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.
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
- By the Quebec Symphony Orchestra at the
Quebec Tercentenary Festival
- 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 Folk Festival
- 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
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
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
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."
- "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 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 first time.
- 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 voyage.