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playing politics
Deirdre Gribbin tackles difficult issues in her utopian new work.

With the continuing political instability in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Orchestra’s ambitious 11-concert Visions of Utopia series, directed by conductor Thierry Fischer, appears to be either naively misjudged or provokingly purposeful. Yet the presence, alongside St John’s Passion and Messiaen’s L’ascenscion confirms a case of the latter.

Aptly enough, the opening piece in the series is entitled Unity of Being and is a commission from Belfast-born composer Deirdre Gribbin. Unlike Gribbin’s earlier folk-influenced orchestral score Tribe(1997), the message of her new work is less overtly political- though perhaps no less able to influence change.

A reflection by Yeats on the three incompatible desires of ‘infinite feeling, infinite battle, infinite repose’ became the focus for the 10-minute piece, and their collective attainment is reflected in Gribbin’s title. Yeats has highlighted a concern close to Gribbin’s heart ‘I love this idea of striving and struggling of trying to balance your art and your life. There are aspects in everyone’s life that struggle for balance. The question is, does there always have to be that struggle-do you have to have one kind of struggle in order to achieve another kind of sublime experience?’

Although she admits to concerns over the recent extremist party stranglehold in Northern Ireland, the new piece still embraces a spirit of optimism ‘ Even though I didn’t intend it to be about a global sense of unity, of course it is.’ Gribbin’s brief was to create a bold opening statement for the Ulster Orchestra’s 35th season. ‘It starts out in a very violent and explosive way, moving from very low to high registers, then there’s an unrelenting pattern of 12 variations of material, then it becomes very focused, very small; another big wave of joyous harmony leads to this very tiny ending.

Utopia is something that you never attain: you’re constantly striving and constantly provoking the uncomfortable.

September 2001
BBC Music Magazine
Edward Bhesania
  © 2005 Deirdre Gribbin  
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