Deirdre Gribbin – Visions of Utopia

Deirdre Gribbin
Unity of Being (first performance)

Ulster Orchestra conducted by Thierry Fischer

Reviewed by: Andrew Longworth

Reviewed: 28 September, 2001
Venue: Waterfront Hall, Belfast

’Visions of Utopia’ was the theme of this concert that also included Berg’s Violin Concerto (Augustin Dumay) and Mendelssohn’s ’Hymn of Praise’ (Symphony No.2), which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. The subject of hope for the future seemed all the more pertinent in view of the recent events in New York and Washington.

Belfast-born Deirdre Gribbin comments that Unity of Being is the “peace anthem” that she has always wanted to write for Northern Ireland. So the title, from W.B Yeats seems most appropriate, which is hardly surprising given Gribbin has said, “the real force of the music is about the words that describe it”. Yeats described a collection of his later poems as “trying to find a balance between life and art … about finding infinite feeling, infinite battle and infinite repose”. Gribbin comments that “there is always this conflict, and the idea of conflict is very pertinent to the situation in Northern Ireland.”

Gribbin outlines the 12-minute Unity of Being, commissioned by the Ulster Orchestra, as “a big, joyful sound, the biggest sound possible”. The opening can only be described with the word that Gribbin herself uses: “enormous”. What seems like every instrument in the orchestra is feverishly attacked, rushing the listener into the piece at an alarming rate; it almost gives the sensation of falling uncontrollably. Layer upon layer of instrumentation is added as the piece retains its pace.

After the dramatic opening I am struck by how beautifully Gribbin balances melody with a hint of abstraction. Her wish to “blendsounds as you might with water colours seeping into each other” is executed wonderfully. No timbre is forgotten or deemed unnecessary. The grace and beauty with which she weaves instruments together gives an impression of great complexity, but the picture she paints is so well formed that there is none of thedifficulty in understanding associated with some modern pieces.

Although relatively easy to grasp, even after listening to Unity of Being several times, I am noticing and musing over things that I hadn’t spotted before. Throughout the work, instruments are engaged in a very physical way; Unity of Being’s climax opposes affirmative material with disruptive elements, not least in the percussion, and concludes to quiet contemplation. This confident first performance left a positive impression.

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