Tuesday, July 23

Beckett: Unbound 2024 – The Tung Auditorium

The Beckett: Unbound 2024 Festival’s music curation responds to the theatre and dance programme via six contemporary works, featuring three world-première commissions and two UK / France premières.

Composer Barry Guy’s Quindecim for baroque violin (Maya Homburger) and double bass (Guy) is a response to Swiss architect and artist Max Bill’s ‘Fifteen Variations on a Single Theme’ exploring the artist’s idea that ‘once the basic theme has been chosen – whether it be simple or complex – an infinite number of different developments can be evolved according to individual inclination and temperament’. The work incorporates four Beckett texts (Thither, 10 Mirlitonnades, The Downs, One Dead of Night) into its highly intricate ‘molten architecture’.

Guy’s work for solo cello and electronics ‘SHE!’ responds to Not I/Pas Moi, with the composer ‘struck by the musicality and rhythmic impetus of the monologue which quickly suggested an approach’. Composed for cellist Kate Ellis, the piece was commissioned by Music for Galway with funds from the Arts Council/An Comhairle Ealaíon and received its premiere in Brigid’s Garden in 2015.

Composer Melanie Daiken studied in Paris under Olivier Messiaen and became Deputy Head of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1980’s. Her father, the radical Irish journalist Leslie Daiken, befriended Beckett after studying French under him in Trinity College Dublin, and following an introduction, Melanie and Sam became friends in Paris where she sued to bring him piano music from the Paris Conservatoire. She described her piece ‘When the Cross’, composed for violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved in 1994, as a chaconne. Skærved comments ‘it’s really a full-scale operatic drama for one player and one of the substantial single-movement works for solo violin’. For the Festival, violist Garth Knox performs the world première of his transcription of the work for solo viola.

Lucky’s Speech, by composer Morgan Hayes, was composed for violinist Darragh Morgan, for the launch of his recital CD Opera on the NMC label in June 2006. The title refers to a pivotal moment in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, when the hitherto silent character Lucky suddenly pours forth a torrential stream, reflected musically by an almost breathless musical activity punctuated by pizzicato commentaries.

Composer Kevin Volans’ Quad for string quintet (Morgan – violin; Cora Venus Lunny – violin; Knox – viola; Fiona Winning – viola; Ellis – cello) begins as a transliteration of the movement sequences embedded in the geometry of Beckett’s eponymous ‘ballet for four people’. There are several modifications to the original structure to compensate for the shift from visual to audible imagery, with the second part a freer interpretation of the contrast between the two parts of its progenitor. Commissioned for the festival, it receives its world première and second performance at Beckett: Unbound.

Another festival world première, ‘Mouth’, composed and performed by percussionist Simon Roth, also responds to Not I/Pas Moi, exploring the sonic semantics of Billie Whitelaw’s famous 1973 rendition of the work (described by Beckett himself as “miraculous”) and her hearing in Mouth’s outpourings her own ‘inner scream’. Whitelaw said of the piece that ‘I found so much of myself in Not I. Somewhere in there were my entrails under a microscope’.

Music is a subjective experience; for me this was an enjoyable evening full of sublime originality through ekphrastic compositions that delightfully reflect the dissonance so emblematic in Beckett’s work, and the accompanying interpretation and performance from artists very much at the head of their creative fields. Bravo!

The concert forms part of Unreal Cities’ Beckett: Unbound, Liverpool/Paris 2024, produced in association with the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool and the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, and with the support of The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

Further details including booking available for Liverpool at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/beckett/ and Paris at https://www.centreculturelirlandais.com/en/whats-on/exhibitions-events/festival-beckett-unbound  

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 2nd June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.