Enjoying the northern highlights
The Up North! festival of Nordic and Irish contemporary music featured stylistic diversity.
By John McLachlan
Over four days in December 2002 Dublin hosted a totally new festival, Up North!, which showcased new music from all the Nordic countries and Ireland. Leading ensembles from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland took part, and composers from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland were performed.
This was a festival whose aim was to ask the questions 'where are and how did we get here?' and 'what's happening now?' The Artistic Directors Anders Beyer and Donnacha Dennehy got straight to the heart of these questions in their programme introductions. Anders Beyer wrote of the need to compose not for an imagined future, but for the here and now. Donnacha Dennehy wrote about how composers from peripheral European countries can position themselves culturally and geographically.
"The centre has had its day. Now is the time for the feverish night-time activity of the periphery, for those who question the a prioris of the centre, with its system-building, and its obsession with historical progress."
"...an over-emphasis on the future can blind us to the pleasures of the present."
So now is a time when composers from our countries can relax about 'catching up' with the Big Boys of music history class. We have caught up. Therefore festivals can be about mutual curiosity for the outstanding achievements that are closer to home. In other words the time has come for festivals where neighbours in the Nordic countries (and the general periphery) get ever more opportunities to catch up on each other.
The 'pleasures of the present' in this festival included nine pieces commissioned by the organisers, and 27 works written since 2000. This was out of a total of 52 works presented. A further four pieces were world premieres but not commissioned by the organisers!
A selection of our finest contemporary chamber music groups was brought together: Finland's Avanti!, Denmark's Contemporánea, Norway's Cikada quartet, Sweden's Rilke Ensemble, and from Ireland the Callino quartet, Concorde, the Crash Ensemble and Whispering Gallery. Multi-media/video, electro-acoustic, improvisation and live performance were all combined in various ways in the course of the festival, while Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary represented jazz improvisation.
As for concert and discussion venues, the recently re-built arts centre Project was the hub, with events nearby in the Contemporary Music Centre, The Bank of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Dublin Castle. These are all within walking distance of one another, and almost all in the arts-oriented Temple Bar area.
Fergus Shiel, the recently appointed Director of the Crash Ensemble, was overall Festival Director, and he oversaw the smooth running of concerts, open workshops, discussions and a film. The discussions examined the two questions mentioned above and they facilitated a valuable exchange of knowledge on how things are on a practical level, and how they are changing, particularly for composers. Nordic and Irish press took an active role in the discussions, along with concert organisers, promoters, composers and performers, and all events were well attended - helped by a considerable number who travelled from the Nordic countries.
We must hope that this excellent project, funded by the Nordic Music Committee NOMUS and the Arts Council of Ireland, will have some creative offshoots in the form of further similarly-themed festivals.
For further information please visit www.crashensemble.com/upnorth
Dr. John McLachlan is a composer and the Executive Director of the Association of Irish Composers (www.composers.ie)
(c) 2002 Dr. John McLachlan"