Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, who lives in Dublin and teaches composition at Trinity College, has received critical acclaim for his work, with the New York Times calling a recent piece “magnificently energetic,” and The Wire saying that he “has a soundworld all his own.” Nonesuch released its first recording of music by Dennehy, Grá agus Bás, in 2011. The album includes the title piece, which translates as Love and Death, as well as the composer’s song cycle That the Night Come. The Dublin–based Crash Ensemble—which Dennehy co-founded—performs both works, conducted by Alan Pierson. Irish folk singer Iarla O’Lionáird is the soloist for Grá agus Bás, while Dawn Upshaw is featured on That the Night Come.
Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger—released August 23, 2019 on Nonesuch Records—explores Ireland's Great Famine. Performed by Alarm Will Sound led by Alan Pierson, soprano Katherine Manley, and sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, the libretto draws from first-hand accounts by American humanitarian Asenath Nicholson. The Hunger "bears hearing and rehearing," said the Washington Post. "It is powerful, and it makes a statement."
As Dennehy explains, "The Famine was a topic I had wanted to address in my music for a long time. Only when I discovered Asenath Nicholson's Annals of the Famine in Ireland, published in 1851, was a route unlocked for me. Her astonishing first-hand accounts became the piece's main narrative thread. She made the arduous journey from the U.S. to Ireland, when countless others were going in the opposite direction, and traversed the entire country, often on foot, and often staying in the homes of the suffering, in order to chronicle the conditions of starving Irish people."
He continues, "To counterpoint Nicholson's perspective, I invented an elderly Irish character, written for Iarla Ó Lionáird. The sense of how incapable bureaucracy is at dealing with a quickly transforming crisis, and how that bureaucracy can be used as a screen for being unfeeling, is implied by the narrative that Asenath tells of the old man's dealings with the hunger relief station, and the way the music surges and fades, embodying the old man's Sisyphean task."
Born in Dublin in 1970, Donnacha Dennehy has had work featured in festivals and venues around the world, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Opera House, Carnegie Hall, The Barbican, BAM, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival, ISCM World Music Days, WNYC's New Sounds Live, Bang on a Can, Ultima Festival, Musica Viva, Saarbrucken Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and the Gaudeamus Festival. Nonesuch previously released Dennehy's Grá Agus Bás in 2011.
Iarla O'Lionáird has carved a long and unique career in music in Ireland. From his iconic early recording of the vision song "Aisling Gheal" as a young boy to his ground breaking recordings with Dublin's Crash Ensemble he has shown a breadth of artistic ambition that sets him apart in the Irish Music fraternity. He has worked with a stellar cast of composers internationally including Dennehy, Nico Muhly, Dan Trueman, Gavin Bryars, and David Lang and he has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Nick Cave, and Sinead O'Connor. O'Lionáird previously performed on Nonesuch's 2011 release, Donnacha Dennehy's Grá Agus Bás.
Katherine Manley studied at the Royal College of Music, London. Her early career had great success in baroque and classical repertoire with Handel in particular. She later went on to develop a reputation for her exploration of the contemporary repertoire, including world premières by Michel van der Aa and Donnacha Dennehy. Manley has also performed in the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe to critical acclaim, including performances in the UK, France, and the US.
Alarm Will Sound is a twenty-member band committed to innovative performances and recordings of today's music, gaining a reputation for performing demanding works with energetic skill. The group's performances have been described as "equal parts exuberance, nonchalance, and virtuosity" by Financial Times and as "a triumph of ensemble playing" by the San Francisco Chronicle. The New York Times has said that Alarm Will Sound is "one of the most vital and original ensembles on the American music scene." Nonesuch previously released the ensemble's 2009 album a/rhythmia and its recording of Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite (2014) and his Music for Large Ensemble (Triple Quartet, 2001)
Alan Pierson has been praised as "a dynamic conductor and musical visionary" by the New York Times. In addition to his work as artistic director of Alarm Will Sound, he is principal conductor of the Crash Ensemble; has served as artistic director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic; and has acted as a guest conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Steve Reich and Musicians, Ensemble Connect, Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, New World Symphony, and Silkroad. Pierson's previous Nonesuch releases include Donnacha Dennehy's Grá Agus Bás (2011) and Alarm Will Sound's a/rhythmia (2009).