My memories of Bob Gilmore (1961-2015) by Donnacha Dennehy

Monday 5th January, 2015

I’m heartbroken that the wonderful, brilliant Bob Gilmore has gone from this world. He died peacefully in Amsterdam early on the morning of January 2nd, with his partner Elisabeth Smalt by his side. He was my dearest friend, and I am finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that he is now no longer. My head is flooded with memories of him: his voice, his laugh, his amazing head of red hair (at least before the illness played havoc with that), the things he would say, his infectious enthusiasm and his never-ending curiosity about music. 

I loved his company. He had a magnetic personality that drew you in. I tear up at memories of our rambling through various cities talking shite. We often did that. Whole days. London (especially when Bob was teaching at Brunel), Dublin (of course), Amsterdam (of course too), and Belfast among others. Whole days spent talking about music, our friends, new young composers whose music Bob had found, our lives, gossip and just pure devilment. He could go from the profound to the hilarious in the turn of a sentence. He could be very mischievous and bold, in the Irish sense, and yet he was always so kind, open-hearted and sincere. You could not ask for a nicer, gentler soul. He genuinely took happiness in the success of his friends. He wished it for you.

Bob was a great supporter. He travelled over to Dublin from Amsterdam often for many Crash Ensemble concerts, as he did also for concerts of young composers such as Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Garrett Sholdice and their Ergodos collective. His support for Irish contemporary music was so strong and enthusiastic that I feel we should campaign to have a street in Dublin named after him. No one else did more. Perhaps Bob even created a scene by his encouraging presence. I know that many other composers, such as Linda Buckley, Jennifer Walshe, Deirdre McKay and Kevin Volans, have equally as strong feelings about Bob as I do.

Composers live for listeners, and Bob was a fabulous listener. I sent everything I wrote to him. He was phenomenally perceptive, and he always took the time and energy to write back in ferocious detail, no matter how busy he was, and even as his health declined in the last couple of years. Personally, I could not have asked for a greater advocate for my music than Bob, yet it is as a dear, dear friend and wonderful human-being that I mourn so much for him these past few days.

I was worried that in the last two years we might lose contact as he became more Netherlands-Belgium based, especially since the onset of the cancer, and I was more and more in the United States. He gave up his position at Brunel to take up a post in Ghent, which was an easier commute than the one from Amsterdam to London. (Amazingly, the whole time that he was in the music department at Brunel in London, he commuted from Amsterdam, staying with his great friend since college days, James Poke, who lived just outside London.)

Anyway, I need not have worried, as we continued to find many excuses to meet up. Bob, forever on top of things, even found out about a gig of mine in Luxembourg last year and emailed to ask where I was staying. He then booked a room in the same hotel, and we had two glorious days of our normal roaming and chatting. Bob loved the intrigue of rehearsals and would always ask to sit in, and I always wanted him there. Afterwards, we walked for miles stopping for coffee and cake, discussing the rehearsals, how the pieces were going, and then quickly resuming our normal repertoire of wide-reaching chat and devilment. It was as if nothing had changed. But it had. In place of his amazing head of hair there now resided a cap. The chemo treatment was taking its toll, but Bob seemed irrepressible. Somehow it seemed as if Bob could beat anything, and I believed always that his indomitable spirit would keep him going forever.

I cherish our few meetings in the last year. I was so happy for example that he could come to New Music Dublin in March to give a talk about Claude Vivier and hear a live performance of Lonely Child. It was Bob who had first introduced me to the wonderful world of Vivier’s music in a fascinating talk at the Amsterdam Conservatorium twelve years earlier. The last time I saw Bob in person was at the end of June of this year, before I left again for Princeton, when he came with the group that he plays in with his partner Elisabeth, Trio Scordatura, to give a concert at the Kevin Barry Room in Dublin. Again we had a lovely few days and Bob even had a few drinks in the Clarence Hotel bar the evening before the gig. But after the concert he seemed so tired, and I left very sad to see him like that. His health did pick up again, however, and I suppose all of us believed that Bob would continue to defy the illness.

My greatest regret is that we kept missing each other on Skype in the last month. His health took a very sharp turn for the worse since Christmas and he is now lost to us. I feel immeasurable sadness at his loss. And I know that I am not alone. There are so many that are touched by this great man. He inspired fiercely loyal friendship, also among his colleagues in London such as Christopher Fox. I am sure that there are many others that could write more eloquent tributes, and share similar stories about Bob’s wonderful nature. Of course nothing could match the eloquence of Bob’s own writing, for he was a natural with words.

It is striking to me that he had so much time for his friends, and for the music of young composers from all over. He had a massive influence on my own musical thought, sending me countless recordings of Radulescu, Vivier, Tenney, Niblock and others. I have a vivid memory of a Niblock gig that we arranged at the Temple Bar Galleries in Dublin with both Trio Scordatura and Crash Ensemble. Bob took particular delight in the way that Niblock went around with his decibel meter to make sure that the amplification was (super) loud enough. Recently, Bob had become quite enthused by much music coming from Canada. How was this brilliant musicologist, the author of two excellent biographies — of Vivier and Partch respectively — forever inquisitive about the newest music, still able to give so much of himself to others? It may seem like a cliché, but I think of him as a brightly burning star. I miss him immensely, and still cannot believe that he is gone. The world is a much grayer place without him.