Artists worked across a range of artforms when responding to the Troubles

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The Binding of the Years

On a rainy November night in 2009 I wandered into The British Museum and came upon an Aztec artefact of great beauty. A small stone casket with a stone lid was covered in bundles of carved reeds. It was so expertly crafted that you could almost feel the contour of the hands of the person who carved it. I wanted to touch it, feel the frozen reeds and have a contact with this otherworldly object from another time, place and culture. The gallery was empty, dark and silent save for the sound of muffled feet on the carpet in the corridor outside and I was drawn to the stone casket so strongly it was as if music was coming from it. I began to hear oboes and layers of reed sounds building and ‘The Binding of The Years’ was begun. Ancient cultures, archaeology and ritual have been part of my life since childhood. I am drawn to cultural references of how time is perceived. For the Aztecs, time was circular. There was a great sense of pre-destiny. The manner of understanding the present and how it projects into the future was radically different to our modern experience. Gods and demi-gods played their part and for the Aztecs the renewal of fire and the symbolism of the sun were at the centre of ritual and daily life. The ‘New Fire Ceremony’ marked the beginning of a new century for them. It symbolised a renewal of time, a rebirth of life, and of new fire. An inscription on a carved rock face in Southern Mexico known as the ‘Colalcalco stone’ reveals a pattern of dates, which had elsewhere been recorded as a ‘Calendar round’, a combination of day and month that will repeat every 52 years. The ‘Colalcalco stone’ coincides with the end of the 13th Buktun- Buktuns were roughly 394-year periods and 13 was a significant sacred number the Aztecs. The long count Aztec calendar was begun in 3114 BC and the 13th Buktun ends around December 21st 2012 when a new fire ceremony should mark this momentous passing of time and the beginning of a new Aztec century- extraordinarily enough, this year. By a strange coincidence the end of 2012 when this new piece of mine is given life, marked the end of this over thousand year cycle and I had not known this when I heard those first sounds 3 years ago on that November evening in the museum. This is a very moving and deep thing to contemplate and is significant to me because each new big work, which I write marks the end of a period of thinking and creating. In its culmination that way of thinking is finished and a new beginning is waiting round the corner, which is both scary and exciting. The title ‘The Binding of The Years’ refers to the gathering and binding of 52 reeds, which symbolised the old years. At dusk on the day of ‘The New Fire Ceremony’ a procession of fire priests dressed as gods walked silently to the mountain to a pyre of stacked firewood. In the town all embers were extinguished. Thousands gathered on rooftops. Children were masked lest they turn into mice. After sacrifice, fire was kindled and the bound reeds were used to light the pyre. Torches of reeds from the pyre flames were taken by runners to light the city with new light and the ceremony was complete. For me the power of the ritual of lighting a flame from the first flame reminds me of Candlemas, of Easter, of Hanukah and Passover, and of the ‘peaceful’ candlelit processions in Belfast during the troubles in the 1970’s when communities of women from both sides of the religious divide who called themselves ‘The Peace People’ took to the streets with candles in silent processions of unity. I’m also affected by the power of the silent protests of the Arab Spring when thousands used candlelight from rooftops to unite and put a world focus on what was happening to them and of the passing on of the Olympic flame to London this year, seven years after the 7/7 bombings. The idea of passing light and rekindling a fire and welcoming a new sense of beginning and spirit is a hugely positive message and one, which has great meaning for our world today. Binding of the Years, Programme Note Movement 1 The New Fire Ceremony Movement 2 Journey to The House of The Sun Recording courtesy of Deirdre Gribbin, Finghin Collins, Alan Buribayev and Getty Images.

Unity of Being

Written for the Ulster Orchestra’s 35th Anniversary Series Unity of Being was completed in June 2001 and programmed for performances in Belfast and New York City. The piece’s inherent spirit was one of unification, of healing rifts, of reclaiming values and I subtitled it “a peace anthem for Northern Ireland”. We were all set for the American premiere at the opening concert in a Festival called UK in New York in October, then 9/11 happened. I was unsure whether or not the performance was going to happen. Few were flying at that particular time, but miraculously it went ahead. Being in New York just three weeks after this horrible catastrophe was a great reminder of the fallibility of the human spirit There was such a sense of despair. The Festival was renamed UK with New York and the concert itself renamed Unity of Being, a testimony to how music - as a non-verbal universal language - can communicate, embrace and allow for personal emotional response far greater than any words. The poet W.B. Yeats talked about always looking for a balance in life and art. He searched for “infinite feeling, infinite battle, and infinite repose” and this is the essence of my work. The music opens with linear material shared between vast sections of the orchestra dominated with cuts and inserts from the brass. Staggered resolutions occur whilst new beginnings overlap. The opening is raucous, angular and primeval with sweeps upward in shifts of sound culminating in brass fanfares. The next section embodies references to folk harmony and is tonal. The sense of dramatic tension and resolution depends on how the blocks of orchestral passages are defined and separated. Coming out of the brutal tirade for drum and timpani I revert to the stillness of the central chorale with the cello and basses reserved and introspective, guiding the listener to reflect on the enormity of one’s own state of being. Recording courtesy of Deirdre Gribbin and RTE

Never… Never… Never…

The inspiration for Never .... Never .... Never ... was the triptych Three Screaming Popes by Francis Bacon. which I saw in the Tate Gallery in 1983. It is a very arresting interpretation of the Velazquez painting of Pope Innocent X. I often wondered what Bacon’s take on ‘Big Ian’ Paisley would be (Study after Velazquez. 1950 is eerily prophetic). Paisley was more of a gulderer than a screamer, he often started with quieter moments (in true preacher style) interspersed with hints of what was to come. This work is a musical interpretation of an imaginary painting. The phrase ‘Never .... Never ... Never .. .’ comes from a speech Paisley made against the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 I’ve used his defiance as a backdrop to the general feeling of simmering conflict which a lot of us were subjected to during The Troubles. As is often the case. the warmongering minority take over and the majority just get on with it. There are two distinct sections the first part begins with a sonic backdrop which builds to a period of high tension. This is released. The vibraphone plays a very slow rendering of The Sash (a popular song associated with the unionist tradition) A plaintive cello line leads to a reprise at a little retrain The brass announces the second part. Various sections of the orchestra compete This leads to a string passage. Forces begin to assemble. The snare drums add commentary. All the tension is released unto a duet from the snare drums. I’d heard drummers practicing for the World Pipe band championships in 1992. They were amazing . It was in my head for years to somehow capture their interplay. All players interact in the drive to the finish, which releases onto a siren call from the trumpets. Recording courtesy of RTE lyric fm , Composers of Ireland Series Volume 7

...while the sun shines… (in memoriam H.H.H.)

“When Simon Taylor of BBC Northern Ireland approached me about this BBC Radio Three commission, he was planning a series of summer concerts of Irish music in 2005. He asked me to write a piece in some way related to Sir Hamilton Harty. Consequently, everything in this piece for small orchestra – from the allusive title (think of nicknames) through to the thematic material - is in some way connected to the great Irish conductor whose life and music have always held a fascination for me. Every Irish folksong and almost indistinguishable original Harty theme in my piece was used by that composer in his several orchestral works - notably “With the Wild Geese”, “In Ireland”, the Irish Symphony (with, naturally, a special reference to its “Fair Day” movement) and the Comedy Overture. I also use one of my own favourite Irish folksong tunes - “My Lagan Love”, the beautiful Harty setting of which I have accompanied many times in years past. There are a number of other Irish references and those of us who live in Northern Ireland may recognize the aural image of the “bands” side by side and indeed united with the harp and fiddle – a recognition of the musical traditions we all share here. The piece is dedicated to my friend Roisin McDonough whose conscientious and energetic espousal of this society’s multi-faceted diversity continues to be as much a source of inspiration as of amazement to me!” Recording courtesy of the composer and the Ulster Orchestra (recorded at the Ulster Hall, 2014)

Our Day

By Conor Mitchell

Requiem for the Disappeared (Agnus Dei)

By Conor Mitchell

From the Besieged City

By Kevin O'Connell


By Kevin O'Connell

Sonata for Cello and Strings

By Kevin O'Connell


By Ian Wilson

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