TúsFinola Merivale & Desdemona

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Irish composer Finola Merivale releases her debut album, a collection of works spanning ten years of her life, and featuring the Desdemona Ensemble, a group Merivale has collaborated closely with since moving to New York City. Merivale's music establishes its own reference point, existing within but not being defined by the aesthetic frames of academic new music and chamber music.


Irish composer Finola Merivale’s debut release Tús encapsulates her energetic, kinetic music in selections drawn from the last ten years of her catalogue. Highlighting her fruitful working relationship with the New York based Desdemona ensemble, the album includes five works for various instrumental configurations within the quintet that demonstrate Merivale’s penchant for creating evocative textures that emerge from her adept handling of instrumental subtleties.

Opening the recording is Do You Hear Me Now? for string trio, a furious, cathartic work that barrels forward with manic intensity. The opening several minutes of the piece feature repetitive, intertwined high register passagework, buzzing like an unrelenting swarm of insects. Merivale creates contrast in a subsequent section that breaks up the virtuosic figuration with coordinated pizzicati, glissandi, and off-kilter outbursts. A dense ponticello unison sonority triggers a more static middle section, taking stock of the wreckage wreaked by the earlier sections. The work finishes with a vigorous dance, eventually spinning out of control as if to take off and go airborne.

Arbores Erimus, for violin and electronics and performed by Adrianne Munden-Dixon, shows a more open-ended side of Merivale’s notational strategies. The score invites the performer to improvise off of their own reflections of the notated material. Munden-Dixon’s realization is ethereal, as glistening harmonics populate the electronics and provide a pad for sighing melodic lines, replete with embellishing swells and figuration. The final minute of the piece bursts out of the relatively pacific texture that preceded it with powerful gestures worthy of Bernhard Hermann’s soundtrack to Psycho.

The percolating energy of Do You Hear Me Now? returns in Release for violin and piano. Merivale subjects her motives to subtle development and evolution within a tightly restricted frame, expressive of the sense of confinement many artists feel inside institutions. Moments of liberation are manifest in more gestural figures. The work doesn’t unfold in a strict teleology, instead embodying constriction and escape as alternating and enmeshed impulses.

The Silent Sweep as You Stand Still, for violin and cello, is the newest work on the album and also its most steadfastly introspective. The intensity of the composition lies beneath the surface sounds, held in the subtle ebb and flow of its poignant quietude. Only about three-fourths through the work does that intensity boil over into vigorous material traded between the violin and cello.

The final work on the album, The Language of Mountains is Rain for string quartet, was written when Merivale was living in Hong Kong and working as an English teacher. The work draws inspiration from Hong Kong’s unique landscape — maximum urban density surrounded by mountains and the sea — as well as a novel by David Mitchell, number9dream, and traditional Irish melodies. The material from Merivale’s native country is considered at a remove, integrated into a pizzicato line that makes up only one thread of the larger tapestry of her experience there. The Language of Mountains is Rain is somewhat more episodic than the other works on the recording, narrating a story with complementary but distinct settings. Textural sound painting, a nostalgic passage for the cello, and a colorful and dryly humorous section of hybrid timbres combine to form a collage reflecting the complexity of the experience of being far from home. The work closes with a dramatic “devil may care” flourish, tossing the deliberative aspects of the earlier part of the work aside, and encapsulating Merivale’s cultivated balance between inward and outward impulses in her work.

– Dan Lippel

Produced by Finola Merivale and Mike Tierney

Recording engineers:
Mike Tierney (Tracks 1–4)
Murat Çolak (Track 5)

Edited, mixed and mastered by Mike Tierney (miketierneymusic.com)
Tracks 1 and 4 recorded at the Shiny Things Studio, Brooklyn, NY, June and July 2021
Track 2 recorded at Virtue and Vice Recording Studios, Brooklyn, NY, September 2021
Track 3 recorded at The Samurai Hotel, Queens, NY, October 2021
Track 5 recorded at the Computer Music Center at Columbia University, Manhattan, NY, October 2021

Do You Hear Me Now? was commissioned by Kirkos Ensemble, with support from the Arts Council of Ireland (2017)

Release was commissioned by Music Network, with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland (2019)

The Silent Sweep as You Stand Still was commissioned by the West Cork Chamber Music Festival (2020)

Cover artwork by Tamzin Merivale (tamzinmerivale.com)

Page 2 drawing by Tamzin Merivale (Inspiration behind Arbores Erimus)

Design by Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)

Photo credit (Page 6): Emma O’ Halloran

Programme notes written by Robin Smith


Desdemona is a New York City-based ensemble devoted to creating unique and inventive performances of repertoire spanning from the Renaissance to world premieres. They have been described by The New Yorker as an “excellent young quartet,” and OperaWire as “fantastic”. Fusing the conservatory training of Juilliard-educated members with immersion in the New York experimental scene, Desdemona is known for expanding the sonic possibilities of traditional instrumentation with vocalization, improvisation, and mixed media. Desdemona has appeared at venues including the Ukrainian Contemporary Music Festival, Areté Gallery, 1 Rivington and Savannah Philharmonic’s Larsen Spotlight Series. They were 2021 fellows of the Banff Centre’s Evolution: Quartet program, and in 2020 they premiered “Magdalene”, an opera by 14 composers as part of PROTOTYPE Festival. Desdemona regularly performs on the Live Oak Concert Series, in Savannah, Georgia, bringing classical and new music to a broader audience in venues ranging from art galleries to kayak shops. They have worked closely with living composers including Anthony R. Green, Finola Merivale, David Bird and Robinson McClellan. Desdemona is a recipient of a 2021 Chamber Music America Ensemble Forward grant, made possible with generous support from the New York Community Trust, and a City Artist Corps grant from New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Desdemona is Adrianne Munden-Dixon (violin), Caroline Drexler (violin), Carrie Frey (viola), Julia Henderson (cello), and Margarita Rovenskaya (piano).

Finola Merivale

Finola Merivale is an Irish composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, living in New York. She is a DMA candidate in Composition at Columbia University, where she is studying with George Lewis, Georg Friedrich Haas and Zosha Di Castri. Her music has been performed internationally and featured at festivals such as Huddersfield, the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival and the Contemporary Music Festival of Buenos Aires. Her works have been played by International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea Ensemble, Crash Ensemble, and musicians of the Chicago and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, amongst others.

She was recently named the winner of the National Concert Hall and Sounding the Feminists’ Music Recording Award in Ireland – a grant that will fund the release of her debut album. She is currently working on Out of the Ordinary – the world’s first community opera in virtual reality – commissioned by Irish National Opera. In 2020, she was a winner of the inaugural National Sawdust New Works Commission Competition, and was awarded a four-month residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

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