Ce i i n I1 ect i O n s

The fifth annual folk music bean fest hits Glasgow with a bagful of talent. Over the next four pages The List highlights the pick of the crop. More goodies next issue.

Past and Present

Leading an all star cast of Irish musicians, MICHEAL O SUILLEABHAIN defines the cutting edge of tradition.

Words. Norman Chalmers

‘I often repeat what was once said about me.’ confides a delighted Micheal () Suilleabhain Dr Micheal actually. for he‘s an academic as well as a performer ‘and that was "he played the piano as if a pint of (iuinness had been thrown into it.”'

If you haven‘t heard his abilities on the old Joanna you're in for a surprise. () Suilleabhain is as dextrous. fluent and uninhibited as any great ia/xman. but the root of his extemporisation is not the blues. not even the chromatic harmony of Western classical music. of which he’s an expert. btit the rhythmic forms and melodic modes of the ancient. ever evolving traditional music of Ireland.

()ne of the few internationally significant figures who has not performed at Glasgow‘s winter hooley. his festival-opening concert brings a lot more than just his inspired keyboard skills. Along with some world- class soloists. of which more anon. he brings with him the sixteen players of the Irish

Mic e

Chamber Orchestra from his Eracii’ticm {tyiigzirsie first

. a. .. ,.,.,§....' static but ‘Niiffiis yam..- m it

Irish World Music (‘entre at Limerick l'niyersity. They are a group of people whose praises he certainly sings: ‘l‘d cut off my arm to play with them. They're the most extraordinary bunch of young musicians. and I can rely on them totally.‘ smiles O Suilleabhain. ‘We can get any of the pieces we‘ve played them before to performance level with one short rehearsal.~

‘Now. they’re playing from scores. and they don‘t play anything that‘s not written. btit I‘ll be playing out of my head. so to speak. as will Liam O Flynn (uillean pipes). Brendan Power (harmonica). Martin Hayes (fiddle). and the other soloists. but’ and he's anxious to get this across ‘it‘s the energy of interconnections. the power of fusing orality and literacy. in musical

32 THE LIST 9—22 Jan 1998

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al 0 Suilleabhain: ebony, ivory and Guinness makes perfect sense

ir‘iusiciaiis irate spaces tire haven’t. been {mimic}, there; has to ire knowiedge and trust.’

Micheai O Suiileaiiiia'n

terms. that most interests me. and especially the classical influence on the tradition.’

In chaos theory. I point out. it’s known that the boundary between systems. the breaking edge of. say. cultural patterns. is the most productive in producing new structure and energetic new forms. and he’s enthusiastic about these ideas, and how we can maintain an _ W identity in a rapidly changing , world. ‘Tradition is dynamic.‘

a he insisits. ‘it’s not static but when you bring musicians into spaces they haven’t been before. there has to be knowledge and trust.’

‘I think an interesting case can be made of the late Tommy Potts (a virtuoso. individualistic lrish fiddler who recorded an album in the (i()s). The traditionalists see him as one of their own. while the innovators see him as theirs. It‘s definitely possible to be both.‘

Micheal O Suilleabhain with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and Guests perform excerpts from his works, old, new, and yet-to-be-released. in Between Worlds, the opening concert on Thu 15 Jan.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra Glasgow: Royal Concert Hall, Thu 22 Jan.

At a national level, there's the dirge-Iike ’Flower Of Scotland'. On the terraces, you might hear a tearful 'You'll Never Walk Alone' or a slanderous analySis of Jimmy Hill's sexuality. Let’s face it: Scottish football and good music have never gone hand in hand. Until, that is, Scottish composer James MacMiIIan wrote his piano concerto, The Beserki‘ng, in 1989.

'It must be the only concerto in histOry that’s been inspired by the away goals rule,’ MacMiIIan says. ’The actual inspiration for all this was the game Celtic played against Partisan Belgrade in the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Celtic won 5-4 but were knocked out on away goals.’

How that relates to a piece of classical music might not be clear at first, but MacMillan points out that another baSis for the work's thematic drive was the manner in which Celtic (pronounced with a hard 'c' this time) and Viking warriors known as Beserkers would prepare for battle by chomping down mushrooms and getting into a frenzy.

'That reminded me of how the Scots on the football field and the political field - would hyperventilate themselves up into states of bravery,’ he explains. ’Great blusterous displays, but ultimately futile displays. The Celtic game seemed to encapsulate this tendancy to go at the opposition like Beserkers, but up against more stealthy and intelligent play, they lost.’

The composer calls The Beserki'ng a 'bit of a period piece', admitting that, at the time it was written, Scotland was consumed by questions of identity that have now led, in part, to the formation of a Scottish parliament. It was written wrth pianist Peter Donohoe in mind, and he will again be the soloist at the Celtic Connections concert.

’Peter has such a forceful style,’ MacMillan says. ’He powers the whole orchestra along, and leads from the front in 3 Billy McNeill Style.’

Even when it comes down to selecting your first team players, there's no getting away from football. (Alan Morrison)

James MacMillan: Celtic warrior