What is this? Why, it was one of those midday on Sunday concert performances in the Hugh Lane Gallery. Usually these feature a couple of people playing string instruments or perhaps a gentleman on piano. This one, however, was collaboration between Alessandro Bosetti and Jennifer Walshe. These two are voice artists and avant-garde types. Alessandro Bosetti is from Italy (srsly) and apparently released one of the top 15 outer limits albums of 2010, according to The Wire. Jennifer Walshe, meanwhile, is better known (to me), as she appeared on the cover of The Wire once; I had also seen her at that Hunters Moon thing last year. I think of her as the squawky lady. My limited exposure to her work had suggested that she is not really for me, but I came along to the concert anyway. Why? Well, I wanted to see how she went down with the nice old people who frequent the Hugh Lane concerts. I was also curious as to whether she does anything other than funny voice work.
Events unfolded in a not particularly surprising manner. Jennifer Walshe did a bit of squawking, a lot of what they both did was talking in and out of phase with each other (with occasional bursts of musicality), all with an air of uncompromising performance art nonsense albeit delivered in a fairly light-hearted way. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the audience hated it, with every gap in proceedings seeing a rush for the exit. After the first piece a load of old dears made a run for it, leaving room for another cohort of latecomers to enter; they ran for it at the end of the next piece. There were some people who were into it (either members of the normal audience or people who had come along specially), but the whole thing was so different from the usual kind of Hugh Lane Sunday at noon thing that it seemed like a terrible error in programming.
As I was saying, Jennifer Walshe's stuff is not really to my taste, though I do admire her technique. With this event I was primarily enjoying it from a stance of vague discordianism, getting quiet satisfaction from watching people finding things so much not what they were expecting and then feeling awkward about leaving.
Still, to go back to the actual performance itself, I did wonder why this was being presented as a musical event, as it was very unmusical. It all seemed to have a lot more in common with performance art than anything with even the remotest trace of melody. The programme notes quote Michael Dervan (the classical music correspondent of The Irish Times) describing Walshe as "the most original compositional voice to emerge in Ireland in the last 20 years" - a bold claim, you will agree. What I am wondering is whether she ever actually does any proper compositional work rather than performance work. It seems to me that the defining feature of classical music or modern composition is its composed nature - person A writes a score or whatever and then person B or group B then perform it, with person A's direct involvement in the performance not being necessary. My limited exposure to Jennifer Walshe's work makes it hard to imagine anyone else performing it - like performance art, it seems too bound up with her to have any kind of independent existence.
What do you think? Maybe someone reading will say: "But Ian, have you never heard the Kiev Symphony Orchestra's recording of Ms Walshe's piano concerto?". Or maybe someone will have some opinion on how something can be both composed and require the performance of the composer.
[I must apologise, incidentally, for not saying too much here about Alessandro Bosetti's contribution to proceedings. I am writing quite a bit after the fact and like the amateur I am failed to take proper notes.]
The curious can listen to some Jennifer Walshe music here.
An inuit panda production