Niall Vallely on reaching beyond the boundaries of traditional dance music

Concerto for Concertina and Orchestra

rather than viewing traditional music through a classical music prism I have been looking at other sorts of music from a traditional music perspective.

it also reflects some of my other musical interests, particularly the sounds of West African kora and mbira music, the assymetric rhythms of Eastern European traditional musics and the concertina music of the Zulu and Sotho people of South Africa.”

Niall Vallely on his Concerto for Concertina and Orchestra ahead of its world premiere on Sunday 17 March at the National Concert Hall

Writing a concerto for concertina and orchestra was an idea I had been thinking about for quite a while. I have written several pieces for solo concertina and various chamber ensembles so the concerto seemed like a natural progression.  In the 19th century in the early days of the concertina’s history a number of concertos were composed but these were all for the English system concertina. As far as I’m aware this is the first piece of its kind composed for the type of concertina we play in Ireland, the Anglo-German or Anglo-chromatic system concertina.

My compositional language has grown out of my experience as an Irish traditional musician. It builds on my composition of tunes in traditional structures and reflects a desire to create music that reaches beyond the boundaries of traditional dance music. My compositions over the past 10 years have constituted a sustained effort on my part to work at finding ways to bring together all the diverse aspects of my musical identity and to challenge pre-conceptions of what a musician from an Irish traditional music background might create. I have composed music for various combinations of traditional and classical musicians or for musicians who have experience of both genres. This reflects my mixed musical upbringing as well as the music from around the world that I have been exposed to over the years. I have seen this music as very much occupying a liminal space outside of the major spheres of traditional and classical music. Since I also perform Irish traditional music I haven’t felt the need for my compositions to struggle with issues of authenticity in the way that a composer from outside of the tradition may. Equally, I’m not trying to create or add to an “Irish Art Music” in the way that Seán Ó Riada, for example, did. While borrowing freely from various different musical traditions I’ve never thought of this music as a fusion but rather as an expression of my own musical personality at a given moment. I have tended to treat Irish traditional music as the accent that I speak in while addressing diverse musical ideas and have tended to avoid using actual traditional material. There has been a long tradition of using traditional or folk melodies in classical composition in Ireland as well as throughout Europe but I have generally found this to be of limited interest. My music goes in the opposite direction – rather than viewing traditional music through a classical music prism I have been looking at other sorts of music from a traditional music perspective.

Using the title concerto for this piece undoubtedly places it somewhat in the classical tradition.  This piece does follow the classical convention of a three movement piece in a fast-slow-fast pattern. Mostly I used the title concerto because I liked the look of the words concerto and concertina together. In some places I’ve used the concertina as part of the ensemble while in others it is very much a solo instrument with the orchestra accompanying. I’ve tried to reduce the scale of things at times so as to highlight the sound relationship between the concertina and various instruments or groups of instruments. As well as the obvious “classical” aspects of the piece it also reflects some of my other musical interests, particularly the sounds of West African kora and mbira music, the assymetric rhythms of Eastern European traditional musics and the concertina music of the Zulu and Sotho people of South Africa.