Cork-born Eoghan Desmond wins Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition

3 March 2015
By Bryan T. Smyth

Eoghan Desmonds press picture (left) displays certain similarities to Danny Kaye‘s (above).
It would be a boost for Cork and the Choral community if Eognan’s career reached the height’s of Danny’s.

Cork International Choral Festival has announced that Dublin-based – but Cork-born – Eoghan Desmond is the winner of the 2015 Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition.

As winner of the competition, his piece Mother Goose’s Melodies, will receive its world première in the spectacular surrounds of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral on Friday 1st May at 7.30pm.

The Festival’s Choir in Residence, Chamber Choir Ireland, conducted by Paul Hillier, will première the performance as part of its annual collaborative concert with the Festival in what promises to be a wonderful evening of song. Desmond made his solo debut as a singer with East Cork Choral Society in Mendelssohn’s Elijah in 2003 following his choral training with St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral Choir. He has since gone on to give numerous performances with Dublin University Choral Society and, as a member of Irish Composer’s Collective, has had his own compositions performed in Ireland by groups such as Chamber Choir Ireland, Ensemble Avalon, and the RTE ConTempo String Quartet. His composition, Mother Goose’s Melodies, came out on top in a year that saw a high standard of entry.

The members of the judging panel, composers Rhona Clarke and Ian Wilson, and Paul Hillier, Artistic Director and Conductor of CCI, summarised their reaction and evaluation to Desmond’s winning piece as follows: “We are agreed that the winning piece is well-written, has plenty of character with an individual voice coming through, retains its freshness and is full of interesting contrasts.

While it is certainly not easy, it would be accessible for a good amateur choir with an experienced conductor.” Along with receiving a cash prize, kindly donated by the Ó Riada family, Eoghan Desmond’s piece will receive its World Première during the Festival. It will be performed by Chamber Choir Ireland in a concert which will also feature another World Première of a piece, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, specially commissioned from Ian Wilson by the Festival with the support of the Arts Councils Commission Scheme. Desmond will also play an integral part in the Seminar on New Choral Music, an event initiated in 1962 to both highlight and platform international choral compositional developments, and to encourage the composition and performance of new choral works in Ireland.

On receiving the news of his win, Desmond said: “I was delighted when I received a phone call from John [Fitzpatrick] informing me that I had won the Ó Riada competition, not least because I have a very personal attachment to Ó Riada, having attended a Gaelscoil named after him. It was at that school – and undertaking choral training in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral – that I began to compose; so this victory represents the culmination (as does every piece) of quite a number of years of work.

I started to write this piece not long after last year’s Seminar on New Choral Music, inspired by last year’s winning setting of [Donal MacErlaine’s] ‘Solomon Grundy’. It is very exciting, therefore, to be included in this year’s seminar, having set not one but six nursery rhymes from my childhood.” In addition, a composers’ workshop will take place where the work of two competition entrants are selected by the Assessment Panel to receive a Performance Reading by Chamber Choir Ireland along with an open workshop discussion of their work.

Initiated in 1972, the present format of the Seán Ó Riada Competition offers a platform for Irish composers to have their work judged and rewarded purely on its own merits without the judges being influenced by the reputation or status of the composer. All compositions are submitted under a pseudonym, with the author’s real name not being revealed until after the judges’ decision has been made. Works composed in the Irish language are encouraged.

The competition has, as a central aim, the intention of providing Irish choirs with fresh, authentic material for inclusion in their programmes. The competition has attracted the attention of many highly-regarded composers, with past winners including Solfa Carlisle, Rhona Clarke, Patrick Connolly, Frank Corcoran, Séamas de Barra, Michael Holohan, Marian Ingoldsby, Simon MacHale, Michael McGlynn, Kevin O’Connell, and last year’s winner, Donal MacErlaine. With over 160 compositions being submitted in the past 5 years of the new format, the competition clearly highlights the number of composers now working, and living in Ireland, and further demonstrates the Cork International Choral Festival’s continuing commitment to encourage the composition and performance of contemporary music.

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