Reviews of Crash Ensemble's Residency at hcmf//2012

Wednesday 21st November, 2012

Crash Ensemble's Residency at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2012 as described in the press, with 4 star reviews in both The Guardian and The Times UK:

Guy Dammann in The Guardian, Monday 19th November;

“The Dublin-based but internationally revered Crash Ensemble kicked off the 2012 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival with a portrait concert of their co-founder Donnacha Dennehy, who is very much the life and soul of Ireland's buzzing new-music party. An unusually upbeat beginning to the festival, then, or at least it would have been were Dennehy's upbeats more easily distinguished from his down.Though his music is driven by explosive and irrepressibly pulsating patterns, its rhythmic profile is curiously elusive: you want to tap your feet, but two feet rarely seem enough.

This metrical slippage stood out most in the opening piece, Streetwalker, which emphasises the percussive character of each instrument. In As An Nós ("kicking a habit") and Disposable Dissonance which followed, the slippage is also harmonic, especially in the latter work where Dennehy slowly builds dissonant sonorities so that they create and bear structural tension in ways analogous to tonal music.

Rating: 4/5

Read the review in full here

Richard Morrison, The Times UK, Tues 20th Nov, 2012 

“I shamefully confess that I have never encountered the Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy before. I’m sure I would have remembered the name. That’s my loss. In his early forties he is clearly a major talent, as was shown by the pieces showcased to open the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival on Friday. It was a refreshing choice, not least because Huddersfield’s annual avant-garde jamboree often rolls out wall-to-wall cerebral complexity. By contrast, Dennehy’s music – rooted in minimalism, though of the gritty European kind – embraces tonality, tempestuous passions and a desire to engage rather than befuddle.

That was most apparent in his wild, stunning Grá agus Bás. Here the Dublin-based Crash Ensemble (conducted by Alan Pierson) was joined by the traditional singer Iarla Ó Lionaird in a 24-minute lament that fused the texts, anguished wails and unearthly embellishments of ancient Irish sean-nós singing to atmospheric chamber-orchestra textures.

Even the restrained opening suggested some seething primordial savagery. By the time the climax was reached, with Dennehy unleashing electric guitar and drums, the stomping intensity was spine-chilling. The Gaelic text articulated a woman's fear of being abandoned after being impregnated by her lover. For me, however, Dennehy's setting evoked the "howling storm" of an English poem on a similar theme: Blake's The Sick Rose. 

A couple of his other pieces seemed over-extended, though I was constantly intrigued by his way of subverting minimalist pulsing with lurching cross-rhythms and extreme, stabbing instrumental timbres. The Crash Ensemble's fervent performances would be a sensation at the Proms."

Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday, Sunday 25th November 2012

In the scrum of HCMF's Free Monday, there were exquisite moments: the Shaker simplicity of Cage's Experiences No 2, as sung by Michelle O'Rourke; the hushed sheen of the Zelkova Quartet's performance of Philip Cashian's 1988 String Quartet; the pulseless beauty of Eliane Radigue's Occam River I and Occam Delta II, played by Rhodri Davies, Julia Eckhardt and Carol Robinson; the fierce glamour of cellist Deirdre Cooper's Reich, Gribbin and Nordheim. Two moments still resonate: the whispered secret at the close of composer Claudia Molitor's Remember Meand the last exultant bang and whoop of Crash Ensemble's performance of Andrew Hamilton's music for people who like art.

Michael Dervan, The Irish TimesWednesday 20th November 2012

It’s quite a leap from Aida to the kind of fare offered by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in England. The opening weekend featured the Crash Ensemble in a portrait of its artistic director Donnacha Dennehy, and in separate programmes of American Originals and Irish Mavericks.
Dennehy’s music is high on nervous energy. It obsesses over intricacies of rhythm and pitch which, as it were, lie between the cracks – the notes fragment and bend in unexpected ways. It features instrumental balances that are only achievable with amplification, and it shows a fondness for the kind of high-impact effects more associated with rock concerts than with symphony orchestras... And the complexity is of a much higher order. But what lingered in the mind most after a whole concert of his work was the extraordinary texturisation of the material. This is music that uses its sometimes frantic activity to create luxuriant surfaces that shimmer and buzz, and which have a richness that makes them rarely easy to keep in sharp focus...

* Crash’s American Originals were Arnold Dreyblatt, whose Resonant Relations sounds like a minimalist dance where all the harmonies have been bent out of kilter, Nico Muhly, whose Drones, Variations, Ornaments has more than a whiff of Hollywood sentimentality about it, and Glenn Branca, whose Thought might best be described as an extended ugly drone with attitude.
The Irish Mavericks were actually a more interesting bunch, with plenty of extremes to turn to. Ed Bennett’s Stop-Motion Music is an archetypal Crash piece: punchy, glitzy, in your face, locked in a groove..."

And on Andrew Hamilton's 'music for people who like art' ...

"It was both exhilarating and maddening, and Crash, especially the hard-worked mezzo soprano Michelle O’Rourke, made it sound like the ride of a lifetime."