New, or contemporary music, is how Crash Ensemble is most often described. Of course, Katy Perry’s latest single is new and contemporary (though you could argue that most modern pop is regurgitated), but the kind of music is that Crash Ensemble plays is both older and much, much newer than anything you’ll find in the charts.
‘New’ music, in this context, is 21st century classical music. It is brave and daring music, which takes what’s come before in the Romantic and Baroque era and in the 20th Century and imbues that with a new sense of adventure.
In just the same way that the first Baroque composers were taking a risk in writing music unlike anything heard before, so too, do today’s composers eschew the easy route of rehashing what’s come before in favour of a spirit of musical adventure.
As Kate Ellis, the group’s Cellist and co-Artistic Director explains, “What we play is considered to be classical music, but it’s new classical music”.
“It is new music and anything that’s new can be quite daunting if it’s an unknown, if it’s going into unknown territory, but [for] me personally, I think that’s the most exciting thing about it. You go to a concert and you actually don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says.
The ten-piece Ensemble, of which Kate has been a member since 2003, was formed in 1997 by leading Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy as vehicle for the new music he was both hearing and writing on his travels.
One might think that such a bold new venture might take a while to permeate the public consciousness, but their first gigs were sell-outs and the group was immediately well-received. “I think the people were ready for it,” reflects Kate.
The group has since toured the world and collaborated with of some of the leading figures in modern music, including such diverse artists as Steve Reich, Gavin Friday and Julie Feeney.
In its latest collaboration, Crash will perform alongside the Galway quartet in residence, the RTÉ ConTempo Quartet in a one-off concert at the Galway Courthouse on Friday, 4 April.
The concert, organised in conjunction with Music for Galway and the Galway Music Residency, is part of the EU New Music: New Audiences initiative or NewAud, which brings together 31 new music ensembles in 31 countries to test and demonstrate the future concert forms of contemporary music.
As part of NewAud, each of the ensembles has uploaded elements of their repertoire to an online database, accessible to all members, so that the music can spread across Europe and around the globe.
The two pieces that will be performed by what Kate says will be a “very scaled-down ensemble” have been selected from this database.
“We’ve all come together to share our knowledge and investigate how to bring new audiences to new music concerts…and also to share repertoire between the different ensembles,” says Kate.
The pieces that Crash will perform are ‘A Second Box of Brief Candles’ for clarinet by the British composer Simon Holt and ‘Neon Forest Space’ by Norway’s Oyvind Torvund. This piece features cello, electric guitar, clarinet, percussion and recorded elements.
Though Galway has no recognised concert hall, the Courthouse is still an unusual venue for such a performance and is part of NewAud’s stated aim of ‘ditching the concert hall’.
Unsurprisingly, given Crash’s penchant for pushing the boundaries of music, it’s a move Kate approves of.
“I think is massively important to present music out of the traditional music hall environment; why not? Why not present a concert in a dungeon?! What’s stopping everybody?”
Crash Ensemble and the ConTempo Quartet play Court Room No. 1 at the Galway Courthouse on Friday, 4 April at 8pm. Tickets are priced at €20 and available from Music for Galway on 091-705962, from Opus 2, High Street or on www.tht.ie. Concessions are also available.