Wake: Up to Poetry
It Runs In the Family
It’s rare enough to have one famous artist in the family, rarer still to have two. The parents of Thomas and John Kinsella – lauded Irish poet and composer, respectively – must have been doing something right. The Kinsella boys, who grew up in the Dublin suburb of Inchicore to a family employed in the Guinness Brewery, were the first in their family to attend college. John remembers his childhood fondly, recalling the way his father would encourage him and his brother to seek out cultural experiences through radio and live concerts. These early cultural experiences marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for music.
John, the younger of the two brothers, has made a name for himself in the British Isles. BBC Radio 3 calls him “the most significant Irish symphonist since [Sir Charles Villiers] Stanford”, noting that he is unique among contemporary Irish composers as a prolific writer of symphonies. Over his thirty-year career, he has written nine symphonies, as well as countless other orchestral, instrumental and choral pieces. In 1988, Kinsella retired as Head of Music at Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE) to focus on composing, and he has recently released a well-reviewed CD in collaboration with other prominent Irish composers and musicians.
Kinsella’s work is characterized by a respect for classical traditions, a strong sense of cultural heritage, and a subtle sense of humor. His ensemble composition, “Upstairs, Downstairs”, has a witty, modern tone to match its title, while an orchestral piece, entitled “Cuchulainn and Ferdia at the Ford”, draws on Irish mythology for inspiration. John’s work demonstrates a familiarity with and fondness for Irish poetry: the orchestral and instrumental compositions “Rhapsody on a poem of Francis Ledwidge” and “Rhapsody on a poem of Joseph Campbell” are responses to the work of famous Irish poets. One wonders whether a “Rhapsody on a poem of Thomas Kinsella” will be released soon!
On a timely tangent, John just finished collaborating with the Athlone Pipe Band and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra bassist David Daly to resurrect an old Irish folk tune, Erin’s Lament. Daly’s uncle, Eugene Daly, was a piper on the Titanic, and he played this tragic tune as he was boarding the doomed ship. Kinsella has rewritten this song for the solo double bass, to be performed on the advent of the Titanic’s sinking. Erin’s Lament perfectly demonstrates the way in which John Kinsella works to bring classical music into the twentieth century, without ever losing sight of his cultural heritage.
Learn more about John Kinsella, including listening to examples of his work.