Irish Times and Royal Irish Academy announce Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks but exclude music from the history…

Only days following the launch of Different Voices, which highlights as a central theme the bias against art music among cultural commentators and curators, The Irish Times announced Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks – a major cultural curation covering the last 100 years (http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/modern-ireland-in-100-artworks-excavates-the-best-of-our-art-1.1992124). The absence of art music in this project provides further evidence of an ongoing exclusionary policy (conscious or unconscious) among prominent cultural curators in Ireland.

The project relegates ‘music and song’, whatever that might be, to a ‘separate’ strand to be addressed ‘periodically’. Along with other signatories, I have written a letter to The Irish Times (see below) highlighting that this is not an isolated occurrence but an ongoing practice of cultural partitionism, which continues to negatively affect the reception, promotion and understanding of Irish classical/art/contemporary music both here and internationally.

The following is a letter sent to the Irish Times in protest to the exclusion of music from Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks. The letter was not published and so appears here for the record.

Sir, – We note that The Irish Times in collaboration with the Royal Irish Academy has embarked upon a project entitled Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks – (‘Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks excavates the best of our art’, November 8). This endeavour is to be welcomed, especially at a period when the entire nation will be reflecting upon its history. However, we also note, this time with astonishment, that classical/art/contemporary music has not been included within this pantheon of Irish cultural expression.

If such exclusion were a one-off oversight, perhaps our concern would be minimal. However, this is part of a consistent pattern in relation to contemporary composition, which has consistently been debarred from internationally renowned events celebrating Irish culture, including From the Heart (the 1999 ‘expo’ of Irish musical culture at the Barbican Centre in London), the Re-imagining Ireland conference in Virginia (2003) and the recent Ceiliúradh (Celebration) at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014 for the historic occasion of the first state visit to the United Kingdom by the President of Ireland, to mention just three.

We would like to enquire as to why art music in Ireland is not deemed sufficiently important to be included by the ‘panel of experts’. Such automatic omission of music would not only be unthinkable in the United States or in any other European context, it simply would not occur. The curators themselves describe Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks as an ‘historical project’. Are we to assume that Irish art music is to be airbrushed from this cultural history? Relegating ‘music and song’ (does this actually include art music?) to a ‘separate’ strand to be addressed ‘periodically’ speaks volumes about the hierarchical bias and curatorial myopia at the core of this project. One is further bound to ask why the number of ‘core genres’ was ‘kept deliberately small’, when the panel of experts admits that ‘some years were creative deserts.’  If major arts institutions such as Aosdána and the Arts Council recognise contemporary music as equal to other art forms, why does The Irish Times and the Royal Irish Academy differ in this respect?

From Mozart’s operas to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem to Henryk Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, art music has always played an extraordinary role in the cultural, political and social fabric of societies. Irish composers have engaged with their socio-cultural and political environments just as much as writers and visual artists. The exclusion of music from this ‘historic project’ will result in a seriously deficient perspective. We strongly urge that Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks be immediately restructured to include classical/art/contemporary music. We are poised to submit to The Irish Times and the Royal Irish Academy a list of 100 significant compositions – one for every year of the project – which will give all concerned every opportunity to be culturally inclusive.

Yours, etc.,

Benjamin Dwyer (Professor of Music, Middlesex University, Composer, Member of Aosdána)
Harry White (Professor of Music, UCD)
Evonne Ferguson (Director, Contemporary Music Centre)
Deborah Kelleher (Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music)
Dr Gordon Munro (Head of DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama)
Dr Wolfgang Marx (Deputy Head of the School of Music, UCD)
Dr John O’Flynn (Head of Music, St Patrick’s College, DCU)
Dr Clíona Doris (Head of Orchestral Studies, DIT)
Gráinne Mulvey (Head of Composition, DIT, Member of Aosdána)
Kevin O’Connell (Head of Composition, RIAM, Member of Aosdána)
Dr Victor Lazzarini (Dean of Arts, Celtic Studies and Philosophy, Maynooth University)
Dr Mark Fitzgerald (Lecturer, DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama)
Bernard Clarke (Presenter of Nova, Lyric fm)
Dr Peter Moran (General Secretary of the Association of Irish Composers)
The Irish Composers Collective
Gavin O’Sullivan (Music Producer)
Dr Daniel Farrelly (General Editor, Carysfort Press)
Dr Ita Beausang (DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama)
John Buckley, Composer (St Patrick’s College, DCU, Member of Aosdána)
Dr Jane O’Leary (Composer, Member of Aosdána, Director of Concorde)
Raymond Deane (Composer, Member of Aosdána)
John McLachlan (Composer, Member of Aosdána)
Fergus Johnston (Composer, Member of Aosdána)
Siobhán Cleary (Composer, Member of Aosdána)
Michael Holohan (Composer, Member of Aosdána)
Rhona Clarke (Composer: Member of Aosdána)
Barra O Seaghdha (Cultural Commentator)
Dr Ryan Molloy (Maynooth University)
Dr Martin O’Leary (Maynooth University)
Dr Nicola LeFanu (Composer)
Ben McHugh (The Electronic Music Studio, Stockholm)
Thérèse Fahy (Concert Pianist)
Jerry Creedon (Cork School of Music)
Jenn Kirby (composer)
Barry McGovern (Actor)

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