Way back in June of 1982, a small group of singers got together in the Ladies Club in the then UCG to start a new choir in Galway. The musical focus of the choir was from the Renaissance including composers such as Monteverdi, Marenzio, Gesualdo, Lassus, Victoria, Byrd, Dowland and Morley but also Irish composers such as Bodley, Ó Gallachobhair and Buckley. This was the start of Cois Cladaigh. Little did the singers realise that 35 years on, they would still be together to celebrate this birthday.
This 42 mixed voice choir specialises in contemporary choral music and European music from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Since its foundation, Cois Cladaigh has travelled widely throughout Ireland and has performed in Counties Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Westmeath and Roscommon. It makes regular tours outside Ireland including France (3 times), Italy (3 times) Germany (twice), Holland, Portugal, Spain, Poland, U.S.A., Estonia, Belgium and Iceland.The Estonian trip was a great success and the choir was greatly honoured by Arvo Pärt who came to our concert in Tallinn and met with all the singers after the event.
The choir has been very successful in competition over the years and in 2009 was awarded the Lady Dorothy Mayer Memorial Trophy for the performance of Molamís go leir an tAon-Mhac Criost by Br. Ben Hanlon in the International section of the Cork Choral Festival. At the same festival in 2007, it won the Premier National Competition for Mixed Voice Choirs, the National Competition for Light, Jazz and Popular Music, the Trofaí Cuimhneacháin Philib Ui Laoghaire, the National Choir of the Festival – Victor Leeson Perpetual Trophy and the Perpetual Trophy for the Performance of Irish Contemporary Choral Music – an astonishing sweep of trophies that is unlikely ever to be equalled.
Cois Cladaigh takes an active role in commissioning contemporary composers and these include John Buckley, Micheál O Súilleabháin, Hugh Kelly, Marion Ingoldsby, Martin O'Leary, Peter Michael Hamel, Jenny Walshe, Eamonn Murray, Br. Ben Hanlon, Ann Hoban, Máire Ní Dhuibhir and the contemporary New Zealand composer, David Hamilton. The Basque composer, Javier Busto wrote a piece to celebrate the choir’s 20th. anniversary. Its most recent commission “Three Plums”, was by the U.S. composer Matthew Harris and the premiere performance was given December ‘08.
In September 2000, Cois Cladaigh launched its first CD called “Lux Aeterna” which is a selection of the choir’s of Renaissance and Contemporary spiritual music. The second, “An Equal Music”, focuses more on contemporary secular and religious music and to a lesser extent, Renaissance music. The third cd “Beatus Vir”, is a live recording of a concert in Cork, 2007 and the fourth “Puer natus” is a recording of Christmas music.
As part of its 25th anniversary, Cois Cladaigh organised a 3 concert tour to Ireland by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir who performed music by Estonian composers which was grant-aided by the Arts Council and 2010, the choir collaborated with Pipe Works to bring Chanticleer to Ireland for the choir’s first Irish visit.
For the choir’s 30th anniversary in 2012, Cois Cladaigh commissioned works by the Estonian composer Urmas Sisask , the Spaniard Albert Alcaraz, the Icelandic-based duo Oliver Kentish and John Speight and three Irish composers Benedict Schlepper Connolly, Emily Magner and Eamonn Murray.
The choir did two workshops and subsequent concerts with the following conductors: Mark Duley who concentrated on 16th/17th century chromaticism by composers e.g. Vicentino, Lotti and Gesualdo while Donal Doherty focussed on contemporary North American repertoire e.g. Lauridsen, Giejlo and Whitacre.
We gave concerts in a number of Ireland off the west coast including Clare Island, Inishbofin and Inisheer. Programmes for all the 30th anniversary concerts featured composers listed above, as well as early Irish chant, Bassano, Jacquet of Mantua, Chesnokov, Bessarabov and some of Cois Cladaigh’s early repertoire. A selection of existing Cois Cladaigh commissions will also be featured some of which will be second performances.
A collaborative performance including the eminent U.S. volcanologist Professor John Delaney who has carried out extensive underwater HDV of Pacific spreading zones harpist Kathleen Cannon and uileann piper Eugene Lamb was presented in St. Anne’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin as part of the International Science Conference that was held in the National Conference Centre, Dublin, July 2012.
The choir also collaborated with Dr. Michael Fenstrøm, UL, in a concert of choral and electronic synthesised music, the Carl Hession Jazz trio in a concert of Renaissance religious and secular choral music and with Con Tempo as part of its10th anniversary celebrations.
The choir visited Paris in March (16th – 19th) and stayed at the Irish Cultural Institute where it gave 1 of three concerts. The choir also attended St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Irish Embassy.
Over the last 35 years, Cois Cladaigh has organised several workshops to expose the singers and the conductor to different choral practitioners. These include voice training, musical interpretation and sight singing with Mark Duley and Alan Leech, experimental and aleatorical singing with Gunnar Eriksson and plain chant and early polyphony with Angus Smith of the Orlando Consort.
Cois Cladaigh has worked with many different choirs and musical groups including the Galway Baroque Singers in a performance of Thallassa by Philip Martin, Resurgam, New Dublin Voices and Mornington Singers in a performance of Renaissance motets and as part of a Pipe Works concert, Orlando Consort to perform Tarik O’Regan’s Scattered Rhymes, Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin accompanied traditional Irish songs and the NUI Galway orchestra for a performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Brendan O’Connor, the choir’s main conductor, has a Ph.D. in marine science and is Director of Aqua-Fact International Services Ltd., an environmental consultancy company based in Galway. He has been associated with choral music since secondary school. He began conducting the University College Galway choir in 1972 and kept this post up to 1981. In 1982, he was asked to conduct a newly formed choir, Cois Cladaigh, and has remained its principal conductor since then. He has adjudicated at two Oireachteas Festivals and twice at the Cork International Choral Festival and the Sligo International Choral Festival. In 2008, he adjudicated at the Jersey International Choral Festival in October. He was on the adjudication panel for the All Island Secondary Schools Competition in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 and 2012, he adjudicated at the AIMS Festival in New Ross. He was chair of the adjudication panel for the Galway Choir Factor competition in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and also chaired the panel for the recently formed Schools choral festival in Galway in 2016.
He attended and contributed to all the think tank sessions organised by Fergus Shiels as part of the Arts Council strategy to support and develop choral singing in Ireland which culminated in the Arts Council publication “Raising Your Voice” in October 2008.
In 2007, he was presented with the Galway Mayor’s Award for Arts and Culture and also Galway Person of the Year Award for music by the Chamber of Commerce. In 2009, he received an Alumni Award for his contribution to music in NUI Galway.