Confluence Concerts' Irish Songbook

April 15 clock 09:53 PM


Heliconian Hall
Toronto, ON

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Event Details

Patricia O’Callaghan presents new and traditional Irish songs, inspired by her passion for Irish language and music. featuring Larry Beckwith, Andrew Downing, Miranda Mulholland, Maeve Palmer, Tim Posgate, Yolanda Tapia and Maryem Tollar

Pre-concert chat 45 minutes prior to concert time.

To open Confluence’s 2023 - 24 season, singer Patricia O’Callaghan presents “The Irish Songbook."

Irish Gaelic is one of the oldest languages in the world, with literature dating back to 700 BC.  But it is at risk of extinction.

Patricia O’Callaghan has long had a love affair with the Irish language. Her father, who is now 95, speaks Irish; she herself is studying it. 

“So many Irish came to Canada, and many other countries, during the famine and after; the Irish language is not just an Ireland thing,” says Patricia.

When Patricia heard about a project spearheaded by two artist colleagues, to create art songs sung in the Irish language, she made a plan to include some of their songs in her concert. While studying Irish language and Sean Nós (traditional Irish singing) in Ireland this summer, she met with conductor Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and her partner, pianist John Hess, founders of the opera company “Queen of Puddings”, and the driving force behind the Irish Art Song project.  

   “We put the project together with not just Irish composers, but international as well. We wanted variety – from composers who are older, younger, some Canadian, some international,” says John.

Despite the fact that Irish has been disappearing over many centuries, the language has somehow, miraculously, survived. 

“It is an immensely poetic and musical language,” says Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, “ideally suited to the art song genre”. 

Until recently, there were only seventeen art songs in the Irish Gaelic language in existence. On discovering the scarcity of this precious archive, John and Dáirine, with the support of the Irish government, set about commissioning 50 new Irish-language art songs from composers and poets around the world.

 In Confluence’s up-coming concert called “The Irish Songbook”, Patricia and colleagues Maryem Tollar, Miranda Mulholland, Maeve Palmer, Tim Posgate and Larry Beckwith will perform some of these new Irish art songs, along with more traditional Irish songs. They will be accompanied by pianist Yolanda Tapia,


    The poetry in the newly-commissioned songs comes from a wide variety of sources, from the 6th century up to the present. Along with written musical scores and recordings, the Irish Art Song Project includes instructions and examples of pronunciation. “The Irish language doesn’t sound like it looks! You need the help!” says Patricia.

The music scores contain all the information a singer needs, including an International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation guide and word-for-word English translation. They are accompanied by recordings of the songs and spoken-word recordings of the texts. 

     “When you think about classical singers, they are rare birds,” says John Hess. “Part of their profession is to sing in any language. We thought to create a canon of songs in Irish.”

The project was completed in 2019, and the new songs were made public via a website and two concerts in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. (A planned third concert was cancelled when Ireland was shut down by the Covid epidemic.) The Canadians were amazed to discover that this was the first time Irish language songs had been performed in the National Concert Hall. 

Artist’s statement:

These songs were commissioned in 2019 from Irish and international composers with three aims in mind: to encourage relationships between classical composers and Irish poets, to contribute to the canon of Irish art songs, and to provide resources so that singers in Ireland and around the world could undertake to sing art songs in Irish. 

It has been an enormously enriching experience to witness the fusion of text and classical music in the creation of these fifty new art songs. Heartfelt thanks to the poets and authors, composers, singers, pianists, and other wonderful contributors who took part in this project.    

Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, Artistic Director