MUSIC / Paid but not played: New music is both supported and ignored in Ireland, writes Michael Dervan

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The Independent Culture
ALTHOUGH it's not always immediately apparent through the representation of their work in concert performance, in certain ways composers in the Republic of Ireland are very well off indeed. Sixteen of them have been elected to Aosdana, a publicly funded academy of artists, through which they can claim a tax-free annual income of pounds 8,000; taking population differences into account, this is equivalent to support for over 250 composers in the UK.

However, it has to be said that contemporary music is not having the easiest of times in the Republic of Ireland at the moment. With the demise of the Accents festival, last held in 1991, Dublin is currently without a festival of 20th-century music. The national broadcasting service, RTE, which supports the only full-time professional orchestras in the country, provoked a public outcry last year when it announced a 1993 subscription series for the National Symphony Orchestra that includes just a single work by a living Irish composer, Brian Boydell's 12-minute In Memoriam Mahatma Gandhi of 1948.

Chamber music fares rather better on both sides of the border and RTE's resident string quartet, the Vanbrugh Quartet, recently commissioned a new work from the Belfast composer Ian Wilson and took it on a Northern Irish tour promoted by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, who had funded the commission. Wilson, who was born in 1964, is probably the best-known of young Irish composers. His Winter's Edge, which I heard at the Down Arts Centre in Downpatrick, is cast in a single movement, taking as its starting point a request by the apostle Paul for a visit before winter.

The music seems evocative in intent, not just of mood (through the use of clustery chords and high harmonics, for instance) but also of other music - a distorted rhythmic ghost from 'The Rite of Spring' makes an appearance, as does the flavour of holy minimalism. On a first hearing, though, the confidently worked out effects of Winter's Edge seemed to be culled in a manner that was more than a shade too obvious and the overall impression was disparate enough for the music to feel longer than its 13-minute duration.

Wilson's appetite for the obvious was evident, too, in his four-year-old Bane, for solo violin with digital delay, which Louis Roden played at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, one of Dublin's most adventurous music venues, last Sunday . Wilson responds positively to all the most obvious temptations of a tape-loop-style half-second delay, a procedure that takes the listener right back to one of the starting points of minimalism in the 1960s.

The other works at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery were by Raymond Deane, whose After-pieces for solo piano move with a fascinating Ligeti-like mechanism while still retaining some of the composer's early penchant for the ecstatic repeated chords and tremolandos of Scriabin. Reamonn Keary's performance had a softness of outline quite different from the composer's own cutting style at the keyboard.

Cusp, for violin and piano by Fergus Johnston (the most recent composer to be elected to Aosdana), has a rambling, exploratory nature, which ranges from minimalist procedures to the aching chromatic sighs of late Liszt. Given the lucid gestures of the first two movements, the climactic density of the third rather seemed to unbalance this 25-minute work.

The new Piano Trio by Jane O'Leary (born 1946), which the York Piano Trio of London premiered in Galway on Tuesday , had an angular severity that served to remind one that O'Leary, an American who has lived in Ireland since 1972 (and been a member of Aosdana since its foundation in 1981), studied composition under the musically hard-edged Milton Babbitt. Her eight-minute piano trio, unlike her more impressionistic orchestral works of recent years, inhabits a familiar, slightly old-fashioned sounding world of jagged dissonant sevenths.