CMC calls for enhanced provision for contemporary music from Ireland on RTÉ lyric fm

A copy of the email sent by the CMC Director, Evonne Ferguson on December 6th 2019 to the RTÉ Executive, the RTÉ Board, the RTÉ Audience Council, Aodán O’Dubhghaill, Managing Director of RTÉ Orchestras, lyric fm, Quartet & Choirs and Anne Marie Power, RTÉ Group Head of Arts and Culture.

I am writing on behalf of the staff and Board of Directors of the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland (CMC) to emphasise the vital role that RTÉ lyric fm has for the music sector and to highlight the unintended consequences that may occur should there be any diminution in this service.

CMC documents, develops and promotes contemporary music from the island of Ireland through creative partnerships at home and abroad. For the two hundred and thirteen composers we represent, the performers who specialise in their music and the promoters who programme their music, RTÉ lyric fm is recognised as an essential part of the national cultural infrastructure. This is the only means through which composers of contemporary music in Ireland can be publicly broadcast.

RTÉ lyric fm is so intricately integrated into the sector that any fragmented service would put in danger the livelihood of composers and the international reach of new composition from Ireland. This increased global reach of composers from Ireland has led to Graham McKenzie (Artistic Director of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) commenting recently that Irish composition is experiencing a golden era. RTÉ lyric fm should be rightly proud of its part in achieving this through its many initiatives, partnerships and collaborations within the sector and its international engagement. Any reduction in RTÉ lyric fm’s service will have knock on consequences for the cultural reputation of the country and the development of a living contemporary music sector in Ireland.

Since it went to air in May 1999, RTÉ lyric fm has been responsible for the increased dissemination of new music from Ireland through regular broadcasts and the establishment of the RTÉ lyric label; through Horizons and Nova – the dedicated programmes for new music (1999 - 2017); with representation for new music from Ireland internationally, through its active membership of the EBU, the International Rostrum of Composers and the Ars Acoustica; and by commissioning new works from across a broad spectrum of composers from Ireland alongside hosting a Composer-in-Residence.

RTÉ lyric fm is a significant element of Ireland’s cultural infrastructure, offering access to classical, jazz, world and contemporary music in a uniquely Irish context. In its 20 years to date, RTÉ lyric fm has become a station that not only reflects the musical life of the island, but is embedded in many aspects of that musical landscape.

Broadcasting is essential for the dissemination of works by composers from Ireland, the sector that CMC represents. RTÉ lyric fm is the only channel on the island of Ireland that regularly broadcasts recordings (and live performances) of works by composers from Ireland. In RTÉ lyric fm’s broadcasting of music by composers from Ireland, it is often the case that the recordings are from privately financed releases by the composers or produced by small specialist independent labels. Without RTÉ lyric fm, these recordings would remain undiscoverable.

In addition, the RTÉ lyric fm label has provided for the documentation and dissemination of works by composers from Ireland, works that would likely have remained inaccessible to and unappreciated by a broad public at home, and entirely unknown to an international audience.

Dissemination by RTÉ lyric fm extends also to an international audience through both the RTÉ player and RTÉ lyric fm’s active contribution to the EBU network, with performances of works by composers from Ireland reaching an international radio audience of upwards of 2 to 3 million listeners.

The EBU network is a significant dissemination channel for contemporary music from Ireland and a supportive element in the global reach of the music industry on the island, including performers, festivals, promoters and commissioners. Most recently, RTÉ lyric fm has enabled the annual New Music Dublin Festival (in which RTÉ is a partner) to access this international dissemination channel by offering to the EBU network numerous performances of works by the Irish composers featured in the festival. This has also been the case in the past with the RTÉ Living Music Festival [2002–2008] and the unique RTÉ lyric fm Gerald Barry Festival [2000].

For almost 20 years, through the provision of dedicated programmes on contemporary music - the much missed Nova and its predecessor Horizons - RTÉ lyric fm contributed to the growing contemporary music community of interest. These programmes developed appreciation for this living art, broadened audiences for contemporary music and deepened their experiences.

Nova, presented by new music expert and advocate, Bernard Clarke, documented new music from Ireland through recordings and interviews; developed new music from Ireland through commissions, radio art projects and the Ars Acoustica group; and promoted new music from Ireland with regular updates on developments in the new music sector and representation at the annual IMC International Rostrum of Composers.

Increasingly, composers from Ireland are taking their rightful place on the international contemporary music stage. CMC has a long-standing partnership with RTÉ lyric fm on the selection and administration of the Irish works that are submitted to the IMC’s International Rostrum of Composers and, on many occasions over the years, Irish works have been successfully shortlisted for the recommended list.

Over its 20 years to date, RTÉ lyric fm has embraced a policy of commissioning new works from across the diverse and vibrant spectrum of contemporary music from Ireland, with radio art, orchestral, vocal and choral, chamber, symphonic and electro-acoustic commissions. In spite of ongoing cuts to funding and staff resources in recent years (in particular, the current lack of a dedicated regular programme for the broadcast and discussion of contemporary music), RTÉ lyric fm has continued to commission new works by composers from Ireland, including as recently as May 2019 in celebration of its twentieth birthday.

RTÉ lyric fm’s Composer-in-Residence initiative has enabled composers to develop their craft and give consideration to the delivery of their music in a broadcast context. In addition, the Composer-in-Residence initiative has created opportunities for commissioning and supported career development of composers through mentorship programmes and the possibility of engaging with RTÉ’s orchestras and choirs. It has also ensured that composers as artists, and their contribution to Irish cultural life, is visible and appreciated by a broad audience.

And in the important area of professional development, in May 2019, Blue of the Night featured the live broadcast of new symphonic works created by four composers from Ireland through Composer Lab, which is an important professional development project between the RTÉ NSO and CMC. This live broadcast of the Composer Lab project, in a Blue of the Night special, was awarded Silver in the category of Irish Music Programme or Initiative at the recent 2019 IMRO Radio Awards.

CMC requests that RTÉ’s Executive and Board give due consideration to increased investment in RTÉ lyric fm to maintain current services and to enable renewed provision for contemporary music across the schedule. With adequate funding, RTÉ lyric fm can create a radio environment in which challenging, as well as comforting music is presented to the public. RTÉ has the potential to fulfil its role as the Irish public service broadcaster in maintaining an environment that supports music that challenges, provokes, consoles and inspires. Appreciating the radio listener who values both music that has survived for generations and new music that is pushing the art form of music forward, RTÉ lyric fm can lead the listener into new musical experiences, providing a road map for journeys through musical roads less travelled, a radio environment in which the contribution of living composers is explored and their music is celebrated.

CMC has enjoyed fruitful, strategic and multi-faceted relations with RTÉ lyric fm throughout its 20 years. CMC looks forward to working in partnership with RTÉ lyric fm into the future, and we would welcome an opportunity to meet with members of RTÉ’s Executive and/or Board to explore how we can continue to amplify together the vibrant and diverse landscape of contemporary music from Ireland. Regards

Evonne Ferguson, Director, Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland