DAVEY / LIAM O'FLYNN
The Brendan Voyage
With his first major work,
'The Brendan Voyage' (1980), Shaun Davey opened up totally new musical
territory. For the first time, in a suite especially written for uilleann
pipes soloist Liam O'Flynn, a traditional musician was integrated with
a classical orchestra. The uilleann pipe passages in the Brendan suite,
capturing all the force, emotion and beauty of Irish traditional music,
here blend with the symphony orchestra in a synthesis of old and new which
has enchanted audiences around the world.
'The Brendan Voyage' is an emotive, symbolic work, seeming
to answer a need in the Irish people to recognise and prove that a soloist
representing an aural tradition can hold the stage on equal footing with
members of a symphony orchestra.
The theme of Shaun Davey's seminal work is the epic voyage
of historian Tim Severin who, in 1976, set sail in a small leather-covered
boat to retrace the voyage undertaken by St. Brendan, Abbot of Clonfert
in the year 500 AD.
According to Irish legend, St. Brendan, with a band of fellow
missionaries, embarked in a fragile curragh to reach what many scholars
believe was the New World. Tim Severin set out to test the legend, constructing
his leather boat, 'The Brendan', in the ancient way and setting sail from
Brandon Creek, Co. Kerry, on the first leg of a journey to Newfoundland.
In Severin's account the boat takes on a personality of its own, becoming
a parental figure which guides and sometimes carries its offspring through
the elements and dangers. In Shaun Davey's suite, the uilleann pipes represent
the boat and carry the listener before the wind, through ferocious gales,
over gigantic waves, through floating pillars of ice... evoking the journey
from a small Kerry harbour to the Faroes, the Cliffs of Mykines, to Iceland,
the freezing waters of Labrador and finally, to safe harbour in Newfoundland.
Liam O'Flynn with
the English Chamber Orchestra and guitarist John Williams, at the
Royal Festival Hall.
The Brendan Voyage' was first performed in Rennes, France
in 1982, and again the same year in Lorient. In 1983, it received its
long-awaited Irish premier in the presence of the President of Ireland,
Dr. Patrick Hillery and the explorer Tim Severin. This concert, greeted
by a rapturous standing ovation from the capacity audience, marked the
beginning of a history of sold out performances of 'The Brendan Voyage'
in the National Concert Hall, Dublin.
The work, recognised as a unique concert experience and always attracting
enthusiastic audiences, has also been performed at,
- The Sydney Opera House
- By the English Chamber Orchestra at the Royal
Festival Hall, London
- By the Munich Rundfunk Orchestra at the Munich
- By the Quebec Symphony Orchestra at the Quebec
- At the New York Arts for the Festival
- By the Ulster Orchestra at the Queen's Festival
in Belfast and at Belfast's Waterfront Hall
- By the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the Edinburgh
- By the RTE concert orchestra at EXPO '92 in
Seville, Spain and EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany.
- By the Lorient Interceltique Festiavl Orchestra
on numerous occasions at the Lorient Interceltique Festival.
- By The South Jutland Symphony Orchestra at the
Tønder festival in Denmark
- By The Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra at the
W. K. Kellogg Auditorium of the Music Center of South Central Michigan
Voyage (boxset includes CD & Book)
of Derry Symphony
Never Have To Say Goodbye
From The Merry Cemetery
Tuinne - Live at St James Church Dingle
Call - LIAM O'FLYNN
Given Note - LIAM O'FLYNN
To An Other Side - LIAM O'FLYNN
Typical press comments:
- "If proof were need of the enduring
love affair between the Bretons and the Irish, it could not have found
a more emotional manifestation than in the closing moments of the headline
concert of the first Saturday of the 34th Lorient Interceltique Festival.
There was a sense of homecoming about Liam O'Flynn's return to the festival
with The Brendan Voyage, Shaun Davey's musical interpretation of St.
Brendan's sixth-century transatlantic odyssey, which the festival commissioned
and premiered in 1980. Introduced as 'one of the musical references
of contemporary Celtic culture', it was also fondly referred to by Ouest
France newspaper as the Interceltique baby.
As the final notes died away the near-capacity audience in the town's
splendid new 1000-seat theatre refused to bid farewell to O'Flynn, calling
him back for two encores. If that were not enough, a wave of the hand
by the leader of the festival orchestra brought the 55 musicians to
their feet for the final sequence, each clearly delighted to stand and
play in tribute to the sturdy little uilleann pipes and a master piper.
It was a gesture of respect that brought a smile of delight to the face
of the famously sanguine O'Flynn and produced a roar of appreciation
from the ecstatic audience."
Jane Coyle - The Irish Times
- "It isn't every day that a uilleann piper
gets a standing ovation in London's Festival Hall, so the fifteen minute
standing ovation was a rare occurrence indeed."
- "... It was Shaun Davey's Brendan Suite
which was the unchallenged highlight of the evening."
- "Shaun Davey's symphony transported me
along with some 1,500 others in the audience to the wild shores of the
ocean." (Ouest France);
- "A work of beautiful lyricism."
(Le Soleil, Quebec)
- "This professional critic enjoyed the
whole work for its nearly hour long duration with complete absorption...(at
the end) the whole audience rose immediately to its feet in applause."
- "Enthralling, momentous music, the Brendan
Suite is a tremendously moving, even awesome piece of music to hear
performed live." (Belfast Telegraph)
- "Davey writes splendid music."
- "One couldn't help coming away elated
from the performance," (Staten
Island Advance, NY.)
- "..the artistic director of the Edinburgh
Folk Festival deserves a medal for having moved heaven, earth and sundry
bank accounts to mount last Sunday's Scottish premier of Shaun Davey's
Brendan Voyage and Granuaile. Whatever it cost, it was worth all that
and more!... Amid the power of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the
delicious proximity of Liam O'Flynn's uilleann pipes I wasn't so much
drinking from the cup as swimming in it ."
- The featured piece of the evening was "The
Brendan Voyage" by Shaun Davey. It was probably played for the second
time in the United States, said Anne Harrigan, Battle Creek Symphony
music director. The star of the performance was Christopher Layer playing
the Uilleann pipes or Irish pipes. There was anticipation to hear how
the pipes would sound against the backdrop of the orchestra. In a word:
Majestic. The unique and fantastic music flowing from the pipes illustrated
the excitement and uncertain adventure set before historian Tim Severin
who sailed from Ireland to Newfoundland. For the most part the symphony
and pipes blended well, especially the strings. However, there were
moments when the orchestra almost, but not quiet, overpowered the pipes.
The most intriguing parts of the piece came from the percussive arrangement.
The piano, xylophone and drum set greatly enhanced the formation and
intertwining of sounds. As the voyage continued Layer demonstrated the
range and depth of the pipes with spirited, sustained notes in the upper
register and fancy finger work. His fancy finger work was met with fancy
footwork from two dancers of the Quinn School of Irish Dance. Their
performance truly engaged the crowd. The audience rose to their feet
in appreciation and sent Layer and the orchestra into an encore performance.
The evening concluded with an explosion of heel-tapping and hand-clapping.
LaToya Thompson - The [Battle Creek] Enquirer
- Introduction: The starting point of the voyage was Brandon
Creek in Co. Kerry, a tiny harbour barely protected from the Atlantic.
- The Brendan Theme: Throughout the suite the pipes represent
the boat. Here, where they enter, the 'Brendan' floats newly-launched
and, as the orchestra joins the pipes, tentatively sets sail for the
- Jig; Water under the keel: Running before the wind, the
'Brendan' is capable of quiet a turn of speed. The crew discover this
for the first time in the Minch channel between the Outer Hebrides and
the west coast of Scotland.
- Journey to the Faroes: Clouds pile up on the horizon above
the distant islands. As the boat nears the Faroes it is swallowed by
a swirling mist and caught by a powerful current that draws it in towards
the hidden coast; the sound of birds through the mist; the mist rises
to reveal cliffs.
- The Cliffs of Mykines: This continues out of the previous
section. The cliffs are immensely high and wind and tide drive 'Brendan'
sideways towards them. Thousands of birds swarm around the cliff face
and at one point a whale surfaces ahead of the boat. Finally, to escape
the danger of the cliffs, the boat has to run the gauntlet of a tide
rip; 'Rounding the headland' is a point where the pipes return.
- Mykines Sound: The pipes continue with a reel as the boat
rushes down a narrow channel between two of the Faroe Islands, unable
to turn into the safety of a harbour, for fear of capsizing in a powerful
following sea. The 'Brendan' was swept once more out into the Atlantic
before eventually being able to reach land.
- Journey to Iceland: From the Faroes the boat sets off for
Iceland. On the way it is the subject of fascination for a great variety
of fish, including whales and dolphins. The middle section is a dialogue
between the 'Brendan' and layers of fish in the waters below. The pipes
use a C chanter to enable them to play in a lower and more mellow key.
- The Gale: Inevitably 'Brendan' and her crew had to weather
storms, but none so ferocious as those in the waters off Greenland.
Here the wind builds the sea into a procession of gigantic Atlantic
rollers with the boat, like the pipes, bending to the pressure but refusing
to be overwhelmed.
- Labrador: After sailing through fog into the clearer air
of the ice edge off the coast of Labrador, the 'Brendan' has to run
through open pack ice; a kind of ballet ensues between the frail-skinned
boat and monster icebergs. After inevitable collisions, the crew believe
the boat has escaped unscathed but, on sailing into clearer water discover
that the leather hull is holed and sinking. A solo pipe lament marks
the spot. With their arms in freezing water the crew repair the hole
and, by now close to exhaustion, make their way towards the coast of
Newfoundland. The section closes with the return of the birds that signify
the nearness of land.
- Newfoundland: The pipes lead in a variation of the main theme
to celebrate the boat's arrival in the new world and the end of the
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