Bill Whelan, Composer, Riverdance
Bill Whelan, Grammy-winning composer of Riverdance, has worked extensively in theater. His adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore had successful runs at London's Old Vic, Melbourne, and Sydney and received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination. Since 1989, when he was appointed as composer to the W.B. Yeats International Theatre Festival at Dublin's Abbey Theatre, he has written original music for 15 Yeats plays.
In 1987, he wrote his first major orchestral suite commemorating the film music of the noted Irish composer Sean O'Riada, which was conducted by Elmer Bernstein and performed by the Irish National Symphony Orchestra. His own compositional work in film includes Lamb starring Liam Neeson, Sean O Mordha's historical documentary series The Seven Ages, the Terry George/Jim Sheridan film Some Mother's Son, and the score for the film version of Dancing at Lughnasa starring Meryl Streep. His song "Quis Est Deus," performed by Charlotte Church and the Monks of Glenstal Abbey Choir, was featured in the animated classic A Christmas Carol.
His specially commissioned orchestral work, The Seville Suite, received its European premiere performance at the Maestranza in Seville as part of the celebrations for Ireland's National Day at Expo '92. The last movement of this work was danced by Maria Pagés who later starred in Riverdance. His next large scale orchestral work, The Spirit Of Mayo, was first performed in 1993 by and 85-piece orchestra in Dublin's National Concert Hall. Together with the choral group Anúna, this piece also featured a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200-strong choir.
Riverdance was originally composed for the interval act of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It was an orchestral piece conceived for hard-shoe Irish dance and televised to a European audience of 300 million viewers. As a single, Riverdance spent 18 weeks at No.1 in the Irish charts and was a top ten hit in the U.K.
Whelan was honored with the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album for his Riverdance record. The CD is a certified Platinum record in the U.S., Ireland, and Australia. He holds two honorary doctorates and has just been awarded a fellowship by the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He is a member of the board of the University of Limerick, and the board of the Irish contemporary music "Crash" Ensemble.
Whelan recently completed a trilogy of pieces for chamber orchestra: Inishlacken, which has been performed in Europe and the U.S.; Carna, which premiered in Carnegie Hall in March 2005; and Errisbeg, which received its world premiere in December 2005. All three works are included on Whelan's latest CD, The Connemara Suite, released in December 2007.
His work with Irish traditional music and musicians spans his career from 1980 when he was a member of the legendary Planxty to producing records for many folk artists including Andy Irvine, Patrick Street, Stockton's Wing, Davy Spillane, and Bulgarian/Irish band East Wind. His production and arranging credits also include U2, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Richard Harris, and the Dubliners. He has written and recorded a new composition with the classical violinist Vanessa Mae, and is currently writing a new theater work that has been commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center.