The Relief of Derry Symphony was composed as a contribution
to the peace process in Ireland. It was commissioned by Derry City
Council to commemorate the tercentenary of the famous siege of 1689
in a way that would help the reconciliation between the descendants
of those who fought and died on both sides.
For centuries, the siege of Derry - first in a series
of Protestant victories - symbolised the estrangement of Protestant
and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. The battles of 1689-91
divided the Irish people into armies identified by religion - Catholics
supporting Catholic James II, Protestants fighting for William of
Conceived against this background, The Relief of Derry
Symphony aims to assist in a process in which history becomes de-politicised
and accepted as part of a common heritage. Its construction allowed
for mutual participation by the Derry communities of both traditions,
Catholic and Protestant. At the Symphony's premier in Derry's Guild
Hall (1990) performers courageously crossed the political divide
to take part. In the same spirit, church and representatives of
both communities together attended a powerful, emotional performance
which testified to a willingness to set aside the differences of
The first movement begins by portraying in musical terms the closing
of the city gates by the Apprentice Boys of Derry continuing with
the bombardment and siege in which 15,000 died. Trumpeters and a marching
pipe band, performing both inside the hall and offstage, evoke for
the audiences the sense of being inside a beleaguered city. The second
movement is conceived as a prolonged battle sequence culminating in
a thrilling meeting between orchestra and pipe band.
The Relief of Derry Symphony at The Guild
Three soloists are introduced in the third movement
which describes the suffering on both sides and the nightly vision
of a white horse, symbol of hope. The air played by uilleann piper
Liam O'Flynn and orchestra, followed by "A White Horse' sung by
Rita Connolly, are perhaps the best examples of Davey's distinctive
and personal development of the traditional lament styles.
The fourth movement has as its centre a massive crescendo
depicting the passage of the relief ships upriver and the end of
the siege. The symphony concludes with an evocation of church bells
followed by an air led by soprano saxophone soloist Gerard McChrystal.
These express the city's sense of salvation and, at the same time,
a present day hope for peace and goodwill.
Following its premiere in Derry, The Relief of Derry
Symphony was staged in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, in the
presence of the Mayors of Dublin and Derry and 14 members of the
Derry Council. The Performance was sponsored by Cooperation North
whose mission it is to draw all the people of Ireland together through
cross boarder initiatives.
Both Public and press immediately understood the intentions of
a work which has been called "The Symphony of Peace".
Some press comments:
"Shaun Davey's Siege Symphony will leave a lasting cultural
mark on the city and the music world...the audience rose to cheering
standing ovation...Bereft of partisanship it is laced with tributes
to humanity, nobility, bravery heroism - yet acknowledges passion,
stoicism and sacrifice."
| Ulster Newsletter
"The most important musical occasion of the year happened
at the National Concert Hall last night with the Dublin premiere
of Shaun Davey's 'Relief of Derry Symphony'... which fully merited
the spontaneous standing ovation from the capacity house!"
| Irish Press
"Davey's work burst out from the conventional patterns
of symphonies, with musical excitements unfolding at a rate and
beauty to increase one's heartbeat."
| Cork Examiner
"The music does not fit into any one genre, it borrows
and combines many...given life by a treatment which is direct and
at times very dramatic, employing considerable and effective use
of stagecraft." (Irish Times). "Musically, it was a milestone,
for the symphony combined the classical and traditional to produce
a work of tenderness and power."
| Sunday Independent
"Shaun Davey's international fame as a composer
is due largely to his debut work, The Brendan Voyage, but at last
night's RTE Proms concert devoted to his music, the highlight was
unquestionably the less widely renowned Relief of Derry Symphony.
Composed nearly ten years after The Brendan Voyage, the Relief of
Derry Symphony is far more musically sophisticated. Unfortunately
it's not performed as often as its predecessor - probably due to
the fact that it requires, as presenter Mike Murphy pointed out,
an enormous orchestra, extra trumpeters, three soloists and a pipe
band. It was commissioned by the Derry City Council to celebrate
the 300th anniversary of the Siege of Derry in 1689. Last night's
outing featured the National Symphony Orchestra and the Army pipe
band along with uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn, singer Rita Connolly,
and sax player Gerard McChrystal - all three of them consummate
musicians. Davey himself came out at the end to a thunderous stomping
of feet - well deserved."
| Sarah McQuaid - Evening