Jane O'Leary: Reflections on the premiere of 'Unfolding Soundscapes' (2022)

Composer Jane O'Leary shares personal reflections on the premiere of 'Unfolding Soundscapes', a work for piano and orchestra commissioned by Finghin Collins and Music for Galway in celebration of Music for Galway's fortieth anniversary. 'Unfolding Soundscapes' was performed by Finghin Collins (piano) and the National Symphony Orchestra in October 2022.

6 October 2022

How does it feel to be in the audience, hearing your music for the first time?

I’ve often said, it’s like giving birth. The music passes from within your imagination to the public realm, and you hand it over. It has its own independent life now and hopefully will continue to grow and mature as time goes on. It’s very hard to let go, to acknowledge the independence of the work. It’s very hard to listen because you’re hearing both what is inside your own mind, and what is actually happening in real time. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really present, but watching from somewhere else.

I love the idea that everyone is hearing something different, while we are all listening together to the same music being performed. There’s absolutely no obligation to think of the same things I may have been thinking of when creating the work. The most important thing is that your imagination is triggered and let flow with the music. My favourite comment was - ‘the music took me somewhere else’. Time should become irrelevant as you listen and as you step out of reality into a world of sounds.

Rehearsals are the most exciting part of the process, for me. To see the ideas that only existed in the imagination slowly move into other’s minds and fingers and breath. The marks on a page are only a clue towards what the sound will be. The mystery of translating those marks fully only happens when the musicians themselves take on the role of shaping the sounds amongst themselves, and within the given constraints of the composition. There must be a transfer of ‘power’ from composer to performer. Only then will real music emerge.

Does music really exist? It seems to appear in a puff of smoke, carry you along through time, and then it’s gone. We carry it in our memory, the spirit of it rather than the detail. We try to nail it down, on the page, through recordings. But the magic of the moment lies in the fact that we cannot hold onto it, we cannot define it. It must always be moving and in that gesture, is intangible. It cannot be replicated. It happens only once. Each rendition is unique. My favourite part of the creative act is sharing with others. After a solitary period of gestation, sharing takes place - with performers as the piece is transferred to them, with listeners as we join together at a public performance. The sense of connection is palpable.

- Jane O'Leary.

Jane discussed her work 'Unfolding Soundscapes' with CMC's Jonathan Grimes ahead of its premiere in Galway, their conversation is featured in episode #75 of amplify - listen here.