Christ Church Cathedral: Celebrating Eric Sweeney
ERIC Sweeney – composer, performer, teacher and friend – was a modest man of immense musical talent whose contribution to the arts in Waterford was truly outstanding. Sadly Eric passed away on a beautiful July day in 2020 at the height of the pandemic leaving a large gathering of friends and colleagues to mourn his passing by simply applauding his cortege as it passed up Church Road.
Eric succeeded composer and musician Fintan O’Carroll in the Music Department at Waterford Institute of Technology and was Head of the Music Department from 1998 until his retirement in 2010.
‘Eric’s musical career is astonishing in its breadth and longevity’
Eric was a brilliant musician with a vision for the place of music in WIT. He was successful in recruiting top-class teacher-performers that allowed him place performance front and centre in the college’s music degree and the employment of the college’s graduates in the Music Department was a source of pride to him.
Eric’s musical career is astonishing in its breadth and longevity. Eric studied in Ireland, England, Belgium and Italy before settling in Waterford. His music has been performed by groups such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Choir Ireland, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Prague Chamber Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and the Ulster Orchestra, among others.
Recent projects include the incidental music for the film ‘Down the Ladder’ and the operas ‘Ulysses’ (2015), ‘The Green One’ (2014) and ‘The Invader’ (2013), with libretto by Mark Roper, which premiered in Waterford and subsequently at the National Opera House, Ireland in 2014.
He was Composer-in-Residence at Waterford Healing Arts Trust in 2018 and, with poet Edward Denniston, produced ‘Hospital Voices’ which was premiered in November 2018. Eric was also organist at Christ Church Cathedral for 27 years.
Eric supported virtually every classical music event in Waterford and joined up the dots for me – when there were many dots – on challenging scores and composers. His knowledge of classical music was as big as Tramore Bay – as was his willingness to share it and answer the many questions that came his way.
Eric served on the Arts Council, was a committee member of Waterford-Music and was founder member and Chair of the Symphony Club of Waterford for 10 years. He also founded and ran Waterford New Music Week and brought internationally renowned composers to Waterford.
Tonight’s memorial concert would have delighted Eric. New Dublin Voices choir, founded by conductor Bernie Sherlock delight in presenting work that is fresh, innovative and exciting and tonight is no exception. Choir member Seán Doherty fascinates with a composition based on Eva Gore-Booth’s poem on time as he captures the dynamic of the changing rifts of time we experience in life. Slow time and accelerated time wanders through the changing rhythms as the slow pulse of life is felt throughout from the bases. Seán’s ‘It’s Strange About Stars’ is as enigmatic as his other compositions as the piece looks at stars looking at us. A gentle, quiet entry preludes a building wave of voices and harmonies with great chords from the alto and base lines that build into harmonies that seem to touch the heavens.
Eric was organist here for over 27 years and composed many works for the organ. Current Christ Church organist Simon Harden dazzles with Sweeney’s ‘The Widening Gyre’ that captures the circular motion of time as it widens to bring in some side-themes, while the underlying main theme is always heard. The music here is quite intimidating as the volume is turned up with large ominous chords that continuously widen to give a melodramatic quality that build to a huge climax.
Well everyone just loves a fugue and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is just the daddy of them all. Simon Harden is at his best as he gently introduces the main theme and the voices that repeat and expand it until we finally arrive at those massive chords that Hammer Movies just adored.
There’s also a world premiere tonight of Hungarian composer Gyongyosi’s ‘Solvere Volo’ (Latin – ‘resolve please’) that seems full of joy and reverence that would have just delighted Eric, before New Dublin Voices sing us out a capella with Sweeney’s enchanting ‘There is no Rose’ and his magnificent ‘Christ the World Redeemer’. As I sit in Christ Church tonight, I remember the family man with the gentle smile who was an inspiration and a friend to so many people and whose music touched so many people.
Eric John Sweeney (Carrigavantry, Co. Waterford), died peacefully at home on July 21, 2020. Beloved husband and best friend of Sally, loving father of Catherine, Rachel and Manus and adored grandfather of Rhian, Eoin and Lanna. Brother of the late Peter Sweeney.
The stream of this concert is available free at: http://www.waterford-music.org/livestream
God bless you, Eric, you were one of our own.