“I got my first full professional theatrical opportunity in 1989, with Field Day Theatre Company, a leading and visionary Derry-based company founded by the actor Stephen Rea and the late playwright Brian Friel.
The production, directed by Trevor Griffiths, opened up a whole new world for me, a world of how music must at times shore up another art form. Crucial to it, yes, but subservient as well. It’s about degrees of heat, really, and adjusting the temperature as needed – a supporting role that requires great sensitivity. I’ve had many exceptional theatrical experiences since, and many of them with Stephen Rea and Field Day, including collaborating recently with Sam Shepard on Broadway.
Dance is a more recent experience for me. (I think part of a composer’s craft is to be protean, to be able to adapt and change and move across genres. For me, that constant seeking out of new ways to work keeps the head active and the interest keen). My first dance score was in 2009, scoring T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for Nicola Curry’s company, Maiden Voyage Dance, in Belfast. As often happens in an artist’s life, that commission was very opportune, as I had been looking for a window to try to compose a dance score. I’d attended many ballets and dance projects in the years running up to that, and was mesmerised by the telling of story through body movement and music. No words of explanation – just music and movement. Fascinating. I recently collaborated with Liz Roche and scored Neither Either and am currently deeply engaged in a piece with the iconic dancer, Jean Butler. We have created together a duet for solo dancer and solo cellist, titled this is an Irish dance, and we opened in New York in November 2015 – very exciting times. I dream of writing a ballet score one day.”
“The late poet Seamus Heaney was a close friend for twenty-five years and a great inspiration. When I was commissioned in 2012 to write a piece to launch Derry being a Capital of Culture, Heaney’s immortal words – “hope and history rhyme” – resounded so warmly to me and seemed to encapsulate the mood of the changing scene in the north.
It was such a great honour to have had his blessing to compose to his words, and Barry Douglas to perform the music.”
“Choreographer Liz Roche’s… Seamus Heaney quote ‘Neither Either’
The two words imply something of being in-between, of not fitting into hermetically-sealed compartments, of occupying two seemingly opposed positions at the same time. On seeing the first embryonic dance movements, the punch and swim of two pianos was my immediate response.”
“Belfast dance company Maiden Voyage chose TS Eliot’s set of poems ‘Four Quartets’ as the inspiration for this work. Four choreographers and four dancers worked on the production. My first dance score….”
“Field Day Theatre Company was founded by Stephen Rea and Brian Friel in 1980 and immediately established itself as the leading independent theatre voice in Ireland.
To mark Derry as a City of Culture in 2013, Stephen approached Sam Shepard and asked him to write something for the company. Sam’s ‘A Particle of Dread’ was the result.
We performed it in Derry in 2013, and then had a sell-out run in New York Nov 2014-Jan 2015. Living in Manhattan for three months was no great hardship. No siree. I scored it for cello and dobro – an instrument I had loved for years.”
“Marie Jones’ hit comedy ran very successfully in the West End during the mid-90s and is still favoured by many amateur drama societies.
For this, I wrote a number songs, some in a C&W style, sung by a character not unlike Daniel O’Donnell.”
“For Clare Dwyer Hogg’s play my aim was to encapsulate the play’s complicated, resonant and sore moods in a few short bars. Barry Douglas did me the honour of recording the music.
For a concert the following year in Chateau La Coste in Aix-en-Provence, I developed these few bars into a 7-minute piece for solo piano, a work dedicated to Stephen Rea and Barry Douglas, a piece I titled “memento, homo”.”
“Stewart Parker’s timeless play ran in Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church, Belfast, for a three-week run. A beautiful venue, I scored this for harp, sax and violin.”
“Terry Eagleton’s play about Oscar Wilde was my first production for Field Day Theatre Company, and it brought me into contact for the first time with the writer and director, Trevor Griffiths, a man whose craft of language has influenced me greatly.”
“Based on the writings of Bertrand Russell, this was an intercollaboration between theatre companies in Belfast, Sarajevo and Ljubljana.
A truly international cast augmented the feeling of a pan-European production. Playing in Bosnia to a thousand people under Mostar Bridge was moving beyond words.”
“Carlo Gebler’s play about Belfast, told through the eyes of five women from different eras over the city’s 400 year history was written entirely in verse.
I scored this for the characters and for a cappella female choir. At times, there was seven-part harmony.”
“Butler and Martin engage in an intense, affectionate, sometimes flirtatious musical conversation. Butler is an extraordinary dancer, the accent of her dancing is distinctly Irish. Her footwork is light and crisp—she skitters across the floor, like a butterfly skimming the surface of a lake.” Marina Hass The New Yorker
Jean Butler’s last Danspace commission, hurry (2013), invoked the choreographer’s celebrated past in Irish Step Dance. Her new duet, this is an Irish dance, created with Belfast-based cellist Neil Martin further unearths her roots by returning to the relationship between live music and movement as the compositional departure point for the work.
Inspired by the interdependent relationship between music and dance and the formal spatial relationship between dancer and musician that characterizes her tradition, the piece explores the often-invisible interplay between dancer and musician in live performance. The movement and music, created simultaneously through improvisation during the piece’s development, raises questions about who is leading and who is following. this is an Irish dance reveals a dialogue between music and movement, movement and sound, sound and space, space and sculpture, sculpture and body, body and instrument, cello and cellist, cellist and dancer, and ultimately a man and woman.