On Friday 8 September at the National Concert Hall, the internationally acclaimed performer and composer, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin joins forces with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra for the very first time, accompanied by stellar line up of traditional musicians, in a concert dedicated to his life and works. Here, Mícheál previews the event, entitled Elver Gleams, for RTÉ Culture.

The invitation to work with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra has prompted a particular response from me. I wanted to include some of the classic orchestral versions of my earlier piano pieces that I have been writing in recent years.

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Increasingly, my musical focus is on orchestral writing using the fuller symphony orchestra, rather than the chamber orchestra presentations I have been making for some two decades now. While there have been an increasing number of incursions into symphonic writing on its own terms without the input of traditional musician soloists (the piece Gellan is an important example of this for me in this concert), I have also continued my life-long engagement with the trans-musical impact of traditional and classical musicians sharing the same acoustic.

Two pieces featuring sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird are a new depature for me in this quest. Centered on two songs in Iarla’s repertoire, the orchestra responds with a musicial commentary of its own that draws the material out into individual pieces of about 10 minutes in duration. They seem to me like miniature Tone Poems, and I have used the new Irish term 'Ceoldán' to hold the idea together. I think of these as the emergence of a new genre that I find myself also calling ‘orchestral sean-nós’.

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I have returned to my very first composition for classical ensemble with Oileán/Island; originally written for traditional flute and string orchestra in 1979, the piece re-emerged under its new title in 1989. The whole piece is about the redress of balance between oppositional forces – in this case formal and informal, literate and oral, classical and traditional, playing by eye/ear and playing entirely by ear. The piece has now been lifted once again onto the wider palette of full orchestra, and for this concert I have asked the amazingly talented harmonica player Brendan Power to take the solo line. It promises to be a striking performance.

Sinéad Hayes is a young Irish conductor from the west of Ireland based currently in Berlin. I had heard her conduct a string orchestral and flute version of Oileán/Island in Manchester Cathedral several years ago. The precision of her approach and her clear interpretation of the piece seemed to me to indicate an understanding of its deeper nature. I have turned to her for this concert, and am looking forward to working with her in the realisation of the programme. Sinéad is also an excellent traditional fiddler, and the audience can expect a very different form of trans-musical happening towards the end of the night!

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Termon, written for pipes and orchestra, was originally commissioned as a commemorative piece on the 10th anniversary of the Twin Towers tragedy of 9/11. I had it programmed before I realised that the concert occurs just ahead of the anniversary of the event. On the night, it will be played magnificently by young piper (and TG4 Young Musician of the Year) Pádraic Keane. 

RTÉ NSO Elver Gleams: A Celebration of the music of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, National Concert Hall Dublin, Friday 8th September - details here