Born in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. Secondary & tertiary education in Dublin. Qualified in Medicine in 1973. Lived in Dublin until moving to Scotland in 1978. Married with one daughter, who is a cláirseach player.
Derek Ball went "up to Dublin" as a teenager specifically to study composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with the ebullient Dr Archie Potter, whose advice to young musicians was "never refuse money!" He won some Feis Ceol and Oireachtas composition competitions, as well as some competitions for new works for amateur orchestra, and was rewarded by the opportunity to represent Ireland at the Biennale de Paris in 1971 (performance of a recording of Movement for String Orchestra) and the 1974 Bordeaux Saxophone Festival (The Cure for tenor sax and piano). In the early and mid 1970s he was regularly performed at young composer concerts at the 20th Century Festival in Dublin. Movement for String Orchestra was performed in 1969 by what was then known as the RTE Light Orchestra, and broadcast on RTE Radio (? about 1970). Four Chimaerae was performed by the (amateur) Dublin Symphony Orchestra in 1970, and by the RTE Symphony Orchestra in 1971. Wormwood (score now mislaid) was performed by Dublin Symphony Orchestra in 1974. While at the RIAM he was one of the founder members of the Association of Young Irish Composers, which was later absorbed into the Association of Irish Composers of which he is still a member.
After qualifying in medicine in 1973 he continued studying composition with Jim Wilson for a short time (Jim, sadly, died a few years ago) but the demands of a medical career were something of a hindrance. However, 12 years after moving to Glasgow he joined the Scottish Society of Composers, becoming its Secretary & Treasurer from 1991 to 2003, and his compositional activity increased again.
During 30 years in psychiatry his activities included taking part in rehabilitation psychiatry with the resettlement of many long-stay patients back into the community, work in a community mental health team, and several years as a medical administrator (Clinical Director).
Recent musical career
Recent musical career
On taking early retirement from medicine at the age of 55 in 2005 he resumed full-time composing and in recent years he has been producing numerous chamber works, and some larger works including 2 concertos, orchestral music and operas. The operas range from a full-scale 2½ hour work to a 15-minute chamber opera, and currently there are about a dozen of them, with more on the way.
His performances in recent years have included a one-hour lunchtime "retrospective" of his string quartets, played by the Saltire Quartet in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, and numerous small chamber pieces played mainly by the group Two's Company, Paragon Ensemble and the red Note Ensemble at concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with one-off performances from Dublin pianist Owen Lorigan, Unison (Glasgow University), National Youth String Orchestras of Scotland, the Dublin Guitar Quartet, the French cellist Mark Coppey, and the Crash Ensemble. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra played his Passant de Maupassant de Mauvais passant in the National Concert Hall in March 2006, then some more orchestral pieces and the viola concerto Voilà at a Horizons concert in 2009. The Argento Ensemble played a chamber piece, La chambre de Sarah, in Carnegie Hall New York in 2008, and violinist Greg Harrington toured New Zealand with a solo piece, Snake-Dance of St Patrick. His music has featured on 3 commercial recordings by the Edinburgh group Two's Company.
He has an accumulating experience of cross-artform collaborations. There were several projects with the Scottish story-teller Ewan McVicar. He has attempted the unlikely combination of music and sculpture, using two different approaches. He is in discussion with a visual artist over the idea of an orchestral performance combined with various kinds of visual elements (back projection and light show). He has collaborated closely with librettists on a number of operas. He is collaborating with the Irish language poet Gabriel Rosenstock on an "extravaganza" which includes musical, vocal and dance elements among others. There are two substantial works which attempt innovative ways of combining poetry and music with the Irish poet Maurice Harmon, one using live instruments and one electroacoustic.
Derek believes that, music being such a technical medium, practical participation is an important component of the composer's life. As well as basic keyboard skills, he can play string, woodwind and brass instruments and shares in amateur chamber music as often as possible.
List of works
List of works
For lists of works, please see the websites of CMC in Dublin or the SMC in Glasgow – direct links as follows:
Contemporary Music Centre, Fishamble St, Temple Bar, Dublin :
Scottish Music Centre, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow :