Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble’s highly creative and inventive way to celebrate International Women’s Day

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Plugged in: International Women’s Day Concert: Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble / Sinead Hayes (conductor). Sonic Lab, Queen’s University Belfast, 8.3.2024. (RB)

Daniel Browell (piano), David McCann (cello), Daniel Browell (piano) and Joanne Quigley McParland (violin)

Musicians – Aisling Agnew (flute), David McCann (cello), Daniel Browell (piano), Sarah Watts (clarinet), Joanne Quigley McParland (violin), Jonny McGuinness (sound technician)

Oktawia Pączkowska– not an ideology (2021)
Missy Mazzoli – A Thousand Tongues (2012)
Kaija Saariaho – NoaNoa (1992)
Deirdre Gribbin – Unseen (2017)
Elaine Agnew I want to tell you (2013)
Linda Buckley – Downward in a freezing earth (2015)
Anna Clyne – 1987 (2008)

This concert featured new or recently published works by seven distinguished female composers. It was staged on International Women’s Day as a celebration of that event.

The opening work on the programme was a protest piece by the young Polish composer, Oktawia Pączkowska. The work quoted public figures, including the far-right Polish government, making derogatory comments against the LGBT community. These comments were incorporated into the piece as an electronic voice over while all five instrumentalists played musical fragments. David McCann played a religious melody on the cello perhaps reflecting the uneasy and often conflicted relationship which religious authorities have with the LGBT community. I enjoyed the piece and it shows the important role the arts have in addressing these important social issues.

Missy Mazzoli was the first of two New York-based composers to feature on the programme. She is probably best known for her opera, Breaking the Waves which is based on a film by Lars von Trier. The work performed at this concert, A Thousand Tongues, is a short intense response to some lines by Stephen Crane. It is scored for piano trio and features electronic sound effects. The work had minimalist features although it was difficult to categorise completely. Hard Rain did an excellent job conveying the gradual build up in intensity of the piece. I enjoyed it immensely and I imagine this music would appeal to a mainstream audience.

Kaija Saariaho sadly passed away in June last year and was ranked by BBC Music Magazine in 2019 as the greatest living composer. Her work NoaNoa is for solo flute and features electronic effects. The title refers to a woodcut and travel diary by Paul Gauguin. Aisling Agnew gave a committed highly virtuosic performance of this work while the whispered voiceover and electronic effects created an unsettled feeling.

The next part of the concert featured works by three Irish composers: Deirdre Gribbin, Elaine Agnew and Linda Buckley. Gribbin’s Unseen is a work for solo piano and it was on this occasion performed with a John Sanborn film entitled, Three Women. It is a personal comment on the difficult challenges London has faced in recent times. Daniel Browell gave a highly accomplished performance navigating his way skilfully through the cluster chords and keyboard cadenzas. However, I could not see the connection between the piece and the screened film and thought this was a superfluous feature.

Elaine Agnew’s I want to tell you was premiered in 2013 as part of the Aftermath project which uses creative approaches to storytelling to highlight the needs of victims and survivors affected by conflict. The work is for violin and cello and has an electronic voiceover. The two string players projected a sustained beautiful sound which became increasingly sombre as the voices told of their experiences of loss. It was a thoughtful and moving piece. Linda Buckley’s Downward in a freezing earth is scored for violin, cello and bass clarinet and depicts the snowy silences of Alaska. The instrumentalists combined well to convey the vast expanse depicted in the piece and Joanne Quigley McParland was particularly impressive in her violin solos.

The final work in the concert was Anna Clyne’s 1987 which depicts the melody and winding sounds of a music box together with the sounds of the carousel and pebbles and Brighton beach. This was a highly inventive piece conveying an interesting combination of sonorities. As always, the Hard Rain ensemble gave a highly impressive and committed performance.

This concert presented an interesting and diverse programme of new works which received sterling performances. It was a highly creative and inventive way to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Robert Beattie

Leave a Comment