Evening of music and poetry exploring Seamus Heaney's relationship with Greece to take pace in Derry

An evening of music and poetry exploring Seamus Heaney's relationship with Greece is to take pace in the Carlisle Road Methodist Church on Friday, December 15.
The Hellas EnsembleThe Hellas Ensemble
The Hellas Ensemble

Derry man Martin Coyle is one of the founders of Hellas Ensemble, who will be performing with the Ulster Orchestra and Seamus Heaney’s daughter Catherine Heaney.

Martin said: “I play Irish bouzouki with a Greek bouzouki player Nikos Petsakos, who is based in Belfast. We do a fusion of Irish and Greek music and a few years ago, we were invited to the Seamus Heaney Centre to play with Bruce Clark, a Northern Irish journalist and author who was delivering a lecture on Greece and Seamus Heaney. He introduced us to Sonnets from Hellas, by Seamus Heaney; six short sonnets about his time in Greece drawing comparisons with Ireland in the writing. They are really beautiful, descriptive pieces and, after we read them, we got to thinking that maybe we should write some music to accompany them.

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“It was just the two of us at the time but as we delved deeper into the sonnets, we began to hear much more than just two instruments. We formed Hellas Ensemble in 2022, a seven piece group and we wrote the music for the ensemble. We debuted our work at the Seamus Heaney Home Place and that was really well received. We were then invited over to Greece to showcase at a festival called Irish Wings on the island of Paxos, where we met Catherine Heaney, Seamus Heaney’s daughter, for the first time. Catherine read out the sonnets as we played and it was magical.

“Since bringing the group to Greece and spending time there, we got to experience some of the culture, cuisine and surrounding landscape than Heaney describes so well. We've done some further writing since our trip to Greece, which was inspired by our trip out there.

"On our way back from Greece, in conversation with my writing partner Nikos Petsakos, it was suggested that there could be further musical exploration within the sonnets and the idea of approaching Ulster Orchestra was birthed. It seemed like a far out idea at the time but we asked them anyway and they were up for it, so they’ll be playing with us at this event in Derry. We’ll be playing the six pieces that we wrote for the original sonnets and four new pieces that we wrote after our trip to Greece. There’s also a piece dedicated to Catherine Heaney there too. Catherine will at the event narrating the sonnets so it’s going to be really special.

“It's a lovely project to be working on. The fact that we have the support of the Heaney family gives us the confidence to move forward with it. The deeper we delve into Seamus Heaney’s writing, the more the music seems to be blossoming. With Catherine being on stage with us too, it really brings that authenticity to it. There's a real heart there when she's delivering the spoken word part of it, it's coming from the right place.”

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The music for the orchestra has been arranged by ensemble member Paul Cutliffe, from Derry.

Martin said: “Paul is a fantastic musician and I'm delighted he took on the role of arranging the pieces for orchestra. I've played all around the world with him and his standard of musicianship is always commented on. He's a fantastic local musician. Putting everything together for orchestra was a huge task but Paul’s the man for the job!”