A Burst of Energy from Donnacha Dennehy

A Burst of Energy from Donnacha Dennehy
© Britt Olsen-Ecker
I'm a very optimistic person, but the awful tragedy of life is that it is headed in one destination…I often think of time on two levels: I think of it as circular and rejuvenating, like the beauty of waking up on a lovely day… but there's another rhythm that is destructive, and it's the rhythm that affects all of us, which is towards death. I find it terrifying. I sometimes think of my writing music as a way of trying to deal with that.
— Donnacha Dennehy, 2019 

Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy continuously draws inspiration from the juxtaposition of contemporary and historical sources to create scores of great intensity and sophistication. He is known for stage and concert works that both embrace and defy convention, synthesizing minimal, spectral, sean-nós, and other musical styles into an unmistakable voice. Hear his work performed in Europe and the US this summer and fall, and on demand through new recordings from powerhouse new music labels Cantaloupe, Nonesuch, and New Amsterdam.

'The Hunger'
This tuneful yet terse rumination on the great Irish famine of 1845-52 was custom built for Alarm Will Sound, a chamber ensemble known for being stylistically omnivorous and physically versatile…In emotionally vulnerable moments solo instruments subtly shadowed vocal lines, caressing them tenderly. Yet throughout The Hunger, microtonal frictions sown into otherwise consonant foundations were a master stroke: sour-milk disharmonies disrupting rustic calm, conjuring unease and decay.
— Steve Smith, The Log Journal

Dennehy's 2016 "docu-cantata" continues to inspire and enlighten audiences with upcoming staged and concert performances in Ireland and the United States, respectively, surrounding the August 23 Nonesuch release of its world-premiere recording. These performances of The Hunger feature vocalists Iarla Ó Lionáird and Katherine Manley, and are conducted by Alan Pierson.

Crash Ensemble: staged version (European Premiere)
August 19-24 2019: Abbey Theatre, Dublin, Ireland

Alarm Will Sound: concert version
July 25 2019: Mizzou International Composers Festival, Columbia, MO
September 17: Princeton Sound Kitchen, Princeton, NJ
September 19: Merkin Concert Hall, New York, NY
September 20: Jordan Hall, Boston, MA

Peruse the scores online: staged and concert versions


'The Last Hotel'
A searingly powerful new chamber opera…The instrumental score is what crept deepest under my skin: The Last Hotel unleashes a thrilling musical energy. Dennehy's 12-piece ensemble includes accordion, electric guitar and heavy percussion, and thrums with a savage, unstoppable groove, shouting the unspeakable, seething with emotions that characters are too numb to express. It's propulsive, gritty and rich.
— Kate Molleson, The Guardian (Four Stars)

Dennehy and librettist/director Enda Walsh commenced their trilogy of pathological operas in 2015 with The Last Hotel, whose world-premiere recording was released on Cantaloupe Records in March 2019. The Last Hotel receives its German premiere May 15, 2020, at Theater Freiburg.

Peruse the score online


A brochure of Dennehy's complete opera catalog is available online.

Ensemble Works
Last month, Dennehy's latest recording was released on New Amsterdam Records. This two-track LP features the world-premiere recordings of his percussion quartet Surface Tension and large-ensemble work Disposable Dissonance. Surface Tension was commissioned and recorded by the GRAMMY-winning ensemble Third Coast Percussion, who also toured the work this season as part of Seán Curran Company's Everywhere All The Time. Disposable Dissonance was revised in 2012 for the Crash Ensemble, of which Dennehy is a founding member.

Peruse the Disposable Dissonance score online


Dennehy has since composed a second percussion quartet, this time for Princeton University colleagues Sō Percussion. Broken Unison had its world premiere at Carnegie Hall this past season, and is the closing composition on their touring program The Keyboard Reimagined.

Watch Sō Percussion perform Broken Unison on YouTube | Watch Dennehy and Sō discuss Broken Unison on YouTube


On June 1, as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's visionary Noon to Midnight festival, John Adams conducted the LA Phil New Music Group in the world premiere of Overcasting, a large-ensemble work by Dennehy commissioned by the LA Phil.

Peruse the Overcasting score online | Read an interview with Dennehy on his recent activity via Journal of Music


Earlier this season, filmmaker Colin Kennedy used Dennehy's Glamour Sleeper II in a ninety-second commercial for adidas Skateboarding, to sensational effect.

Preview the score to Glamour Sleeper II online


2020 and beyond will see the world premieres of Dennehy and Walsh's third opera, The First Child, a violin concerto for Augustin Hadelich, and much more.

For more information on Donnacha Dennehy, please contact Rachel Sokolow.


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