The word [Panopticon] generally refers to an 18th-century prison design in which cells were arranged around a circular central chamber from where a governor could keep an eye on prisoners at all times. In Fennessy’s piece, the cimbalom becomes the governor at the heart of a string ensemble arranged in a semicircle. Every hammer stroke sets off a ripple, like a stone dropping into water, and when the ripple reaches the rest of the ensemble they reflect it back and magnify the sound. The cimbalom dictates everything about the music: the pulse, the dynamics, even the harmony, because the ensemble’s notes are derived from the cimbalom’s natural harmonics. Fennessy describes “living in the world of the piece, opening up the overtones and climbing inside them, everything becoming heightened, everything getting magnified and kaleidoscopic. I have this image of the cimbalom string as six metres in diameter.” The enveloping simplicity, the total commitment to concept without losing track of the humanity – it’s classic Fennessy. – Kate Molleson
About David Fennessy
David Fennessy (Maynooth, Ireland 1976) began his musical life as guitarist in a school rock band but had no formal musical training until the age of fifteen when he decided to study classical guitar. He became interested in composition during his undergraduate degree at the Dublin College of Music. In 1998 he moved to Glasgow to study for his Masters Degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with James MacMillan. He was later invited to join the composition faculty and has held a teaching post there since 2005.
Fennessy’s music has been performed nationally and internationally by many groups including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Münchener Kammerorchester, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, London Sinfonietta, Talea Ensemble, Hebrides Ensemble, Psappha, and Ensemble Modern.
Highlights include Hauptstimme, for solo viola and ensemble premiered by Garth Knox with Rednote Ensemble at the Huddersfield Festival and La Rejouissance, La Paix, written for Ensemble Modern’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
Fennessy’s music theatre work Pass the Spoon – a collaboration with visual artist David Shrigley – was premiered in Glasgow in November 2011. Since 2012 he has been working on a trilogy of large scale works, Conquest of the Useless, based on the diaries of the German film director Werner Herzog written during the production of the 1982 movie Fitzcarraldo. In May 2016, Sweat of the Sun was premiered at the Munich Biennale.