Music Network Commissions

In 2020 we are presenting ten newly-commissioned works by composers including Garth Knox, Finola Merivale and Emma O’Halloran, as well as two new collaborative traditional music commissions by musicians performing in our January and September tours. We are also presenting 20 additional new works in our online series, The Butterfly Sessions. Our co-production of Brian Irvine’s HOUSE with The Ark will bring great new music to family audiences around Ireland.

Music Network Commissions


Performed in Paris, Belfast, Derry, Portstewart, Clifden, Castlebar, Wexford, Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Castlepollard from 25 February-7 March 2020 by Saltarello Trio.

Programme note

Cloak was inspired by the legend of St Brigid’s Cloak. Her initial request for land on which to build her monastery having been refused by the landowner, she asks if he will give her the amount of land she can cover with her cloak. Seeing the small size of her cloak, the landlord agrees, whereupon St Brigid’s four followers each take a corner of the cloak and start to walk in the 4 cardinal directions. The cape miraculously expands to cover acres of land, which the landowner is obliged to hand over to her.

This idea of miraculously expanding space helped me to imagine a piece which begins with a musical Big Bang, explosive, chaotic and hard to comprehend which then gradually evolves in time and space becoming clearer, more luminous and where a certain order begins to form. The 4 corners of the cloak are represented by four Tibetan bowls, whose sound evolves in exactly this way. At the opening of the piece they are played all at once and continuously, giving a saturation of sound difficult to analyse. Little by little the bowls are separated and played more slowly. At the end of the piece we hear each one individually, enriched and sustained by harmonics of the strings.

The three players represent St Brigid’s followers, and their individual departures in different directions. A solo for viola explores the note played by the smallest of the 4 bowls, the cello seeks to find what lies between the pitches played by the two middle bowls, and the percussionist expands time with his rhythms. At the end he finally draws the essential in time sound from the lowest bowl.

Recorded in St Finian's Church, Dublin on Wednesday 4 March 2020
Recorded in Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar on Monday 2nd March 2020

Performed in Dublin, Newbridge, Castlebar, Clifden, Drogheda, Letterkenny, Ennis, Cork, Bray, Wexford, Baile Mhúirne, Birr and London from 14-30 January 2020 by Anxo Lorenzo, Jim Murray, Dónal O’Connor & Jack Talty.

Anxo Lorenzo gaita/whistles
Jim Murray
Dónal O’Connor
Jack Talty

Recorded in The Sugar Club, Dublin on Tuesday 14th January 2020
Recorded in The Sugar Club, Dublin on Tuesday 14th January 2020


Performed in Waterford, Tralee, Dublin, Kilkenny, Castleconnell and Clifden from 21-27 November 2019 by tenor Ben Johnson and guitarist Sean Shibe.

Programme note

I wanted to have my piece connect with the rest of programme in some way and this was made easy by the inclusion of 'When Laura Smiles' by Philip Rosseter and the obvious connection to my own partner Laura Sheeran. I thought this to be a good omen and worthy of pursuit.

Instead of simply resetting this poem again I searched for another ‘Laura’ poem to use and was delighted to find the sonnet ‘Rose-cheekt Lawra’ by Rosseter’s closest friend, fellow lutenist and collaborator Thomas Campion (1567 -1620). Small world!

In fact, ‘When Laura Smiles’ is taken from Booke of Ayres on which Campion and Rosseter collaborated in 1601. I was further facilitated in how Campion’s poem is filled with musical metaphors and was therefore very easy to express musically. You will hear the voice and guitar responding to ‘discord’, ‘gracing’ and ‘dull notes’ as they occur in the text. ‘Flowing’ and ‘eternal’ is expressed through the cyclical nature of the repeating arpeggiated chord progressions.

- Brian Bolger
Performed by Ben Johnson and Sean Shibe at the Royal College of Physicians, Dublin on Thursday 21st November 2019

Performed in Dublin, Waterford, Bray, Clifden, Portlaoise, Castlebar, Cork and Ennis from 2-11 October 2019 by Bangers and Crash Percussion Group.

Programme note

Something I have been interested in a lot lately is people’s preconceptions of what things sound like and the interest they show when the actual sound deviates from their expectations. For example, one can imagine what a metal pipe might sound like, probably from having heard one crashing on the floor. Drill two holes in just the right spots however, then hang it up and strike it with a vibraphone mallet, and the sound you’ll hear is suddenly surprisingly different.

When asked to write this piece I wanted to make use of this idea, to write something that would provide enjoyment to the listener and lastly, be fun to play. It’s a piece in two halves, the first featuring the familiar sound of the drums (as well as a few other bits and pieces). From large to small (or low to high), we have a concert bass drum, tom toms, congas and bongos. The second part introduces some pieces of scrap into the mix, with both familiar and unfamiliar sounds of those said pieces of scrap being heard!

The title refers to the extensive use of cross-rhythms and the individual paths that each player’s line takes throughout the piece. There is a culminating moment right in the middle where everything comes together. Visualising how the piece would look as a diagram, I imagined it as an X.

- Alex Petcu
The Sugar Club, Dublin on Wednesday 2nd October 2019

Performed in Dublin, Ennis, Baile Mhúirne, Wexford, Portlaoise, Listowel, Limerick, Dún Laoghaire, London, Letterkenny, Sligo and Clifden from 11-23 September 2019 by Tara Breen, Laoise Kelly, Josephine Marsh and Nell Ní Chróinín.

Programme Note

I wrote a Planxty for the harp, it took a while because I wanted to write something I was really happy with, so bits and pieces of it came to me at different stages, and I also wrote a modern take on a slip-jig, called An Spideóg – The Robin. This July our house was visited twice in the one week by a young robin who flew in and took a look around and flew off again. I like to think that it was a visit from our little boy, Robin, to whom this tune is dedicated.

- Josephine Marsh
The Sugar Club, Dublin on Wednesday 11th September 2019

Performed in Dublin, Cork, Letterkeny, Dún Laoghaire, Castlebar, Waterford and Wexford between 3rd and 11th April 2019 by German cello and piano duo Raphaela Gromes and Julian Riem.

Programme Note

I began this piece with a fragment of material from my 4th piano concerto, which I then developed in several ways, whilst adding in a cello part, which in turn affected the piano part.

- Kevin Volans
Lutherhaus, Dublin on Wednesday 3rd April 2019

Performed in Dublin, Birr, Clifden, Dún Laoghaire, Waterford and Listowel between 16th and 22nd February 2019 by baroque violinist Claire Duff and harpsichord player Benjamin Alard.

Programme notes

This piece was commissioned by Music Network for Baroque instruments, surrounded by Bach’s music in performance. I drew on some general impressions of Bach’s music, the style of the period, and also the particular qualities of sound inherent in these two contrasting instruments from another era. Open strings, harmonics and arpeggiations create stretches of rich sonority from the violin, while the harpsichord’s plucked strings make sharp incisions into these lines. Alongside rhythmic passages there are free sections where the music escapes into a timeless space.

‘Fantasia’ was a form often used by Bach, described as ‘the play of imaginative invention’; the term implies freedom, unpredictability, an element of surprise. As the music flows, moving forward and reaching upward, it takes some twists and turns, and a resonance from the past filters through.

- Jane O'Leary
Lutherhaus, Dublin on Saturday 16th February 2019


Performed in Dublin, Clifden, Letterkenny, Birr, Sligo and Castlebar from 7-12 November 2018 by Russian violinist Yury Revich and German cellist Benedict Kloeckner.

Programme Note

2018.3 emerged out of some improvisations on the viola da gamba, and aims to find common ground between the sound of the viol and of the violin family. I wrote the piece straight after two very complex works, full of things that were difficult to write and are difficult for players to learn. Perhaps in reaction to this, I made this piece into a semi-improvised work with a very open, warm sound world. It seemed natural to leave some elements of the piece open to improvisation, given that the material was worked out that way in the first place. As I worked out the material, I looped short snippets of recorded chords and played over them, trying to find shared resonances and moments of conflict.

- Sebastian Adams

Lutherhaus, Dublin on Wednesday 7th November 2018

Performed in Castlebar, Dublin, Tinahely, Castlepollard, Cork, Tralee, Castleconnell and Waterford from 8-17 October 2018 by Dutch ensemble the Amatis Piano Trio.

Programme Note

The white calm of unselfsih love wrapped Edward, for he felt that he could make Hazel happy. As he fell asleep that night he thought: “She was made for a minister's wife.”

Reddin, leaning heavily on the low wall, staring at the drunken tombstones and the quiet moon-silvered house, thought: “She was made for me” Both men saw her as what they wanted her to be, not as she was.

- Mary Webb – Gone to Earth

My piece, Gone to Earth is inspired by a novel of the same name, written by Mary Webb. 'Gone to Earth' is also a term used in fox hunting, when the hunted fox has taken refuge, hidden from its predators. The plot of the book centres around one female character in the middle of the obsessed 'love' of two men. There is a supernatural backdrop to the plot represented in the mythological 'wild hunt' of the death hounds, which encapsulates the theme of the book; predatory behaviour and men’s desire to take what they feel is their own.

I was immediately drawn in to the book, stunned that it was written in 1917, and angry that the notion of the predatory hunt and desire to control women is still very much a threat to women's lives today. The musical material attempts to represent a propulsive chase followed by a respite and refuge.

- Amanda Feery

Lutherhaus, Dublin on Wednesday 10th October 2018

Performed in Wexford, Castlebar, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Tralee, Clifden and Dún Laoghaire from 22 April- 1 May 2018 by Franco-Spanish guitarist Thibaut Garcia and German cellist Isang Enders.

Programme Note

sin títolo (‘without title’) is based on a madrigal by Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (1566-1613). But the aim was less a tribute to the great madrigalist than a need to have a structure upon which to create a new work. The madrigal chosen therefore also remains 'sin títolo', as I don’t wish to direct attention towards any similarities or differences that may exist between the two works. The nature of a cello and guitar duet is completely different to a five-part vocal work; however, the cello part does absorb melodic lines drawn from the vocal parts – sometimes from the base, sometimes from the soprano and alto lines. The complex, interrelated nature of Gesualdo’s madrigal writing refuses a simplistic reduction to mere melody and accompaniment, and thus the very nature of the original is radically transformed.

Despite its vocal source, this is an instrumental work for cello and guitar. While the cello part plays melodic lines, I also wanted to make sure that timbre, texture, microtonality, rhythmic articulation and tonal variation played a significant role in the final result of those ‘melodies’. The guitar part’s role is predominantly supportive to the cello’s lines, but considerable skill is required to maintain a deceptive simplicity, as the unusual harmonic formations are far from easy to execute.

- Benjamin Dwyer

St. Ann's Church in Dublin 2 on Wednesday 25th April 2018

Performed in Skibbereen, Dún Laoghaire, Castlebar, Cork, Newbridge and Letterkenny from 4-11 March 2018 by Russian pianist Anna Tsybuleva.

Programme Note

In preliterate times, seasons were observed by the hours of light, weather patterns and lunar cycles, rather than any set calendrical date. Stories were invented and handed down generation by generation, in order to explain the astronomical divisions of the year; the vagaries of the weather and the shortening and lengthening of the days.

In the folklore of Ireland and Scotland, the Cailleach was the embodiment of winter, among many other things. Incarnated as an old hag at the end of Autumn (Samhain) she brings winter’s elemental destruction until she is recreated once again at the beginning of Summer (Beltaine) as a young maiden.

These four short piano pieces take their title from a Scottish Gaelic legend which depicts the multitudinous ways the Cailleach casts her hibernal spell from Ben Nevis over her lands, until she is transformed, inevitably (and annually) into Spring.

- Siobhán Cleary

Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar on Wednesday 7th March 2018


Performed in Letterkenny, Kilkenny, Dublin, Newbridge, Waterford, Tralee, Dún Laoghaire and Skibbereen from 17-26 November 2017 by French string quartet Quatuor Voce.​

Programme Note

The word ‘edge’ conjures up the idea of sharpness but it can also refer to extremes of nervous tension, to ‘being on edge’. Tentatively, we edge towards something fearful or become immobilised with apprehension as the feared entity edges towards us. Although the title was applied when the string quartet was almost finished, these are the qualities found in the music. Tension is created initially by high, hovering, barely moving individual parts; later the sliding, falling sensation which can be heard early on, becomes extreme, moving to the lowest registers of the instruments.

- Rhona Clarke

St. Ann's Church, Dublin on Tuesday 21st November 2017

Performed in Dublin, Bray, Waterford, Sligo, Dún Laoghaire, Clifden, Castleconnell and Tralee from 10-18 October 2017 by trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth and pianist Gunnar Flagstad from Norway.

Programme Note

Connla’s Well has been an inspiration for Irish poets for centuries. Surrounded by nine hazel trees the ripe nuts fell into the well feeding the ‘salmon of knowledge’. Reputedly those who ate the nuts or the salmon would have immediate and profound knowledge, mystical insight and the ability to create visionary poetry.

The well was known to be the source for seven Irish rivers. Women were forbidden to go near it but the beautiful Sinaan, granddaughter of the sea god Lir wanted this knowledge. Approaching the well she ate the salmon. The water rose in a torrent engulfing her new-found power into a mighty river. From the name Sinaan it became the river Shannon.

This title is from George William Russell:

And when the sun sets dimmed in eve and purple fills the air,
I think the sacred Hazel Tree is dropping berries there
From starry fruitage waved aloft where Connla’s Wello’erflows;
For sure the enchanted waters run through every wind that blows.

In the music there is strong robust interplay between the soloist trumpeter and pianist. Fragments are repeated and distorted with rough-edged wah,wah rasping mutes. The soloist emerges into the foreground, is meshed with the filigree piano line, and eventually is drawn upwards, ending in quiet trance-like reflection.

- Deirdre Gribbin

St. Ann's Church Dublin, on Tuesday 10th October 2017

Performed in Dublin, Birr, Newbridge, Dún Laoghaire, Castlebar, Clifden, Limerick, Cork and Tinahely from 19-29 April 2017 by violinist Mia Cooper, Katherine Hunka, Ioana Petcu-Colan and Helena Wood.

Programme Note

This work is a 21st-century response to the idea behind Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, as seen through the lens of American artist Cy Twombly’s major work from the 1990’s, Quattro Stagioni. Involving the talents of four of the finest violinists in Ireland – Mia Cooper, Ioana Petcu-Colan, Katherine Hunka and Helena Wood – Quattro Stagioni consists of four “concerto”-type movements: each of the four violinists has their own focal movement, where the other three act as the ‘ripieno’ group. The character of each movement is inspired by one of Twombly’s Quattro Stagioni paintings:

Primavera; Estate; Autunno; Inverno

This work is not only a celebration of the finest violinists on the island, but also a meditation on the cyclical nature of life and as such is full of colour, texture and emotion.

- Ian Wilson

St Ann's Church, Dublin on Wednesday 19 April 2017


Performed in Dublin, Tralee, Dún Laoghaire, Clifden, Portlaoise and Castlebar from 8-15 November 2016 by Belgian harpist Anneleen Lenaerts and Greek clarinettist Dionysis Grammenos.

Programme Note

This piece was commissioned by Music Network for a tour with Greek clarinettist Dionysis Grammenos and Belgian harpist Anneleen Lenaerts. Although I was not required to ‘respond’ to the music already programmed – as is sometimes the case with commissions – it seemed the most natural thing to consider the context in which the new piece would be heard, namely, in a recital of 19th-century repertoire. Therefore, my mind was not far from the musical gestures of the Austro-German world of Schubert and Schumann.

The harmonic language of my piece shows tiny glimpses of characteristic 19th century writing, for example, in the leading semitones, but I also drew on a group of pitches from Elliot Carter’s solo clarinet piece Gra (1993), and set about establishing how a group of notes from Gra might be voiced on the harp, and which of its transpositions would best suit the harp’s chromatic pedal mechanism. I also rearranged these pitches in such a way as to provide harmonies idiomatic to the soundworld I wanted to achieve.

As a composer, who also plays what is often a gender-stereotyped instrument, I was reminded of the work of Clara Schumann (Wieck) and looked to her piano music and lieder for a suitable ‘cell’ from which to grow further ideas. One such cell is drawn from the first of her piano preludes Op. 16 (which precede her fugues), and so the sound of her first name, if not the spelling, is incorporated into the title of the piece. The title also deliberately contains the word aria, since some of tonight’s programme is drawn from vocal repertoire, and the idea of writing an ‘aria’ for clarinet is one I found appealing.

- Anne-Marie O'Farrell

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin on Tuesday 8th November 2016

Performed in Dún Laoghaire, New Ross, Waterford, Cork, Dublin, Clifden, Castlebar and Sligo from 30 March-8 April 2016 by British violinist Chloë Hanslip and pianist Danny Driver.

Programme Note

Since writing my third quartet, 'mr shah stares to the heavens', the incomprehensibly vast quietude of space has become a fixture in my thought: space, being an almost perfect vacuum, is not well equipped to support sound.

In an age promising earthlings commercial flights to the moon, if you’d like to experience the sensorial beauty of skilled musicians playing live on exquisitely crafted instruments, you need to visit Planet Earth.

With this thought, comes a deeper appreciation of sound as a phenomenon. It draws the ear closer, as though not a note should be wasted. Something of the weightlessness, the immense quietude of a vast soundless space, something of a renewed preciousness in each individual note, fused in this soundworld.

- Deirdre McKay

Freemason's Hall, Dublin on Sunday 3rd April 2016


Performed in Skibbereen, Clifden, Dublin, Tipperary, Cork Dún Laoghaire and Warrenpoint from 15-23 November 2015 by German baritone Benjamin Appl and British pianist Gary Matthewman.

Programme Note

‘Never give all the heart’ was composed in response to a Music Network commission – a setting of the WB Yeats poem for baritone and piano. The poem contains a gamut of emotions, from blind love to romance, passion, frustration and loss, and I have tried to encapsulate all in this short song. The piano and baritone remain interactive in the main, here and there the piano assumes the role of accompaniment for atmospheric purposes.

I have used simultaneous D major and E major tonalities, alongside some delayed rhythmic patterns, echoing the sense of pain and longing. Chords are almost but not quite, consonant, never settling anywhere, but becoming at times darker and more dissonant throughout. The rhythm does however settle as the poem moves towards its conclusion, where hearts are ‘given… up to the play’. The tessitura of the baritone is varied, highlighting the general tenor of the lines of poetry.

- Marian Ingoldsby

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin on Wednesday 18th November 2015


Performed in Dublin, Navan, Newbridge, Sligo, Griaguenamanagh, Clifden and Castlebar from 5-11 November 2013 by Chatham Saxophone Quartet.

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin on Tuesday 5th November 2013
"The Byrne, with its beautifully shaped phrases, has sensitive solos in a profound pastorale to contrast its jazz dancing elements elsewhere. Byrne's score fits Chatham's closely-knit ensemble like the proverbial glove." - Irish Independent