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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

History Lectures at Waterford Medieval Museum

By Guest Blogger Pat Rohan

Image result for noel browne against the tide

You know you're on to a winner when you fill a room with over 150 people for a lunchtime history lecture  at the Garden Room in Waterford Treasures Museum. On Wednesday we heard the 'season finale' of a series of lectures by Eugene Broderick. The series ranged over a number of topics in the 20th Century. The topic this time was Noel Browne and the Mother & Baby Scandal from 1948-51.
Image result for mother and baby scheme ireland
Topic of the day
Eugene Broderick is an engaging speaker and brings an enthusiasm and insightful communication style to his talks. The wonderful memoir from Browne, Against The Tide, was the platform from the talk and Broderick referenced it a lot as well as other primary research he had conducted.

It was noted that Browne's birthplace of Bath St, Waterford was mentioned en passant in the book but nevertheless a monument  is now at the spot. Browne detailed the abject poverty he grew up with following the death of his father and saw immediate family members die from the curse of the time, tubercelosis. 

Browne was fortunate to receive financial support that led to his qualification as a medical doctor. He entered politics as a member of Clann Na Poblachta the coalition government and became Minister for Health. He championed the Mother and  Child Bill that was aimed at delivering healthcare to young children and maternity care to mothers.
Image result for noel browne bath street waterford
Local Monument
Broderick unravelled the various forces that were active at the time. The conventional wisdom is that the catholic church was the cause of the bill's failure and Browne's departure as a minster. He illustrated that whilst the church was indeed against  the bill the medical profession played an equally hostile role albeit without putting this opposition on paper and then there was old fashioned political manoeuvres.

An excellent lecture and the  audience went away much informed on the topic. Watch out for more lectures here

Monday, March 11, 2019

A Soldier's Tale: Ortús Festival

I interviewed a young  Irish violinist. Patrick Rafter from Kilkenny ahead of his return to Ireland for engagements at the Ortús Festival. The feature appeared in the Irish Examiner.

I traveled to Cork for the final recital in the weekend festival programmed by Sinead O Halloran and Mairéad Hickey. Despite being a rain sodden afternoon, there was a good crowd in the Curtis Auditorium on Union Quay for an interesting programme of work not often heard. I enjoyed L'Histoire du Soldat Suite by Stravinsky. Francis Humphrey's programme notes were full of detail about the work and the background of Stravinsky's travails during WW. The original plan for a seven piece band plus actors was slimmed down to a trio as musicians were laid low with the flu epidemic. The work charts the  story of a soldier returning from the wars with a battered old violin in his knapsack and his encounters with the devil and a princess in 5 episodes. Joining Rafter were Michael McHale and Jessie Grimes on clarinet.  We heard a lovely lyrical serenade by Hans Gal for clarinet, cello and violin. Brahms Trio for Clarinet, Piano and Cello completed the programme. It was good to meet my former violin teacher, Adrian Petcu who acts as artistic advisor to the young festival. With 4 annual weekends under their belts, the festival seems to be establishing itself nicely
in the calendar. Wishing them best wishes in the next endeavours.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Plethora of Guitars

I heard some amazing guitarists this weekend, all quite different in their styles but all very entertaining.  A reminder of three great gigs.

Claude Bourbon: On Friday, I enjoyed hearing Claude Bourbon played at the Coastguard Station in Tramore, I believe Bourbon is Swiss and based in the North of England.  Here is a number from his set. Given that the venue is quite small with a chamber sized audience in on the night, I wondered if we might have more music making here that dispensed with amplifiers.

Baroque Uke
Tonos at St Patrick's Gateway

Eamon Sweeney: On Saturday, Baroque guitarist Eamon Sweeney was at St. Patrick's Gateway with his duet partner, soprano Róisín O'Grady.  Together, they form Tonos, a duo specializing in the music of 16th -18th centuries  During the set, Sweeney played an assortment of period instruments ukulele, a 5 string guitar  before switching to a lute for a gorgeous set of Irish traditional repertoire and lute songs by John Dowland. Interesting asides delivered while tuning added to the enjoyment of the evening. The event was a fundraiser and there was a big turnout in support of local Green party candidates, Marc O Cathasaigh and Grace O Sullivan.

Albert Niland: Something about Claude Bourbon's fusion of styles reminded me of a Galway guitarist,  who I had heard on a couple of occasions in the West of Ireland. It so happened that  when I looked up the gig listings, Albert Niland was playing in Coughlan's Bar in Cork on Sunday. The backroom venue was full with an audience of  fans and it was a genial relaxed sort of gig with a set list of old favourites and infused with Latin influences and  reminiscences. I picked up a copy of Niland's memoir, Busker on the Verge and I look forward to reading it.

 John Palmer Music Man 

Guitars are John Palmer's biggest seller he told me when I interviewed him for a piece in a series of articles on independent stores in the Irish Examiner. Like so many musicians in Waterford, I've being very glad of the excellent service the shop offers and how dreary would the retail landscape in Waterford without it. Read the piece here

Monday, February 25, 2019

Ballet Bliss

Live ballet is a bit of a novelty for me and the opportunity to see a Russian Ballet troupe perform one of the classics of the repertoire close to home was irresistible. I knew I'd like it but I loved it. Such style, grace and elegance and a profusion of colourful costumes and backdrops. It was two hours of sheer enchantment. Ballet in some ways makes less demands on your concentration than other theatre forms, with no text, surtitles or lyrics to focus on.

It did add to the pleasure to see a full house in the Theatre Royal, the second of the day as the matinee had sold out. It was not the usual niche audience that you might see at classical music or a play but very much a main stream audience of young and old, male and female. It was remarkable value for €30. While it would have been wonderful to have live musicians, the sound track was quite good   quality and the solo instruments sounded faithful to a live sound.

When the troupe emerged to board their bus to take them on to their next stop, they were transformed from the shimmering  stage creatures to what might have passed for a senior school tour group in track suits and puffa jackets. Such is the magic of theatre.

 Catch it if you can on tour this week. It finishes in  Cork on Sunday.

I enjoyed Ellie O Byrne's feature on Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake which comes tp Dublin BGET later this week. Read it here

Related image Jessica Duchen's  music journalism is always interesting and I enjoyed her Swan-Lake themed yarn, Odette as my holiday reading last week. Like the author, the main character is a freelance journalist and I particularly enjoyed Mitzi Fairweather's asides on the travails of a freelance journalist.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Out to Lunch at Belfast

I made my first festival  excursion last week to catch a couple of events at the Out to Lunch Festival. I haven't been to Belfast very often and it is so accessible now with good road and public transport routes. We made the journey by car by passing Dublin on the M50 and the journey time was 3 and 1/2 hours with a coffee stop. I hope it won't be too long before I visit again and next time, I would consider going by bus or train. There are several venues that I haven't visited yet and there is  always plenty of events  happening on the lively arts scene. I'd love to see something in the Grand Opera House and the Waterfront Hall.
If You Can Find Me: A celebration of Stephen Sondheim
The Black Box is pretty much as you'd expect. It is a large functional space with a bar on the side and a small stage.. It has a relaxed clubby atmosphere. It was full for a lunchtime Sondheim selection. There was a light lunch thrown in for the modest entry fee of £8. The dozen songs drawn from diverse shows were loosely wrapped in a obscure  narrative and showcased singers, Margaret Bridge, Elaine McDaid and Rebecca Murphy from the NI Opera Studio programme . There was some adaptation of lyrics to inject some local humour. It was good to hear Wicklow tenor Ross Scanlon in fine form .  Keith McAlister accompanied on piano.

I was back later for tenx9, a regular monthly storytelling session. The format is in the title. Nine people have ten minutes to tell a true story and there is a theme. The event was free and coordinated by Padraig O Tuama and Paul  Doran. There was queue at the venue of an inter-generational audience. The theme on the night was 'Pets' and  even if some of the tales about endearing moggies weren't that gripping, the format meant no item was too long. More about the event here
You can listen to a podcast of the evening here.

We finished the evening in a salubrious velvet clad booth at Bert's Jazz Bar in the Merchant Hotel where the mood was mellow for a midweek guitar, piano and drums trio.

Monday, January 14, 2019

New Year Round Up

Play within a play 
January is almost half way through and the short days lend themselves to hibernating and sitting in by the fire. Nevertheless, although the gadding about is somewhat restrained for time being, there are some events that I want to keep in mind so here is a round up of the first fortnight.

Met Live in cinema; Adriana Lecouvreur Cilea. I had missed the first half of the season of live cinema screenings. It isn't the same as being there. Of course not. It is in some ways much better. Imagine arriving in the stalls at Covent Garden with your bumper pack of popcorn and as for having a little snooze- well I imagine that might  be frowned on. Anyway, I loved the Met Live production of Adriana Lecouvreur. I didn't close my eyes once. The NY Times review here.  . I agree with the NYT that terrific as the main leads were, Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet stole the show.

Hurrah for High Street Music Shops
There is much doom and gloom about the state of the retail sector in the air these days. I like browsing in music shops and it is encouraging to see  independnt music shops keep their foothold in the high street between mobile phones and the rag trade. I can't imagine going to Cork and not putting my head into Eileen Madden's emporium at Pro Music in Oliver Plunkett St. Ben O'Neill has been in business in Dungarvan for even longer, I think five decades. Michael John Ryan continues the family tradition in Tipp town. I spent a pleasant hour in John Palmer's music shop talking to him about his 30 years of great service to Waterford musicians at his shop in Gladstone Street for a upcoming article. If you have an anecdote to share about your favourite music shop do contact me.

 Radio Highlights:
Sleepless nights speed by with the aid of  ear phones and the BBC radio app.  I haven't yet got the podcast habit. It is so easy to browse the schedule to find something good. I never listen to Radio 4 Extra during the day but at night it is a perfect companion. Here were my favourites so far this year.

Great Lives Ken Dodd on Stan Laurel.

The Moth Hour Hope and Glory amazing first hand stories stories of army life from theatres around America In Poetry Extra, poet Daljit Nagra introduces poets talking about their work. You might still catch Thomas Lynch but my pick is British poet John Hegley talking about the Finnish epic poem Karavela.

My first published piece of the year is a round-up  of upcoming arts events. It  appeared in today's edition of the Irish Examiner 

Monday, October 8, 2018

13 Years of New Ross Piano Festival

Joe O Grady takes a bow

The piano arrives at NRPF
On Sunday last,  New Ross Piano Festival wrapped up their 13th festival in the small town on the Barrow with an afternoon concert  with an interesting and diverse programme.  The festival ticks a lot of boxes. I had been at the launch back in September where Collins had introduced a 12 year old Joe O Grady   Yet again, Finghin Collins gathered an impressive roster of top drawer international talent, some of whom haven't been heard in Ireland before. Also featured were up and coming Irish  pianists. I heard excellent reports about the jazz day events and it is good to see jazz becoming established as part of the festivities. John Buckley was the featured composer  About 200 people had gathered  for the last event in St Mary's Church. The Romanian British pianist Alexandra Dariescu projected a sunny personality and seemed genuinely delighted to be in New Ross . Dressed in a mauve and green maxi dress picking up a reference in the programme note about the colours associated with the modes used in the Preludes by Messiaen. She included attractive works by a little known French woman Germaine Tailleferre whose "progressive musical ideas during the 1920's earned her a measure of notoriety throughout the Parisian musical establishment in the 1920's" the comprehensive programme note informed  us. I was interested to note that one of her first husband's ex-wives  had married the playwright Eugene O Neill who coincidentally also has strong links with New Ross.

My favourite work of the afternoon was the Schubert Piano Trio in B flat. Here Finghin Collins was joined by Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev and cellist, Marc Coppey. Have a listen to the beautiful Andante in the video attached. The Andante is about 12 minutes in. The American pianist Anne Marie McDermott  was demonstrated a fierce virtuosity in a sonata by Prokofiev. On paper, New Ross would not appear to be endowed with any great advantages. They have a nice venue with a good acoustic and they hire a piano for the weekend. I think the committee under Connie Tantrum do a fantastic job in producing 5 days of fantastic daytime and evening events that can compare with the best in the world. Bravo tutti!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Round Up Sept 16-23

Culture Night, Bluegrass

On Saturday, Cork based independent promoter, John Nyhan brought a lively bluegrass band all the way from Tennessee to the Coastguard Station in Tramore. It was good to see the upstairs gallery full to capacity and this was an audience who knew their bluegrass music. The dungaree-clad quartet comprising of  mandolin, banjo, guitar and double bass were on their first Irish tour and played two energetic sets and had an old fashioned charm that won everybody over.  John himself stood in for a guest spot.  Check them out on the Bluegrass Ireland blog here

Culture Night. I was in Waterford Libraries with a big bag of ukuleles and fiddles to run a childrens' workshop as part of their Culture Night programme.  It reminded me of what wonderful inclusive spaces our public libraries are.  It was great to see the Waterford brass and reed bands performing on the streets. The De la Salle Pipe Band were installed outside the Crystal Centre on the Mall. The TF Meagher Fife and Drum Band were across the road at the Bishop's Palace. The Barrack Street Concert Band under Conductor Mark Fitzgerald were in their usual spot on Bailey's New St. Wonderful and all as the Viking Sword is, it did obscure the view of the band.

Cork Orchestral Society: It doesn't often happen that I have two articles published on the same day but Thursday's edition of the Irish Examiner carried my feature on the Cork Orchestral Society. On the same page, there's a piece on the early music tenor John Potter and his "Alternative History" programme. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Summer Miscellany at the Coastguard

 I enjoyed putting together a programme to mark Sea Sunday at my local arts centre. My idea was to present a daytime event-an hour long mix of music and words on a theme, along the lines of   Sunday Miscellany but with more music than words. I wanted enough variety to make it interesting for the audience but not too many soloists so that all performers got a good run. It all came together on Sunday. The sun shone and the fleet of  sailing boats in the regatta making their way from Dunmore to Tramore could be glimpsed through the windows .  It wasn't all plain sailing though.  We weathered the storms of an  erratic piano pedal and some  extraneous percussion. It was lovely to see so many friends and fellow musicians in the audience  Many thanks to my wonderful guests pianist Marian Ingoldsby, soprano Roisin O Grady and writer John Hannigan.  The hat collection in aid of RNLI came to €180. Thank you all who came along.
Summer Miscellany Set List

  Violin Lark in Clear Air TC Kelly arr

2Violin Amhrain na Leabhair trad Baidin Fheilimi arr TC Kelly

3Voice Caro Mio Ben / Giordano / Amarilli mio Bella Caccini

4 Piano  Mompou El Lago

5 John Hannigan Spoken word

6 Roisin An Die Musik / Auf dem wasser Schubert

7 Vln Roses of Picardie Haydn Wood / In a Monastery Garden Albert Ketelbey

8 Piano Carolans Concerto 

9 John Hannigan Walt Whitman/ Eliz Barrett Browning

10 Violin Neopolitan Serenades Santa Lucia/ Vieni sul Mar Toselli’s Serenade

11 Roisin The Meeting of the waters Thos Moore 

Lovely to see the Munster Express critic, Liam Murphy  and his wife Margaret in the audience. Here is Liam's review of the occasion.


SEA SUNDAY RECITAL REVIEW                       Summer Miscellany
It was an 'I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside' sort of summery feeling in the Coastguard Cultural Centre Tramore to mark Sea Sunday. Cathy Desmond (violin), Marion Ingoldsby (keyboards), Roisin O'Grady (soprano) and John Hannigan (spoken word) entertained. The sea shimmered out on the bay and gentle breezes filled the room where people relaxed and sang along to favourite tunes.
Organised by Cathy Desmond who has an estimable musical reputation and her reviews for The Irish Examiner and her excellent blog work are to be admired. She began with a beautiful violin work on 'The Lark In The Clear Air' and the tune 'Amhrain na Leabhair' that segued so well into 'Baidin Fheilimi' and people sang along sweetly and memorably.
Roisin O'Grady is a noted soprano and her singing of 'Caro Mio Ben' and 'Amarilli Mia Bella' was delightful. Poet and workshop leader, John Hannigan, read a poem about the Seahorse Tragedy, 'Pale Ghosts At Twilight' where the tide was in and the holiday-makers long gone and the men in uniform of a bygone era march again like pale ghosts as the light faded and a ritual was enacted in eternal memory was well suited to the location.
There was the rattle of cups from the downstairs cafe and a dog barked in the courtyard as Marion Ingoldsby delighted on keyboards with 'El Lago', a wistful tune where the notes rippled like sunshine on water.
The gentle nostalgia was wonderful for 'Roses Of Picardy' and Ketelbey's 'In A Monastery Garden', two violin tunes where Cathy Desmond excelled and she added two Neapolitan tunes; 'Santa Lucia' and 'Toselli's Serenade'. 'Two Lovely Black Eyes' peered out and the lilting and humming were beautiful.
John Hannigan touched on the hopes and dreams of children with 'Little Boy Blue' by Eugene Field, a sentimental but much-loved poem.
all three musicians joined for a wonderful 'The Meeting Of The Waters', bringing a wonderful afternoon hour of music, musings and memory to a close.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Opera at Death Valley, California

Thanks to guest blogger, John Hartery for this dispatch from California.

Image result for amargosa opera house

By guest blogger John Hartery
You know how it is? You’ve perspired in 96 degree below in Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California and when you emerge you’d like a spot of opera. Well this is America anything is possible.
The Amargosa Opera House and Hotel offers accommodation, opera / theatre on weekend nights and a fine café all in a unique venue.

The opera origins go back to Marta Becket who delivered on her vision of an operatic and arts venue close to the one of the warmest spots on Earth.

Here’s what Wikipedia has  to say about the place
Marta Becket rented the recreation hall in 1967, when it was known as Corkhill Hall; she began repairs, created the sets, and painted murals on the adobe walls.[2][6] She renamed it the Amargosa, the original name of the former mining town.[7] In 1970, journalists from National Geographic discovered Becket doing a performance at the Amargosa Opera House without an audience. Their profile and another in Life led to an international interest in Becket and her theater. She began performing to visitors from around the world,[6] including such notables as Ray Bradbury[7] and Red Skelton.[8]
In 1974, Becket completed her murals[6] and established the nonprofit Amargosa Opera House, Inc. to continue preservation of the property.[2] Through the Trust for Public Land, the nonprofit bought the town of Death Valley Junction, which was listed in the National "Register of Historic Places on December 10, 1981.[9] In 1983, the Opera House bought 120 theater seats from the Boulder City Theater in Boulder City, Nevada to replace the worn garden chairs[9] and the official National Register of Historic Places marker for Death Valley Junction was placed.[2
Image result for death valley

The hotel  is really a motel. It’s in the American motel style with rooms having individual access to the  exterior and interior.. There’s no restaurant. Instead you can drive 7 miles across the state border into Nevada to a dive bar with the novel name of,  eh,  The Stateline Bar. Across the road from the bar  there’s a casino ready to mop up your spare change.
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The Amaragosa Hotel offers basic standards but good value given the epic location. Breakfast is available in an adjacent cafe with a cheerful host and freshly made biscuits, bacon and eggs. 
Oh  and there’s something else. Supposedly the place is haunted with  various characters from the past turning up in the middle of the night. Of course that’s all nonsense. Only there  was a knock on my window in the middle of the night that awoke me. But there was  with nobody outside when I looked. That’s my story..........