Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Monday, June 20, 2016

Rejoyce for Bloomsday

Opera scene at Martello Tower

Thursday was Bloomsday and I ventured to Sandycove to join the annual literary shenanigans .  There was a nip in the air but a hardy cluster of swimmers gathered at the 40 Foot swimming spot to bathe in the 'snot green sea'. In the Martello Tower,  there was a profusion of straw boaters and blazers among the audience gathered to hear the premiere of the first of four  scenes from  an operatic version of Ulysses by composer, Eric Sweeney to a libretto adapted by Andrew Basquille . The harp like accompaniment played  by David Bremner with a sprinkling of  sprechstimme gave the piece the feel of a rhapsodic epic There was an cheerful party atmosphere on Main Street in  Glasthule with tables and chairs set up under awnings outside each premises. Bemused Japanese tourists, giggling schoolchildren in bonnets and painted moustaches , celebrity chefs and Mollies galore in their best Bloomsday attire made for a bustling gaiety. The jolliest gathering was outside Quinn's Funeral Home. I hadn't heard Oleg Ponomarev Russian violinist of Loyko fame for a long time but there he was outside Caviston's adding a whiff of the Hot Club de Paris to the proceedings.,

 On Sandymount Green, strolling players performed dramatic scenes under the gaze of a bronze WB Yeats for an audience fuelled by hot chips from  Borza's.  Books Upstairs on D'Olier Street has a lovely tea room upstairs where student thespians did their Joycean thing. Finally it was om to Davy Byrne's where sips of Burgundy soothed the palate.

So what that most of us can't claim to have read Ulysses from cover to cover.  I think writer Micheal O Domhnaill writing in the Irish Times on Thursday introduces a note of pretentious snootiness when he refers to 'the profoundly cynical philistinism  of Bloomsday'. Why shouldn't everyone be  a Joycean on this one day in June when dressing up is encouraged and we take fresh delight in the power of language and words renowned all over the literary world.

Viintage transport 

Books Upstairs; D'Olier Street

Monday, June 13, 2016

Schubert & Shakespeare at Dublin Castle

Tenor, Robin Tritschler with pianist, Graham Johnson, gave the concluding recital in the Festival of Great Music in Irish Houses yesterday. The event was part of a day of musical events under the general title, The Dublin Musical Saunter. The title suggests an element of  nonchalance but there was nothing casual about this duo's programme of Schubert Lieder and songs associated with Shakespeare. With it's eye watering, creamy stone and mahogany interior and perfect acoustic, the bijou Chapel Royal was a spectacular space in which to see and hear every nuance and  crisply enunciated syllable from this exceptional duo.

The first half was an all Schubert, mostly from 1815 when the composer was still in his late teens.  The Gothic stone ambiance seemed just the right setting for the Romantic flavour of medieval yarns and tales of  heartache and youthful passion. Texts were provided but you didn't want to take your eyes or ears off the soloist for a moment and there was plenty to take in  in the melodies and the changing emotions conveyed with Tritchler's  fine range of dynamic control and Johnson's delicate accompaniments. His is a most beautiful voice, one that makes even the dullest lyrics seem bright and shiny.

The second half was a compendium of song associated with Shakespeare plays, most were by 20th century composers. Here Tritschler's showed a surprising versatility of voice and gesture in all sorts of characterizations. I loved his gravely Caliban and cynical  grave digger in settings by Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco. I can't have been the only audience member who had to restrain myself from hooping and cheering throughout the Shakespearian selection, specially after the merrily raucous, Jog on from Winter's Tale . The Chapel Royal is a very fine venue but not one to hoop and holler in.

Solo recital of the year so far. For a combination of exceptional performers, sunning architecture and rare programming, I can't imagine it being surpassed.  Sending virtual applause and a hoop and a holler to the artists and programmers.


Earlier in the afternoon, I was was at the General Post Office for the National Chamber Choir.  I can now say that I was in the GPO in 2016. There was a sense of occasion in the iconic space, at the heart of the site of the Rising  with composer Stephen McNeff was in attendance to hear the premier of his 1916 themed work, A Half Darkness. In the washy acoustic though, the programme was heavy going. Of the varied works, I most enjoyed Samuel Webbes witches songs from Macbeth and the final two contrasting works by Finnish composer, Jaakko Mantyjaarvi.

Related Posts: Irish Gala at Wigmore Hall

My wrap up piece on the festival will be in tomorrow's Irish Examiner

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Jazz from Now at Garter Lane

Kevin Lawlor with his Jazz from Now Quartet at Garter Lane

You know how it is. You don't hear any jazz for ages and then two gigs come along. This week, I heard jazz divided by a century. On Wednesday, The Hot Sardines brought their vintage jazz set to the grand portals of the NCH. Last night, at Garter Lane , Waterford it was all about newly minted 21st century jazz. They were both remarkable gigs from accomplished jazz collectives.

Kevin Lawlor is a Wexford based drummer who assembled a quartet that comprised, Adam Nolan on sax, Steve Tierney on bass, and Patrick Molitor on keys and lead us through a catalogue of modern work by Bad Plus, Go Go Penguin, Joshua Redman. Lawlor introduced the pieces giving a note on their provenance and a sense of where they fitted in the modern jazz world. The work had elements in common with minimalist composers with improvisations layered over repetitive rhythmic keyboard riffs and frenetic multiple time signatures. Lawlor's own piece, Goodbye Again was one of the more mellow contributions of the set.

The event was remarkable for another factor. To say the audience was meagre would be an understatement. Between audience and ensemble we just about made it to double digits. Where was everybody? I have been at several jazz gigs in this formal theatre space and can vouch that low attendances for jazz is not unusual here. Jazz buffs are perhaps more comfortable in the less formal spaces in closer proximity to the bar. But this event had a sponsor. The evening was supported by the Three Sisters 2020, designed to showcase the best of jazz in the SE and presumably to project the region as a lively cultural hub. You might have expected at least one of the single nomenclatured bid team not to mention the 20+ Cultural Steering Group to have put in an appearance and introduce their invitees.

'Jazz is the only genre that openly accepts a broad spectrum of influences ;' said Lawlor in his concluding remarks. Perhaps more than any other genre, jazz musicians needs that energy and response from their audience to spur them on. I hope this quartet get that from their audience in Wexford tonight and following that in Kilkenny. They deserve it.

Related post Jacob Deaton's Tribulation at Garter Lane

Friday, June 10, 2016

Venetian Soirée at Theatre Royal

There was something delightfully cheesy about 'A Night in Venice', a loosely themed evening of Italian music and song presented by World on Stage Productions at the Theatre Royal, Waterford last night.  Gathered around and aboard a pantomime gondola, the generous forces of  a trio of singers with a seven piece ensemble presented operatic favourites by Puccini, Rossini and Verdi with a selection Neopolitan songs.  With the warm  red brick walls acting as a backdrop, the music hall ambiance of the Victorian venue was nicely in sync with  the old fashioned style of the production.

Tenor, Jonathan Ansell who came to fame as part of G4, an Il Divo style boy band, exuded a cheerful willingness  to engage with the audience and to ham it up as chief gondolier. The Neopolitan numbers suited him best and I would like to have heard  a little more sotto voce in the operatic arias. Li Li, soprano had a great range of dynamic control and excelled in the big Puccini hits. A duet, Offenbach's Barcarolle with Maria Kesselman was one of the first half highlights. They were well served by The European Baroque Ensemble.  A flautist added much to the string arrangements.

Between numbers, the singers added personal anecdotes from their own lives.  While the device did help create an informal soirée mood and connect the singers to the audience, it didn't work that well for me. I would have preferred to hear something more in keeping with the theme of the evening. A few gossipy  scripted notes about the works, a tale or two from the opening nights reports  perhaps.

Remarkably good value at less than €20 a ticket, this was a most enjoyable, fun night out and it was good to see the stalls at the Theatre Royal full on a midweek night. The hard working ensemble are at The Everyman Cork tonight and Drogheda on Saturday before they return to the UK for a month of dates. 

(Set list not complete)
O Sole Mio
Una Doce Poca Fa Rossini
Barcarolle Offenbach
La Matinata 
Funniculi Funnicula
Che Gelida Manina
Vissi d'Arte
Parigi Caro
O Mio Babbino Caro
Luefan le stella 
Nessun Dorma
Un Bel Di 
Thieving Magpie
Santa Lucia
La Traviata Prelude
La Donna Mobile 
Be My Love 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Hot Sardines Debut in Dublin

The  Hot Sardines sounded fun when I heard them  on the BBC Radio 3 afternoon show In Tune recently. I was looking forward to hearing them live on their debut in Dublin as part of the Walton's World Music Series. No 'scrappy little jazz band', this 8 pce ensemble were a sharp, sophisticated , sassy outfit How could you not love a band with a tap dancing ukulele player in the line-up. In a flame red trouser suit, Miz Elizabeth acted as MC and lead vocalist (and principal washboard player) and did a good job of making the rather grand space of the NCH a more intimate, laid back salon. The band are on a mission to showcase vintage jazz for a modern audience.  The set list included jazz standards, a show tune or two and more recent musical goodies You can read more about The Hot Sardines here.

If you were at the gig, you may remember Miz Elizabeth refer to her encounter with Bernie and Orla of the NCH staff and the important matter of scones and what to put on them. You might enjoy this video of that

Among the audience were  jazz afficionado and broadcaster, Gay Byrne. (What a shame that RTE currrently has no programme dedicated to jazz on the Lyric FM schedule. Bring back Jazz Alley and Donald Helm)

 A great gig. I could only have enjoyed it more were I in a  speakeasy 'eating french fries and sipping champagne'. I'm off to order my new washboard!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie Magic with the ICO

Bernard Hermann   Psycho Suite 
Luis Bacalov           Il Postino 
Jean Claude Petit    Theme from Jean de Florette
John Williams         Theme from Schindler's List
Johnny Greenwood  Suite from There Will be Blood
Nino Rota                Love Them The Godfather
Ennio Morricone     Theme from Cinema Paradiso
Sherman                   I wanna be like you
Henry Mancini        The Lonely Princess and It Had Better Be Tonight
John Williams          Hedwig's Theme
Michel Legrand       Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Encore Carlos Gardel           Encore Por una Cabeza 

The Irish Chamber were at St John's Church Waterford last night with their Magic of the Movies tour as guests of Symphony Club of Waterford. They were joined by accordionist Dermot Dunne who was reunited with his Far Flung Trio accomplices, Katherine Hunka and Malachy Robinson . This was music to sit back and wallow in  and the ICO played the many dreamy wistful melodies with unabashed enthusiasm. Opening with  music from Psycho, it was remarkable that the  audience reacted with smiles and chuckles to Hermann's bleak jagged score designed to evoke shock and horror.The accordion and pianissimo don't often appear in the same sentence but Dunne drew this most  deliquescent of dynamics  from his instrument in the acoustic of the church space . Versatility was a keynote of the evening and players added variety with a bit of singing and strumming their violins, ukulele style. While you'd have to admire the can-do attitude of the players, the larky element of a Jungle Book number with Malachy Robinson on vocals had a cabaret feel to it and didn't quite suit the spartan, ecclesiastical atmosphere of the venue.

There was a good enough turnout of 200 or so. Conspicuous by their absence was any student element from either second or third level  courses.  A pity because this was repertoire that had universal appeal. Touring to Monkstown and Sligo this weekend.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra return to Waterford in the Autumn when they step into the breach left by the Irish Baroque Orchestra who have pulled out of their scheduled date. We are lucky to have them visit twice this season. I had a chat with CEO Gerry Keenan who tells me that the orchestra had a wonderful reception at their German concerts in Wurzberg and Cologne earlier this season

The next SCOW concert features the Irish Symphonic Wind Orchestra and the Irish Youth Wind Ensemble, Sunday 11th September 2016, with guest conductors Johan De Meij and Ronan O Reilly.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Irish and European Elements Delightfully Intertwined - Centenary Gala at Wigmore Hall

A version of this report has been shuttling around various editors' in boxes over the last ten days and has not yet appeared in a print slot. So better late than never, here is my report on a wonderfully entertaining and historic event in London last week. 

Gala Concert at Wigmore Hall: A 100 Years of Irish Culture in Britain  *****
Performers at the Wigmore Hall Gala Concert  photo Simon Jay Price 

HE Daniel Mulhall photo Simon Jay Price 
'Centenaries are useful signposts in the landscape of our collective memory'.  With this pithy observation, Irish Ambassador to Britain, Daniel Mulhall opened an eloquent address at the Wigmore Hall, London's prestigious chamber music venue . The evening was the centrepiece of a week of events at the Victorian hall celebrating a century of Irish culture in Britain.  Over half an hour, the ambassador roved over the cultural landscape of the last hundred years in the context of the political upheavals of the Rising and WW1,  referring to many writers, both modern and retrospective.  Musicians, Aloys Fleischmann Snr and Jnr with roots in Cork and Bavaria were referred to as typifying the intertwining of Irish and European culture. Sport wasn’t side lined with the GAA cited as Ireland's most important sporting body -' Its continued success is one of the legacies of the tempestuous decades prior to the attainment of independence in 1922.' You can read the full text of the ambassador's reflective address here 100 Years of Irish Culture Daniel; Mulhall at Wigmore Hall

The concert which followed was broadcast live on RTE LyricFM, BBC radio and streamed live online. The performers featured a quartet of Ireland's finest young singers with pride of place given to mezzo soprano, Anne Murray together with Finghin Collins, the RTE Contempo Quartet and ensembles from Dublin’s RIAM and London’s RAM. During the concert, Ambassador Mulhall  presented  Murray with a Wigmore Hall Medal in recognition of her long and distinguished international career. ‘She personifies everything that is great about this hall. We salute her commitment to the song recital as a concert going experience’ said John Gilhooly.

 The European classical tradition was exemplified by an all Schubert selection.  An impromptu played by Finghin Collins served as a starter before a selection of nine of Schubert's best loved lieder. Murray dressed in an emerald green gown began with An Die Music . Tenor, Robin Tritschler joined her for a lovely duet, Licht und Liebe. Gavan Ring took a night off barbering duties as Figaro in Dublin. His selection included a dramatic rendition of the Die Erlkonig.  Ailish Tynan added the familiar Ave Maria but in an unusual German version. With a name resonant with the Irish history, clarinettist, Michael Collins joined Tynan for one of the highlights of the first half, The Shepherd on the Rock. Tara Erraught also on a night off from Rossini closed out the first half with a cheerful Serenade augmented by a male quartet from the RAM. 

The second half opened with Gerald Barry’s String Quartet No 1, a work begun in 1985 and revised for the occasion. One felt it wasn't quite the Wigmore audience's cup of tea but it was lively and interesting and the tricky harmonic sections were well executed by the RTE Contempo Quartet.   We heard a  miniature by John Field, arguably Ireland's most famous 19th century cultural export.

John Gilhooly: Arts Manager Extraordinaire  Simon  Jay Price 
If the first half had the ambiance of a 19th century Schubertiade, the second was a hooley in the parlour.  Having displayed their prowess at highbrow repertoire, the ensemble let their hair down with a selection of favourite Irish songs/ Two poignant Francis Ledwidge settings struck a sombre note among the cheerful drawing room ballads. The Ships of Arcady and A Blackbird Singing were most expressively sung by Robin Tritschler, a former BBC Young Generation artist.  The hard working accompanist, Jonathan Ware did justice to Michael Head's intricate piano arrangements.
'What did you most enjoy' I asked a 
gentleman in the next seat sporting a green tie for the occasion. Gavan Ring's barn storming rendition of The Kerry Dances had reminded him of his aunt from Kerry. It was her party piece, he said.
After the formal proceeding, a jolly party continued in the Wigmore Hall Bar where the Guinness was flowing and the canapés were every bit as good as you'd expect. There were informal addresses
by the Ambassador and  Mary McCarthy of Culture Ireland. Anne Murray replied to thank all for the accolade and the warm wishes and in self deprecating fashion recalled her first appearance the hall during the first round of the Ferrier Competition.

Where the Céiluradh event at the Albert Hall in2014 missed the mark in the stated aim of celebrating Irish Culture in Britain, the Wigmore Hall Gala Concert succeeded elegantly. It was terrific occasion, a night of words and music to remember and to be proud of. Maith sibh go léir!


Missed it ? Available to watch free online

Related post: Ceiluiradh at Royal Albert Hall Some Musings
Gala Set List 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spirit of Spike at Theatre Royal

I caught one of the early nights of a touring production from Big Telly Theatre Company in Waterford last night. A six piece all-male ensemble from the Northern Ireland company presented a highly entertaining,  energetic adaptation of Spike Milligan's comic novel, Puckoon. A zany cocktail  blending Spike Milligan's  goonish humour  with elements of  Flann O Brien and Dave Allen sketches. The actors proved a versatile bunch adding colourful musical accompaniment on a variety of instruments including drums, whistle, ukulele, concertina and harmonica supplementing  Paul Boyd's lynchpin piano/ stroke narrator. There were some lovely theatrical touches. I loved the paper maché boy scout troop. You can read more  about it here.

I had a chat with the performers in Jordan's Bar after the show. Two of the cast have been with the production since it's first outing in 2009. I asked MD , Paul Boyd if the show had changed very much over three iterations. Yes he said, they had adapted it somewhat depending on the audience response and the strengths of the players involved in each of the three productions but in essence it remains the show that proved it's popular appeal with a successful run at the Leicester Square theatre in London's West End.
Paddy Jenkins  recalled  his many trips to the Theatre Royal to perform at Waterford International Light Opera Festival. (What a shame amid the plethora of Waterford festivals, this event lost it's toehold.)

I thought Puckoon was terrific! If you missed it, you can catch it at about half a dozen more venues including a four night run at The Everyman, Cork at the end of May.

Cast  Paul Boyd writer / piano
         Paddy Jenkins Dan Milligan
         John O Mahoney
         Patrick O Reilly
         Keith Singleton
         Giles Stoakley
Director Zoe Seaton

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Brandon and Matthewman conclude 74th Waterford-Music season with a 'joyous feast' of song

Sarah-Jane Brandon Gary Matthewman at The Georgian Large Room, Waterford

Schubert Viola 

Brahms Zigeunerlieder
Strauss Lieder op 27
Debussy Beau Soir/ Mandoline / Apparition
Franz Liszt Oh Quand je dors/ Enfant, si j'étais roi/ Comment, disaient-ils
Rachmaninov:  Zdes' khorosho op21  no 7
                          In the silence of the secret night op 4 no 3
                          The Water Lily Op 8 no 1
                           Son (The Dream) Op 38 no 5
                           Do not sing to me my beauty ) Op 4 no 4
Art is Calling me (I want to be a prima dona) from The Enchantress   Victor Herbert
O Mio Babbino Caro  Giannio Schicchi Puccini

Hey, Gypsy, strike upon your strings
Play the song of the faithless young girl
Let the strings weep complain, sadly quiver,
Until the hot tears flow down this cheek.

 Last night, I confess, 'hot tears flew down this cheek' as the 74th consecutive series of chamber music recitals under the aegis of Waterford-Music went out on a blaze of glorious song from two superb  artists. Pianist, Gary Matthewman is  no stranger to The Large Room. The Yorkshire man  made a big impression on Waterford audiences last year when he accompanied Máire Flavin at this event last year. Nobody gets a pianissimo out of the house Steinway C quite like Matthewman. The song pianist was  back in The Georgian Large Room last night with soprano, Sarah-Jane Brandon and the unanaimous consensus was that this was a fabulous night of song that will long be remembered.   If you missed it, too bad but you can  get a flavour of one of the numbers in this song of yearning, 'Quand je dors' by Franz Liszt .

Sarah-Jane Brandon sings Liszt from TallWall Media on Vimeo.

Throughout, Brandon demonstated the consummate skill and artistry that has garnered her prizes in the most prestigious song competitions She has a  gorgeous tone, the colour of which changed like a theatrical light board according to  range of emotions expressed in the lyrics  in German, French and Russian, all performed .from memory. A truly great voice allied to a gracious stage presence with animated facial expression all combined to make Brandon a compelling performer. Moreover, the pair exuded a joyful generosity of spirit and the audience responded warmly eliciting two encores before they were released.

Had I travelled to hear this superb song team  in a temple of music in London or Berlin, I would have considered it worth the trip. How blessed  are we to hear artists of this calibre
 on our doorsteps in the gem of a venue that is the Georgian Large Room.  A fabulous finale to another great season.

The recital was sponsored by the extended Downey family  in memory of Elizabeth Downey, a remarkable a lady who was singer , performer and concert promoter.  More about Elizabeth Downey here .

Related Posts Remembering Elizabeth 

                        Gary Matthewman: Lied in London Series

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Johnny I Hardly Ye: Jim Nolan Premiere at Garter Lane

Garrett Keogh Michael Hayes  Irish Times photo

It is a feast or a famine and this week, not one but two new professional theatre productions opened in Waterford venues. My review of a Eugene O Neill revival at the Theatre Royal is posted here. At Garter Lane, there was that rarest of theatrical events - a world premiere of a brand new play. Better still, one with a living playwright in the house, a real set, a convincing cast of characters on stage and off  and a plot with plausible contemporary moral dilemmas.

Jim Nolan's new play was eagerly anticipated and the consensus among opening night punters was that it lived up to high expectations. Set in a provincial newspaper office with a raggedy band of hard pressed hacks in the throes of being  taken over by a hard nosed media consortium, it weaves in a reference to WW1 and  a dubious 1916 commemoration thread. The title I understand comes  from a thread where a report on a damaged war veteran is sanitised  to present a  shinier happier version of history. As ever, Nolan's  dialogue is fast paced, witty and rings true- a feature confirmed by several of the local pressmen present from the News &Star and Munster Express.  Many of the other Jim Nolan hallmarks are present; the redemptive power of amateur choral singing, the Sylvie style declamatory monologue towards the end, a cast of recurring offstage characters.

Although serious issues were at the core, there was much humour in the day to day work-room banter and the first night audience laughed heartily throughout. There was a strong performances across the ensemble. Michael Hayes is familiar from the TV adverts for a certain phone company, (yes the one with the Sue the pig in it). His  culchie mammy's boy, Lenny Harris could have been downright corny but it wasn't. Lenny won us over and we laughed with rather than at him. Tall and imposing, Ciaran McMahon was arrogance personified. Jenni Ledwell was a matronly pragmatist and the veteran Abbey actor, Garrett Keogh the flawed hero/ deputy editor making a final principled stand . Ema Lemon made her professional debut in the role of  eager junior reporter, Lisa Reilly.

There was a air of civic pride in the local provenance of the event. Critics from the Irish Times and Independent attended along with  journalists from the local press. Best dressed man was Liam Murphy,  looking dapper in navy blue pin stripe. 'Yes indeed-the occasion of a new Jim Nolan play deserves no less', the arts critic of the Munster Express quipped. Waterford Blackwater No 5 Gin served at the interval was a treat. A standing ovation rolled into a tribute to the late Richard 'Tich' Meagher. After the show , thespians, crew and patrons repaired to recently reopened Tully's Bar (formerly McLoughlins)  across the road to mull over the evening.  It was like old times.


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Jim Nolan : Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye from on Vimeo.