Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, which explores Ireland's Great Famine, is out now on Nonesuch Records. 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."
Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, which explores Ireland's Great Famine, is out now on Nonesuch Records. 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." To pick up a copy, head to your local music shop, iTunes, Amazon, and the Nonesuch Store, where CD orders include an instant download of the complete album; the album is also available to purchase in the Nonesuch Store as 96kHz/24bit HD digital files. The Hunger can be heard on Spotify and Apple Music.
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."
The Hunger has been performed as a staged "docu-cantata" in venues including BAM and the Kennedy Center. Alan Pierson leads Crash Ensemble, Manley, and Ó Lionáird in a performance at Abbey Theatre in Dublin all this week. In September, Alarm Will Sound performs a concert version of the piece at Princeton University, where Dennehy is on faculty; Kaufman Music Center's Merkin Hall in collaboration with Irish Arts Center NYC, as part of Ecstatic Music's tenth anniversary season; and at Boston's Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory for a performance in partnership with Oxfam America. For details and tickets, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour.
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).