Have you heard Perpetual Twilight, the recent CD release from The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin? Perpetual Twilight is All Classical Portland’s featured album for this St. Patrick’s Day! One of the UCD Choral Scholars, Rose Higgins, offers us the inside scoop on the life of a Choral Scholar in Ireland’s most celebrated collegiate chamber choir in her post below.
DUBLIN, IRELAND, MARCH 2019 –
Ireland has long been known for its unique culture and personality. Our music and literature are celebrated all over the world, enrapturing audiences from all walks of life. In 2019 Irish choral music will take center stage in New York City as Ireland’s leading collegiate chamber choir make their Carnegie Hall debut.
In 1999 the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin were born. For the past twenty years Dr. Desmond Earley has worked to re-invent the collegiate choral experience with scholars from disciplines across the university including medicine; law; business; ag science; and, of course, music. While academic interests may vary, as Choral Scholars we are united by our mutual love of choral singing.
Apart from creating a unique experience and opportunity for the students of UCD, the Choral Scholars have been advocates for Irish choral music, both domestically and internationally, and have become one of Ireland’s leading ensembles. Our efforts to create a bright, fresh, youthful sound is what sets the Choral Scholars apart in the Irish choral scene. The group has had the privilege of collaborating with some of Ireland’s top musicians, singers, and conductors. In recent times we were honored to work with esteemed choral directors including Nigel Short, Mark Chambers, Anne Barry, and Mark Armstrong. We have performed with world-class musicians such as Elizabeth Cooney, David Agnew, and, of course, Tristan Russcher, who is a great supporter and friend of the Choral Scholars. The choir has also worked with ensembles such as the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the European Union Chamber Orchestra. Other high-profile performance partners include Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, and even Demi Lovato! The experiences you get as a member of the choir are truly unforgettable and the opportunity to learn from some of the top talents in the world is unparalleled.
The Choral Scholars have released two albums with Signum Records. The first disc, entitled ‘Invisible Stars’ was released in 2015 and was critically acclaimed in Ireland, the UK, USA, and Germany. Last year was an exciting year for the group as we recorded our highly anticipated second album, ‘Perpetual Twilight’, which was released on the 1st of March this year. Both discs exhibit a strong emphasis on contemporary choral works and commissions by world-class composers. ‘Perpetual Twilight’ features compositions by Ivo Antognini, Eoghan Desmond, Colin Mawby, Natasa Paulberg, Timothy Stephens and Bill Whelan.
The strength of the choir’s national identity shines through in our repertoire. Irish culture is full of stories and poetry, chronicling the history of the nation. Both of our albums comprise choral arrangements of traditional Irish songs. Similarly, the choir’s pride in its Irish heritage is demonstrated by our commissions which include contemporary arrangements of literary works by Francis Ledwidge, Eva Gore-Booth, Padraig Kavanagh and, of course, UCD’s most famous graduate, James Joyce. Linking the past with the present and the future of Irish music is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Choral Scholars.
James Joyce is undoubtedly one of the finest writers ever to come out of Ireland and is University College Dublin’s most famous graduate. The Choral Scholars duly pay homage to this literary genius as four of the works on our new album are musical settings of Joyce’s texts. In recognition of the link between Joyce and UCD, the Arts Council of Ireland supported three commissioned works based on Joyce’s 1907 collection Chamber Music.
The first of these works is a masterpiece of musical imagery set for choir and harp by American composer Timothy Stephens entitled ‘At that hour when all things have repose’. Colin Mawby composed the other two works ‘Strings in the earth and air’ and ‘Bright cap and streamers’. While the pieces are very different, they are both accompanied by clarinet, demonstrating the versatility of both Joyce’s and Mawby’s work. The final text from Joyce is an extract from chapter 14 of Ulysses. Irish composer Eoghan Desmond captures the joyful miracle that is childbirth in his energetic setting for choir and horn.
Yet another composer who is frequently commissioned by the Choral Scholars is Swiss composer, Ivo Antognini. Our first album featured two of his pieces: ‘War’ (text by Francis Ledwidge) and ‘Peace’ (text by Eva Gore-Booth). ‘Perpetual Twilight’ features ‘Aimhirgín’ a piece for choir and oboe, invoking the first druid, Amairgean Glúngel, as he casts a spell over Celtic Ireland. This year Antognini was commissioned once again by the choir to write a piece, ‘Christe Redemptor Omnium’ which we premiered at our Christmas concerts in December.
Artistic director, Desmond Earley frequently writes for the choir himself. Earley has written numerous choral arrangements of traditional Irish ballads and folksongs including, ‘Dúlamán’, ‘Danny Boy’, and ‘Bó na Leathadhairce’, all of which feature on the choir’s new album. Irish music is intrinsically narratory in nature. Songs tell of tragedies and romances, life and death. The beauty of performing new arrangements of well-known tales is that you get to breathe new life into timeless narratives.
The album also features ‘Body of the Moon’, a piece commissioned by All Classical Portland in 2017 to commemorate the total solar eclipse. Earley based his work on the writings of Galileo Galilei which are given a voice by the lyrical cello while a solo vocal improvisation represents the individual experience of the totality of the eclipse.
“Siamo unite da legami invisibili” – we are united by invisible bonds. Though Galileo Galilei wrote these words over 400 hundred years ago they resonate today. Music is an invisible bond that unites us, and we are no more united than when we sing in harmony. For me that is what it means to be a Choral Scholar – we are united by our love of choral music. We are unique as a collegiate choir because being a Choral Scholar is so much more than being able to sing. It is our ethos of hard work, attention to detail, dedication, commitment and teamwork that sets us apart. Most importantly, however, is our friendship. No matter what effort you have to put in when you love what you are doing and the people you are doing it with, it will never be work. Rehearsing two or three times a week may sound like a burden but when that means meeting your closest friends at the same time it becomes something to look forward to. I know that the friendships I have made in Choral Scholars will last for the rest of my life, just as the music we have created together will remain with me forever.
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