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Perspectives

Martin Hayes and the Common Ground Ensemble

Saturday 14th
and Sunday 15th March 2020

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Martin Hayes fiddle
Cormac McCarthy piano
Kate Ellis cello
Kyle Sanna guitar
Brian Donnellan bouzouki, harmonium, concertina Guest David Power uilleann pipes
Guest Síle Denvir sean nós singer, harp


Martin Hayes is one of the world's most celebrated fiddle players and an influential figure in Irish traditional music. NCH is delighted to present the debut concerts by Martin Hayes’ new band, the Common Ground Ensemble. With the Common Ground Ensemble, Hayes has created an ensemble with its roots in traditional Irish music - the common ground of their name but possess a wealth of talent spanning trad Irish music, improvisation, arrangement, jazz, avant-garde and cutting edge contemporary classical.  

“Even though there’ll be plenty of space for people to develop their own parts, the larger picture will be driven by my vision for the music. We’ll be seeing what the tune wants to say and seeing how the band can support that. With years of performing I have a sense of what brings me the deepest joy and what gets to the heart of the music” says Hayes. 

Rooted in the classical, folk and contemporary worlds, he founded the seminal Irish-American supergroup The Gloaming, whose self-titled debut album won the Meteor Choice Music Prize for Best Irish Album. Their global touring has included more than a dozen shows at Dublin’s National Concert Hall as well as performances at London’s Royal Festival Hall and Barbican.  Hayes has collaborated with everyone from Bill Frisell and Yo-Yo Ma to Sting and Paul Simon. Hayes' long-term creative partnership with Dennis Cahill also saw the duo perform for President Obama at the White House.

Yet Hayes isn’t one to rest on his laurels, noting “The journey never reaches a conclusion. Every new project is the result of possibilities and ideas that begin to appear in the course of developing the previous project.”

Which is also the basis for his latest project, the Common Ground Ensemble. In recent years, Hayes has produced and curated concerts for various festivals, often bringing together fresh collaborations and forming special ensembles for these events. Reflecting on those very enjoyable experiences, he also noticed that he’d often construct these events without much advance planning while also dealing with time restrictions. 

“I started thinking about how, in an ideal world, I’d actually set that up,” he begins. “If I had complete autonomy, what artists would I choose? And how would I create the most flexible gathering of musicians to become a core band?”

Hayes aimed to create an ensemble of musicians from different backgrounds who also have connections to Irish music - the common ground of their name. The line-up emerged to encompass Cormac McCarthy (piano, ‘Cottage Evolution’), Kate Ellis (cello, Artistic Director of Crash Ensemble), Kyle Sanna (guitar, a collaborator with Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile) and Brian Donnellan (bouzouki / harmonium / concertina, and, like Hayes, an alumnus of The Tulla Céilí Band).

They possess a wealth of talent spanning the worlds of traditional Irish music, cutting edge contemporary classical, composition, improvisation and jazz, and avant-garde. 

The Common Ground Ensemble was also designed to operate as a platform to highlight the talents of various guest performing artists. Joining them at their debut concerts will be special guests David Power playing uilleann pipes (“one of Ireland’s finest uilleann pipers”) and the incredible Sean Nós singer/harpist Síle Denvir. The sets promise to be a mixture of everything you’d hope from such a line-up: core elements of the tradition combined with new composition, improvisation and an opportunity for each musician’s remarkable talents to shine. Or as Hayes summarises, “I want this to be the most fun I can have while I’m on stage.”

But what sets the Common Ground Ensemble apart from Hayes’ myriad other projects?

“I’ve usually tended to gather a group of people together and see what begins to emerge,” considers Hayes. “With years of performing I now have a stronger sense of what brings me the deepest joy and what gets to the heart of the music. The different experiences I’ve had have given me a clearer idea of what I want to see emerge from this project”

Finding what’s new, challenging and progressive in the tradition has been a hallmark of Hayes’ career even though the foundations of his music remain firmly rooted in the music of East Co Clare. Hayes was born and raised in a locality filled with music and his father, P.J. Hayes, and uncle, Paddy Canny were both renowned fiddle players and founder members of The Tulla Céilí Band - the same group that both Hayes Jr. and Brian Donnellan have played in.

Martin Hayes was always passionate about music but it was not a career path he intended to take. “I always loved it but I didn’t want the precarious life that often comes with being a musician. I was good at it and identified with it more than anything else in my life. In retrospect I was very lucky that a career emerged even if I hadn’t planned it.”

By his late teens, Hayes had been named the All-Ireland Fiddle Champion seven times and by his early twenties had relocated to Chicago. The Windy City’s Irish music scene was strong, yet Hayes discovered something new about himself. “I liked reaching outside of the world of traditional music and it was there that my first adventurous collaboration and lifetime friendship with Dennis Cahill began in a band called Midnight Court.”

He met countless new musicians, discovered new bands and engaged in some unlikely recording sessions. “Some of them were very loud and rock ‘n’ roll, but I’d get through it somehow and I always learned from the experience. Even if the lesson was, don’t do that again,” he chuckles. “It’s an important idea to me to be open-minded and not shut the door on things that I’m not familiar with or do not fully understand.”

His credits soon racked up. Solo projects, albums with Dennis Cahill, The Gloaming, the Martin Hayes Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, Triur and countless other collaborations. “These projects are the indispensable foundations of my current thoughts about how I like to arrange and perform traditional Irish music.”

New ideas evolve serendipitously, come to a natural conclusion and inspire whatever comes next. Which explains why Hayes doesn’t believe in regrets. Sure, some things could’ve been different given infinite time or resources, but everything is a learning exercise. 

The Common Ground Ensemble is the latest stage in Martin Hayes’ life-long musical journey - one that will continue to evolve for years to come. “You have to accept that absolute perfection may elude you forever,” he signs off, for now. “But that’s ok because music isn’t about perfection. For me it’s about heart, feeling, trust, freedom, communication and true aliveness in the moment.

Presented by NCH
Innovation Partner Davy

Davy

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