Artist Spotlight: Composer Donnacha Dennehy

Called “thrilling” by the Guardian, and “arrestingly beautiful” by the New Yorker, Donnacha Dennehy’s music has featured in festivals and venues such as the Edinburgh International Festival; Carnegie Hall, New York; Barbican, London; Muziekgebouw , Amsterdam; Wigmore Hall, London; Royal Opera House, London; BAM, New York; St. Ann’s Warehouse; Tanglewood Festival; Holland Festival; Kennedy Center; Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival; Dublin Theatre Festival; ISCM World Music Days; Bang On A Can; Ultima Festival, Oslo; Musica Viva, Lisbon; Saarbrucken Festival; and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival.  

His music has been premiered and commissioned by groups and soloists including Alarm Will Sound, Augustin Hadelich, Bang On A Can, Contact, Crash Ensemble, Dawn Upshaw, Doric String Quartet (Carnegie/Wigmore co-commission), Fidelio Trio, Joanna MacGregor, Kronos Quartet, Icebreaker, Nadia Sirota, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Oregon Symphony, Orkest de Volharding, Percussion Group of the Hague, philharmonie zuidnederland, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, So Percussion (Carnegie/Cork Opera House co-commission), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Third Coast Percussion, Ulster Orchestra (BBC), and United Instruments of Lucilin (Luxembourg). Collaborations include pieces with the writers Colm Tóibín (The Dark Places), the director Tom Creed (The Hunger, stage version) and Enda Walsh (a trilogy of operas).  

Returning to Ireland after studies abroad, principally at the University of Illinois, Dennehy founded Crash Ensemble, Ireland’s now-renowned new music group, in 1997. Alongside the singers Dawn Upshaw and Iarla O’Lionáird, Crash Ensemble features on the debut 2011 Nonesuch release of Dennehy’s music, entitled Grá agus Bás. Other releases include a second portrait disc by Nonesuch (The Hunger, 2019), a number by NMC Records in London, Bedroom Community in Reykjavik and New Amsterdam and Cantaloupe in New York.  

In recent years, Dennehy has concentrated especially on large-scale musico-dramatic works. He has now completed a trilogy of operas with the writer/director Enda Walsh: The Last Hotel (2015), The Second Violinist (2017) and The First Child (2021). Other recent large-scale pieces include the docu-cantata The Hunger (2012-16, concert version 2019), originally co-produced by Alarm Will Sound and Opera Theatre St. Louis; Surface Tension for Third Coast Percussion (commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum and Notre Dame University); Overcasting (2019), commissioned by the LA Philharmonic (for their new music group), and Tessellatum, an epic piece for viola (Nadia Sirota) and microtonally adjusted viols (originally multitracked by Liam Byrne in the Bedroom Community recording, but now arranged for various ensembles, including a string orchestra of modern instruments in a new version of 2020). The last couple of years has seen a flurry of orchestral pieces: Brink (2020) for Indianapolis Symphony, Memoria (2021) for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland (to be given its US premiere by the Dallas Symphony in May, 2022) and Violin Concerto (2021), co-commissioned by the Oregon Symphony, Aspen Music Festival and philharmonie zuidnederland for Augustin Hadelich. 

Dennehy’s single-movement orchestral piece Crane was ‘recommended’ by the International Rostrum of Composers (2010). In 2017, he won the FEDORA-Generali Prize for Opera (Salzburg/Paris), and in 2021 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. At present, he is writing a large-scale work for Alarm WIll Sound, Land of Winter, to be premiered at the Beethovenfest in Germany in September 2022. Dennehy now lives in America and is a professor at Princeton University. His music is published by G. Schirmer in New York 

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