Donnacha Dennehy

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Donnacha Dennehy


• Born 1970


Composer Donnacha Dennehy has woven influences from Irish traditional and popular styles into a rigorous post-minimalist framework, and in the 2010s his music has increasingly often been recorded and performed in both academic and public venues.

Dennehy was born August 17, 1970, in Dublin. As a child he was exposed to Irish folk music at a family home in County Kerry. "There'd be long, all-night sessions in my grandmother's house with singing and poetry, and people remembering 30-stanza poems," Dennehy told the U.S. National Public Radio network. "These would go right through the night. As children, we would stay up, even through these sessions."

Dennehy earned a first-class honors degree in music from Trinity College, Dublin. Dennehy went on for studies abroad, opening himself to a notable variety of influences (and languages): with the help of a Fulbright Scholarship he earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois, then continued his education in France at IRCAM in Paris (with Gérard Grisey) and in the Netherlands (with Louis Andriessen). He then returned to Ireland and founded Crash Ensemble, devoted to the performance of contemporary music. His mature compositions, such as Junk Box Fraud, began to appear at about this time.

Dennehy's commissions include those from Dawn Upshaw (That the Night Come, a group of six settings of poetry by William Butler Yeats), the Kronos Quartet, Alarm Will Sound, Third Coast Percussion, the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Ulster Orchestra, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, among other high-profile groups. What attracted these performers was a distinctively Irish blend that reflected Dennehy's urban background as well as his academic training and direct folk influences. "The singer's plaintive cries sound very much like phrases from Irish folk music, while the accompaniment features a kind of pulsating minimalist shimmer, played by a classical music group called Crash Ensemble, co-founded by Dennehy," noted NPR's Jeff Lunden in a feature on Dennehy's album Grá agus Bás. His opera The Last Hotel had its premiere at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival. Dennehy's The Weather of It was featured on the NMC label album Bracing Change in 2017.

Dennehy served as composer-in-residence at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in 2013-2014. He has taught at Trinity College, his alma mater, and joined the faculty at Princeton University in 2014.