Elaine Agnew


Type of Work: Orchestra
Instrumentation: Concerto for two violins and string orchestra
Length: 16 minutes
Text: Irish Chamber Orchestra
Premiere: 22 July 2005, St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.
Irish Chamber Orchestra, soloists Nicky Sweeney and Andre Swanepoel


On this day in 1839, Ireland was hit by a devastating storm.  There was a strange heat.  Everything was unnaturally calm – so much so that voices floated between houses over a mile apart.  Around nine p.m. that evening a light westerly breeze slowly grew into a fury and after midnight it blew a fearful gale, reaching its height between three and five a.m.  The ensuing pandemonium saw buildings blown away, people and things flung about.

In its aftermath, seaweed was found on hilltops and herrings were picked up six miles inland.  Salt was tasted off trees forty miles from the sea.

The timing of the storm was significant.  Epiphany is a feast of revelation, the day Christ made his being known to the world and Nollaig na mBan, a celebration of Little Woman’s Christmas, an important social occasion with many ceilis.

The two movements of Sixth of January are played without a break and the longer first movement Epiphany opens with a graceful duet for the two soloists.  A number of orchestral sequences introduce a swinging triplet theme played by the soloists and this develops a hiccup-like stammer, this process of transformation becoming the focus for the string accompaniment.  The opening duet later returns accompanied with long chords creating a world of thickening texture.  The two soloists nearly always play together without ever confronting each other.

The final shorter movement The Big Wind also opens with a duet and this movement consists of an alternation of two main ideas.  The first, a forceful unison line full of electric energy, appears in many guises.  The second appears as an escalator-like series of fast moving chords.

Sixth of January was premiered during the ICO Shannon International Music Festival in St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick and then featured during the subsequent West Coast Irish Tour.