Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger—out August 23, 2019 on Nonesuch Records—explores Ireland’s Great Famine. Performed by Alarm Will Sound led by Alan Pierson, soprano Katherine Manley, and sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, the libretto draws from first-hand accounts by American humanitarian Asenath Nicholson. The Hunger is available to pre-order from iTunes and the Nonesuch Store, where the album track ‘Black Potatoes’ may be downloaded instantly.
As Dennehy explains, “The Famine was a topic I had wanted to address in my music for a long time. Only when I discovered Asenath Nicholson’s Annals of the Famine in Ireland, published in 1851, was a route unlocked for me. Her astonishing first-hand accounts became the piece’s main narrative thread. She made the arduous journey from the U.S. to Ireland, when countless others were going in the opposite direction, and traversed the entire country, often on foot, and often staying in the homes of the suffering, in order to chronicle the conditions of starving Irish people.”
He continues, “To counterpoint Nicholson’s perspective, I invented an elderly Irish character, written for Iarla Ó Lionáird. The sense of how incapable bureaucracy is at dealing with a quickly transforming crisis, and how that bureaucracy can be used as a screen for being unfeeling, is implied by the narrative that Asenath tells of the old man’s dealings with the hunger relief station, and the way the music surges and fades, embodying the old man’s Sisyphean task.”
The Hunger has been performed as a staged “docu-cantata” in venues including BAM and the Kennedy Center. In September, Alarm Will Sound performs a concert version of the piece at Princeton University, where Dennehy is on faculty; Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Hall in collaboration with Irish Arts Center NYC, as part of Ecstatic Music’s tenth anniversary season; and at Boston’s Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory for a performance in partnership with Oxfam America. The European premiere of the work will take place atDublin’s Abbey Theatre in August. Details may be found at alarmwillsound.com.
Born in Dublin in 1970, Donnacha Dennehy has had work featured in festivals and venues around the world, such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Royal Opera House, Carnegie Hall, The Barbican, BAM, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Dublin Theatre Festival, ISCM World Music Days, WNYC’s New Sounds Live, Bang on a Can, Ultima Festival, Musica Viva, Saarbrucken Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Festival, and the Gaudeamus Festival. Nonesuch previously released Dennehy’s Grá Agus Bás in 2011.
Alarm Will Sound is a twenty-member band committed to innovative performances and recordings of today’s music, gaining a reputation for performing demanding works with energetic skill. The group’s performances have been described as “equal parts exuberance, nonchalance, and virtuosity” by Financial Times and as “a triumph of ensemble playing” by the San Francisco Chronicle. The New York Times has said that Alarm Will Sound is “one of the most vital and original ensembles on the American music scene.” Nonesuch previously released the ensemble’s 2009 album a/rhythmia.