Derek Ball on his new work 'Crann'

Derek Ball’s new work Crann will be premiered on 2 December at Smock Alley, Dublin. The large-scale work, based on the poem Tree by Richard Berengarten, translated in Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock and accompanied by surtitles during the performance, features soprano Elizabeth Hilliard, Mark O’Keeffe, trumpet and David Bremner, piano, with stage design by Caroline Norris.

Where did you get the idea for this piece?

The idea for the piece came directly from reading and enjoying the poem Tree by Richard Berengarten, who is one of my favourite poets in the English language. The poem looks like a tree on the page, tall and thin, and it’s bursting with ideas, like Mahler’s idea of a symphony, containing the whole world.

This work is based on setting of Gabriel Rosenstock’s translation of Berengarten’s Tree. As it’s not the first time you’ve worked with Gabriel Rosenstock, what is it about his writing that inspires you?

Gabriel is another poet who is almost literally bursting with ideas. I love his original poetry, and his beautiful use of Irish, but he’s also wonderful at translating lots of other poets either from English or from other languages via English. He seems to be on a mission to translate everything into Irish, but for him it’s not mere translation, it’s ‘transcreation’.

Crann will be performed by Elizabeth Hilliard, soprano; Mark O’Keeffe, trumpet; David Bremner, piano. How closely have you worked with the performers when composing this work?

I know Elizabeth Hilliard’s voice so well now that I know what she can do (almost everything) and can’t do (almost nothing)! So I didn’t need to worry too much, but of course in rehearsal there are usually small adjustments and improvements that need to be made. Mark and David are also consummate musicians who can tackle anything you throw at them.

Vocal music and music which includes speech has been consistent in your work in recent years. What is it that attracts you to composing for voice?

Composing more for voices: I think it’s a matter of getting sense as you get older.

Having had your compositions performed by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and internationally, what feelings do you experience upon hearing your music premiered?

When I first heard my music played by an orchestra, I think in my late teens, I felt my pulse and it was racing at 120/min I was so anxious. As time goes on, you get used to it, but it’s hardly ever an entirely pleasant experience, more a matter of anxiety followed usually by relief!

Can you tell us about some of your future works or planned performances?

I always have several projects on the go, most of which never see the light of day in performance. My latest big one is a work for 3 church organs with live streaming, visual art and webcast, a celebration of Errigal, An tEaragal, the iconic mountain in my native Donegal. There’s no singing in it, but it does have the recorded voice of my friend Cathal O Searcaigh. It’s a hugely expensive project, so will probably come to nothing, but I can’t help trying!

To book, visit Smock Alley Theatre’s web site.

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