Tuesday, October 21, 2014

John MacKenna, Brian Hughes and the Musical 'Endurance'

When literature and music are brought together one is almost always assured of a performance not to be missed.  Such were my thoughts when John MacKenna, prize winning author and Brian Hughes, a first class traditional musician, announced the project on which both have been engaged for the past 12 months.  The project involved a musical composition by Brian Hughes to which the writer John MacKenna provided a narrative.  The combined work in music and words is to mark the centenary of Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to the Antarctic.

2014 marks the centenary of the Endurance expedition, the greatest survival story ever told.  In 1914 Ernest Shackleton and the ship Endurance left Europe as the First World War was commencing.  Shackleton, the Kilkea, Co. Kildare born Antarctic explorer and his crew hoped to achieve one of the last great feats by crossing the Antarctic from coast to coast.  What followed was one of the most daring and adventurous escapes in the history of Polar exploration.

The musical suite composed by Brian Hughes featuring the Monasterevin Gospel Choir with Brian Hughes and a host of other musicians including Shana Daby and Seamus Brett will be launched as a CD on Sunday, 26th October 2014.  The CD launch is on the same night as the first public performance of the work which will take place in the George Bernard Shaw Theatre Carlow, starting at 8.00 p.m.  The performance will feature not only the composer, the writer and the Monasterevin Gospel Choir, but also the Kildare County Orchestra.

The stage presentation also includes a multi media element devised by Craig Blackwell, making this a unique and innovative performance of the story of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition.  The combination of words, music and visual presentation promises an evening of entertainment not to be missed.

The work was commissioned by Athy Heritage Centre as part of the centenary celebrations of the 1914 Endurance Antarctic expedition.  The County Kildare born explorer is the subject of an exhibition in the Athy Heritage Centre which is the only permanent exhibition anywhere in the world dedicated to Shackleton. 

Brian Hughes, who in the past has released a number of CDs of traditional Irish music, highlighted for me the work which as the composer he undertook to match the music and the mood to the events which make up the Endurance story.  The principal movements of the composer’s suite highlight the optimism of the parting, the devastation arising from the ship’s destruction, the crew’s hopelessness when drifting on ice, culminating in the courageous voyage of the James Caird and the dramatic rescue of the crew members.  The beautiful musical suite by Brian Hughes is complemented by the written words of John MacKenna which both the musician and the writer will perform on the Carlow stage on Sunday, 26th October.

The performance will be officially opened by Ernest Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton.  Alexandra, as patron of the Shackleton Autumn School now in its 14th year, will be attending the Autumn School which opens in Athy Heritage Centre on Friday 24th October.  The performance in the George Bernard Shaw Theatre Carlow is part of this year’s Shackleton Autumn School for which bookings can be made by contacting the Heritage Centre on (059)8633075 or by email at athyheritage@eircom.net.

Castledermot born John MacKenna, who to date has produced an extraordinary range of literary works comprising poems, plays, short stories and novels, has written another novel which will be launched on Thursday, 20th November.  The venue, an unusual one for a literary event, is the Arboretum Garden Centre in Carlow where radio personality Joe Duffy will launch John’s novel, ‘Joseph’.  John’s literary works have been the subject of several awards including the Irish Times fiction prize for 1993.  His book of short stories, ‘The Fallen’ reviewed in the Sunday Times by Penny Perrick was described as ‘raw beautiful stories set in and around Athy’ by a writer who was ‘marvellously enriching’.  Further accolades came with his first novel, ‘Clare’, which has just been republished, when Irish novelist Kevin Casey described MacKenna ‘as a writer of increasing confidence and power’.  His literary style drew comparisons with John McGahern when Kate Donovan reviewed his book, ‘The Last Fine Summer’ for the Irish Times.

John MacKenna is a writer whose previous works were usually set in the rural background of South Kildare, bringing comparisons with Hardy’s affinity with Wessex.  The new novel, ‘Joseph’ breaks with this literary fascination with place and as one of the most notable contemporary Irish fiction writers MacKenna extends his literary borders with his latest work.  The launch is on 20th November and an  invitation is extended to all to attend this notable event.

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