Kevin O’Connell

Contemporary Music

Born 1958 in Derry. Studied at St Columbs College and Trinity College Dublin. First teaching engagement was at St Marys College, Falls Road Belfast. Completed first major orchestral commission for the Ulster Orchestra in 1989 to mark tercentenary of Derry Siege.

Opera ‘The Fire King’ to libretto by John Goodby was premiered in Derry in 1995.
The Sonata for Cello and Piano was premiered by Raphael Wallfisch and John York in 1996.
The orchestral work North was commissioned by BBC radio 3 in 1997 and premiered in 1998.

I have never addressed the Troubles directly in my music. The subject is at once too big and too personal.

Instead, I have attempted to address themes connected to conflict anywhere. In From the Besieged City for mezzo-soprano and orchestra I set a poem by Zbigniew Herbert that addressed the subject of a siege as a kind of mental archetype: the siege inside the head.

My opera The Fireking treated the theme of conflict and reconciliation between the generations. For this work I stepped outside the exclusive area of modern classical music and wrote for amateur singers and actors.

My Cello Sonata quotes the ‘Lament for Limerick’ in the slow movement. This movement is an oblique reflection on the Shankill bombing and its aftermath.

North for orchestra is an abstract work that has no particular connection with any political or programmatic idea. More generally, I wanted to reflect on northernness as a geographical and cultural concept. The opening three notes of the work, for example, quote the opening notes of Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony. This sense of the north as a cultural and imaginative (rather than particular and political) terrain has persisted in my more recent work.


‘From inside my head: Issues of Identity in Northern Ireland through the music of Kevin O Connell’, Jennifer McCay, in ‘Music and Identity in Ireland and Beyond’, eds Mark Fitzgerald and John O’Flynn, Ashgate, 2014

‘From the Besieged City: the orchestral music of Kevin O’Connell’ PhD thesis by Jennifer McCay, UCD, 2014

‘The art music composer and the Northern Ireland Troubles’, MA Dissertation, David O Connell, Glasgow University, 2012

‘Unity in Kevin O’Connell’s divided North’ Jennifer McCay, The Musicology Review (UCD), Issue 7, 2011