For Brian Irvine (b. 1965, Belfast), the personal and the universal are inseparable. As such, he tries to show what it is to be human by examining the gaps that lie between the real and imagined, between cartoon and sublime. His body of work reflects an obsessive love of music creation in all its forms building freely across all borders of music, from theatre and opera to punk and poetry, in a search of the odd, the joyful, the bleak, the fragile, the surreal. Collaboration lies at the heart of his work: young offenders, marching bands, orchestras, skateboarders, and sculptors have all partnered with the composer to produce innovative creations.
Irvine thrives on the combination of extremes and opposites: known and unknown, fixed and free, precious and junk. These daring contrasts and synergies can be seen in the concoction of improvisers, contemporary classical trio, conduction, theatre and voice in the collaboration with Jennifer Walshe—13 Vices (2015) or the head on collision of two symphony orchestras, improvising choir and two conductors in the collaboration with poet Seamus Heaney—Praise aloud the trees (2012). In 2009 he formed Dumbworld with writer/director John McIlduff with whom he has created works that involve the layering of 500 singing children, a symphony orchestra, live shadow puppet animation and narrator in Bluebottle (2014) and the series of five street operas—Things We Throw Away (2014) that involves combinations of an orchestra, soloists, smokers, shopping malls, street corners, bananas, singers of all ages and an ironing board.
His own adventures form and shape his work—an opera that is actually a real time quest to find The Oldest Woman in Limerick (2013) or the relentless journey of creating a huge installation in Belfast—collecting 3,000 objects from 3,000 homes, forming a choir of 300 people then teaming them up with a symphony orchestra and soloists in a 7 day performance (NEST - the 2012 London Olympics Commission for Northern Ireland).
In 2015 he became the first music laureate for Belfast. New forthcoming works include No Comply—an installation for conductors of any age and experience, skateboarders and ensemble (Belfast, March 2016); Not Gods But Animals (collaboration writer/director John McIlduff ) for ensemble, actor and singers (Belfast, Feb 2016) and Rosemary Kennedy—an opera (working title) commissioned by Wide Open Opera, for symphony orchestra and singer.
Brian Irvine | I am overwhelmed to receive this award. It is a huge honour and I am genuinely humbled. I am aware that the making of art on any level is a huge responsibility and I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be supported in this manner. It will allow me time to work harder, work deeper, to search for the big fish without the constraints of having to come up for air. It equips me with an opportunity and a financial infrastructure that quadruples my ambition and desire to make the most exciting, engaging, confusing, connecting, ridiculous and beautiful work I can imagine. I simply cannot thank you enough.