Speech by Eve O'Kelly at Concorde's 25th anniversary concert, 26 November, 2001. City Hall, Dublin
In my work at the Contemporary Music Centre I have cause to know more than most what contribution Concorde and its director, Jane O'Leary, have made to contemporary music in Ireland, so it gives me particular pleasure to help them celebrate their twenty five years of music-making together.
Over the last quarter century, Concorde has done more than any other single group, either within or outside the country, to raise the profile of Irish composers. For any composer, the most important thing is the performance - the opportunity to hear 'for real' the sounds in his or her head, and to judge their effect from the reaction of an audience.
Without Concorde, with Jane as its imaginative artistic director, such opportunities in this country would have been greatly restricted. A look through the computer databases in our library in the Contemporary Music Centre puts some context on the history of the group you have been given in your programmes.
Forty new works commissioned - that's one or two every year, and if that sounds impressive enough, think about what's involved: choosing and corresponding with the composer, seeking funding, setting up rehearsals and probably a recording or a broadcast as well, arranging and publicising the concert and then giving the premiere and ensuring that both the new piece and the composer have the best possible birth experience. For the last twenty-five years the person behind this complex operation each time has been Jane.
Of those forty new works, 32 are by Irish composers. This is by a very long way the greatest number of new Irish works commissioned by any single group or individual during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries - at least four times more than any of the other regular commissioning groups. And here I'd like to pay tribute to the Arts Council's wonderful support in funding the majority of these new pieces.
The list of Concorde's commissions reads like a 'Who's who' of Irish contemporary composition. Looking at it one can see how several composers have been commissioned more than once, and at key points in their creative development. Many of the big names of today were given the opportunity to write for Concorde when they were just starting out. Some of the younger composers commissioned in the last couple of years will, I'm sure, prove to be the grand old men and women of tomorrow. Such is the reputation of Concorde that a commission is a vote of confidence for a young composer and often opens doors further up their career ladder.
Most importantly, Concorde rarely gives just the first performance of a new work - pieces go into repertoire and there are almost always second, third and subsequent performances, building a valuable relationship between performers, composer and audience. The members of the group give up a lot of their so-called 'spare' time, time away from busy lives as performers and teachers, to ensure that this relationship is a solid ongoing, established one.
Apart from their own commissions, the list of other works Concorde has performed covers the whole span of twentieth-century music, from the first concert in 1976 with a programme of Copland, Sessions, Gershwin and Barber among others, through programmes of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Berg, Eliot Carter, George Crumb, and in more recent years, exchanges with composers and ensembles which have seen Concorde travelling to eight other European countries and the USA and inviting fellow performers and composers back to Ireland to play here.
The consistency and quality of all this activity has built a very loyal audience. They don't ask what's being played: if it's Concorde, they'll come to the concert. If Concorde feel it's worth playing, then they know it will be worth listening to.
Finally, a word about Jane O'Leary herself. Jane is not a flamboyant person. Talking about her work and her achievements doesn't come easily to her and it might be some little time before a visitor, keen to learn about new music in Ireland and hearing about lots of different activities, works out that the artistic director, the promoter, the performer, the composer, the Arts Council member, and that woman who does so much for music in Galway, is all the same person.
In her typically low-key way, Jane is an unstoppable force. Her enthusiasm, dedication, organisational ability and enormous knowledge of contemporary music have drawn together the leading performing musicians and composers of the day, and all this in the cracks of her own work, and her own real personal focus, as a composer.
In case you think Jane's composition is just an add-on to her other activities, you should know that there are fifty works by her in the CMC library: chamber works, orchestral, choral, instrumental, everything, performed by a wide range of national and international artists. The earliest dates from 1968, the two most recent from 2001 - a work for string quartet and piano. and a piece for clarinet and bassoon composed already this year.
I also want to pay tribute to her as a past chairperson of the Contemporary Music Centre. She came on to the board at a critical period when the continued existence of the Centre was in serious threat, and it is no exaggeration to say that CMC would not exist today but for her intervention at this crucial moment. During the eight years of her chairmanship, from 1989 to 1997, CMC developed into the thriving organisation it is today.
Jane, just thinking about all you've done makes me tired. I don't know how you do it, and I'm sure all here this evening will join me in thanking you, in congratulating you heartily, and in wishing you and Concorde and all its members a flourishing second quarter century.