Brendan Corkery, March 17th 2014

Thérese Fahy premieres the Handprint Collection, New Music Dublin 2014

Raymond Deane – Legerdemain
Benjamin Dwyer – Étude
Michael Holohan – The Forge
Grainne Mulvey – Calorescence
Bill Whelan – Waiting for Riad
Siobhán Cleary – Leda and the Swan


Perhaps the most significant programme at NMD 2014 was the ‘Handprint’ concert with pianist Thérèse Fahy, in the Kevin Barry room at the NCH. It was a programme entirely of world premieres, and each by an Irish composer. This is the event that most lived up to the billing of the festival as New Music Dublin 2014. An added enjoyment for me was seeing the instrument I try to play myself at the service of contemporary sound.

Programme notes are available at the NMD website. In addition, the Handprint concert was just the first in a series of performances which form a new project for Thérèse Fahy, with more detail available on the CMC website.

I was thrilled to have a perfect view of the performances from the third row. From the purely performance point of view, it is safe to say that Fahy has a marvellous technique, fully up to the multitude of demands of these new scores. The concept behind ‘Handprint’ was the dearth of music, written for smaller hands such as hers, by modern composers. Hence the compositions are all commissioned by Fahy with a view to catering for the smaller-handed pianist.

In general the works utilised the entire range of the keyboard, often contrasting high and low registers together in different hands, presumably as some kind of compensation for not writing achingly widespread chords  for each hand to convey complexity and depth. The two works that most stood apart for me were the two written by the female composers. Mulvey’s Calorescence was just that, it was a burning performance from start to finish, with remarkable demands made on the performer which were met with seeming calm (but could not be easy for anyone!). Cleary’s Leda was the other work that seemed the most ‘pianistic’ of the concert, yet displayed a definite journey and satisfyingly original voice. Regardless of the intent however, I think the foot stomps and finger ‘flicks’ on the piano case did not project sufficiently or make sense to me in the context of the rest of the music. Perhaps some form of amplification would have helped, or piano preparation if they were felt to be necessary inclusions to the work.

Overall however there was no doubting the quality of the Fahy’s performances or the quality of the music throughout. The attraction of new Irish music was also evident by the capacity audience and rapt attention throughout. I imagine new commissions add financial considerations to concert making, but if New Music Dublin is to live up to its name over the next few years, I think this concert is a good signpost of where the future must lie.



The Irish Times - Friday, January 20, 2012


NCH, Kevin Barry Room, Dublin

Debussy – Études, Book II (exc).

Ed Bennett – Gothic. Jonathan Nangle – Grow Quiet Gradually . Ian Wilson – Station No 9 .

Siobhán Cleary – Chaconne. 

Kevin O’Connell – C éimeanna. Messiaen – Petites esquisses d’oiseaux (exc)


Should I have gone to Specsavers? A combination of dark ambient lighting and middle-aged eyesight meant I couldn’t read what the composers had written in the printed programme for pianist Thérèse Fahy’s solo recital featuring five Irish works composed between 2006 and 2008.

But perhaps it’s a more honest way to hear new or unfamiliar music, even if it feels like rock-climbing without a safety harness. It obliges you to listen with a completely open mind and a different kind of attention. Maybe it also obliges the piece, and the performer, to communicate clearly.

Which is what happened here. Fahy brought a lively animation to pieces that had visual connections, such as the child-like awe for big, insistent piano sounds in Ed Bennet’s Gothic , inspired – as I read and appreciated afterwards – by Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Also bearing an ecclesiastical connection was No 9 from Ian Wilson’s Stations , which I already knew was a long work inspired by the stations of the cross.

It’s not intended as programme music, but Fahy fashioned a credible join between its rumbling, descending motif and the notion of Christ falling for the third time.

The other Irish pieces professed no extra-musical connection. Jonathan Nangle’s Quiet Gradually was delicate as crystal, meditating on soft, spectral clusters, and Siobhán Cleary’s Chaconne borrowed an old baroque form and clothed it in contemporary colours.

Kevin O’Connell’s Ceimeanna (Steps) brought vigour and challenge, more resistant to the listener’s approach than the other pieces with its angry, post-tonal freedom and bursts of vehement counterpoint, culminating in a vivid dialogue between the top and bottom of the piano, neither end yielding.

Fahy seemed to relish the extra physical challenges of the O’Connell, even more so in the concluding  strange sound-world of bird-calls in Messiaen’s Petites esquisses d’oiseaux – nicely book-ending a recital which she opened with extracts from Debussy’s Études. 

– Michael Dungan

Irish Times, Thursday June 26th, 2008

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

Messiaen Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (extracts)

Coinciding with this week's playing by David Leigh and Tristan Russcher of Messiaen's complete organ works, Thérèse Fahy's recital was a timely reminder that this was one organist-composer who could write with equal success for the piano.

Come December it will be 100 years since the giant of French modernism was born, and Fahy will continue the centenary tribute in October with a performance of his Réveil des oiseaux with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Her nine selections from the much-loved two-hour cycle of nativity meditations, Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus, were sequenced with judicious symmetry. The three most substantial items - Regard du Père, Je dors, mais mon cœur veille and Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus - were placed first, middle and last, and were interspersed with two groups of contrasting shorter movements.

Fahy pulled off a tour de force of memorisation and technique, trouncing a few vertiginous moments when the music seemed unsure of its next step. A sustained impulsion to string together the music's often segmented ideas kept her in unbroken communication with the listener. In the reverberant surroundings, some liberal pedalling brought sub-aquatic sensations to the slow-rolling chords of Regard du Père, and the flamboyant L'échange retained a mildly studious feel.

Je dors, however, achieved a moulded soft-heartedness that never became sentimental, Le baiser touched high points of sweeping elation, and Regard des anges flurried from tinselly beginnings to a bitingly brittle denouement.

– Andrew Johnstone

©Thérèse Fahy 2017