Cork International Choral Festival selects winning composer – John Lonergan

9 March 2017
By Bryan T. Smyth

Cork International Choral Festival is proud to announce it has selected a winning composer, John Lonergan with his piece City Shower; and Michael Doherty, with his piece The Art of Dying and Criostóir Ó Loingsigh, with his piece, Scél Lemm Duib as runners up. The winning composition City Shower will receive its world première in the spectacular surrounds of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral on Friday 28th April at 7.30pm. The Festival’s Choir-in-Residence, Chamber Choir Ireland, conducted by Paul Hillier, will premiere the performance as part of its annual collaborative concert with the Festival in what promises to be a wonderful evening of song. While as part of the Festival’s ever-growing commitment to education, both City Shower and Scél Lemm Duib will be used as part of the Festival’s 3-day Choral Symposium’s Seminar on New Choral Music.

Growing up, John trained in piano and oboe performance and also, was part of De La Salle Senior choir who won the schools competition at the Cork International Choral Festival in 1984. In relation to the text for his composition based on Jonathan Swift’s poem A Description of a City Shower, John explored the effect of our Irish weather on city dwellers; in particular, the regular bouts of rain showers. It was a great surprise for him to win this prestigious award and has acknowledged how this win encourages him to pursue musical composition further. On receiving the news of his win, John said:

“I was honoured and delighted to hear that I had won such a prestigious award as the Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition. Although I haven’t composed many choral pieces, this accolade will encourage me to do more in terms of my composition both contemporary and choral.”

His composition, City Shower was chosen at a time when it was more challenging to select a winner. The members of the judging panel, composers Rhona Clarke and David Fennessy, and Paul Hillier, Artistic Director and Conductor of CCI, summarised their reaction and evaluation to Lonergan’s winning piece as follows:

“The panel found it unusually difficult this year to reach a unanimous decision, and in the end novelty of approach was favoured over more traditional values. City Shower displayed a certain starkness and freshness that made it initially stand out from the crowd. The piece is notable for its dogged use of deliberately limited musical resources. What may on the face of it seem like an almost banal text setting, does in fact find a way towards the essence of the humorous and ironic nature of Jonathan Swift’s poem A Description of a City Shower, itself a curious mix of the banal and the epic. ”

Along with receiving a cash prize, kindly donated by the Ó Riada family, John’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 by David Fennessy that was specially commissioned by the Festival. As part of this Symposium the Festival will feature City Shower and Scél Lemm Duib as part of Chamber Choir Ireland’s exploration of composition, performance and treatment through a performance-reading under the direction of Paul Hillier in an interactive workshop session on Friday 28th April at 2pm in CIT Cork School of Music.

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, Eoghan Desmond, Michael Holohan, Marian Ingoldsby, Donal MacErlaine, Simon MacHale, Michael McGlynn, Kevin O’Connell, and last year’s winner, Amanda Feery. With nearly 200 compositions being submitted in the past 7 years of the new format, the Seán Ó Riada Composition 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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