dennehy had him sing his entire repertoire. Then the composer chose two songs which he sliced, diced and otherwise deconstructed for "Gra agus Bas."

Mr. DENNEHY: They were pregnant with possibility. So, I made use of little phrases of them. Little patterns from the songs then went into the patterns in the instruments. Little ornamentation patterns became like little minimalist patterns in the instrumentation. And then the words are entirely taken from these two songs. So, it's like they're embedded in the DNA, but they're kind of exploded.

(Soundbite of "Gra agus Bas")

LUNDEN: When Bob Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch Records, played this for American soprano Dawn Upshaw...

Ms. DAWN UPSHAW (Soprano): I was like, wow. Can you introduce me to this guy? And he said, sure, sure.

LUNDEN: And a new collaboration was born.

(Soundbite of song, "Her Anxiety")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing)

LUNDEN: Dennehy created a song cycle for Upshaw. Called "That the Night Come," it's settings of poetry by Irish national treasure William Butler Yeats. The composer says he read every word Yeats wrote before he chose the six poems -all about love and death - that make up the cycle.

Mr. DENNEHY: These poems are so rich, with lots of hidden meanings and you could take a meaning in a different way. And that's classically Irish, you know? When we say something, it has five possible meanings and our conversations are constructed on those grounds, you know?

(Soundbite of song, "Her Anxiety")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing)

LUNDEN: Dennehy says he crafted the songs with Upshaw's voice in mind, utilizing not just her upper register, but her lower register, as well.

Mr. DENNEHY: There's this kind of deep intensity that Dawn has now which people don't automatically associate with her. They associate just the pure floating tone. But there's a lot of complexity there in Dawn, and I really wanted to use all that.

(Soundbite of song, "That the Night Come")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing)

LUNDEN: And, in the title song of the cycle, "That the Night Come," the intensity of both the composer and the singer comes to a climax, says Dawn Upshaw.

Ms. UPSHAW: I hear in his music the struggle; the sense of needing to find release, this feeling of needing to break free of something.

(Soundbite of song, "That the Night Come")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing)

LUNDEN: Donnacha Dennehy's new album, "Gra agus Bas," will be released on Tuesday. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(Soundbite of song, "That the Night Come")

Ms. UPSHAW: (Singing)

WERTHEIMER: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon returns next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.