Sounds from a Safe Harbour – The RTÉ Symphony Orchestra with Bryce and Aaron Dessner (The National) and Maddy Prior conducted by André de Ridder at Cork Opera House, September 19th 2015

It is the penultimate day of the “Sounds from a Safe Harbour” festival and a modest sized crowd awaits the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra in anticipation for a concert that has been marked as a festival highlight. Most people would associate Bryce Dessner as being a guitarist with renowned indie rock band The National but unbeknownst to many, he is a classically trained musician with an MA in music from Yale. Likewise, multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry is synonymous with the band Arcade Fire, but he’s recently released an album of classical compositions which features performances by Nico Muhly, the Kronos Quartet and Bryce and Aaron Dessner. Tonight, both artists are showcasing works they have written for orchestra.

After a brief introduction from festival curator Bryce Dessner, the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra launch into the first work of the evening, St. Carolyn by the Sea. The short piece starts out rather delicately before Bryce and his twin brother Aaron on electric guitars introduce the main motif. This followed by energetic rhythmic bursts from the string section as the motif expands and develops. The piece eventually builds to a climax with the addition of woodwind, brass and percussion. It is interesting to hear how Dessner incorporates the electric guitars into the orchestra, adding colour without disrupting the balance of the other parts. Throughout the work, the guitar line weaves in and out drawing attention before fading into the background once again, bringing to mind Bryce’s earlier statement – “this is not a guitar concerto.” The ensemble finishes the work in style with a final loud, vibrant burst of sound.

This is followed by the most anticipated work of the evening, the Irish premiere of Wave Movements co-written by Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry. The work, which is scored for strings, timpani, percussion and solo voice, was commissioned by the Barbican Centre, The Edinburgh International Festival, Cork Opera House, Sydney Festival and the St. Denis Festival. As the title suggests the music depicts the swell of the water as it ebbs and flows. This is conveyed by the introduction of different layers, which then fade out accordingly. Some mesmerising moments arise as wooden wind chimes become the focal point, and are imitated by the rest of the orchestra. Later in the work English folk singer Maddie Prior enters during a peaceful lull and stands amongst the orchestra. It appears to take Prior some time to adjust, her voice faltering initially but gradually grows stronger as she progresses. After a crescendo, the piece ends somewhat abruptly –  an ending which appears to leave many disconcerted by what they had just heard. Despite this, the audience of Cork Opera House warmly receives the work.


St. Carolyn by the Sea (2011) – Bryce Dessner

Wave Movements (2015) – Bryce Dessner & Richard Reed Parry