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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Victorian Day Out at Wells House


I had a lovely day out at Wells House in Wexford, this time last year. My visit coincided with one of the 'paint outs' by the Art in the Open participants and scattered all around the beautiful grounds were artists at their easels engaged in the suitably Victorian pursuit of  capturing the picturesque setting on canvas. Alma Hynes, event director of this painting festival, which draws amateur enthusiasts from all around the world to Wexford, spoke to me about the event.

I didn't tour the house leaving that for a return visit and concentrated on  the gardens. You can listen to my chat with the gardening team, John Scanlon and Deirdre Walsh  in the audiobooms below.
This weekend the owners Uli and Sabine Rosier celebrate their 4th year of opening Wells House to the public and there are splendid  events planned. There is open air theatre in the garden tonight and a Victorian Garden party tomorrow.  If you are travelling without a car, a pick up service from hotels in the region is offered through a collaboration with Wexford Heritage Tours.

Art in the Open takes place from 24th July and  picking up the zeitgeist of the Three Sisters Capital of Culture bid, paint outs will take place in locations in the three neighbouring counties, Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford.

Wells House is between Gorey and Wexford on the R741  http://www.wellshouse.ie/
Art in the Open  Ireland's International Plein Air Painting Festival runs from July 24th -Aug 1 http://www.artintheopen.org/




















Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Luthiers in the spotlight

I have never been to Bantry for the West Cork Chamber Music festival but by all accounts it is a wonderful festival drawing the best in the world to perform.  My recent feature for the Irish Examiner shone the spotlight on the luthiers and bow makers who exhibit at the festival. I enjoyed visiting Noel Burke's workshop in Carlow and indeed I have had my own bow rehaired by Bertrand Galen, my other interviewee. I also met Niall Flemming, working with Noel as apprentice and  who plans to open his own workshop in Kilkenny in due course.  Isn't it cheering to know that work of the highest quality is being produced here in Ireland.

Cork Midsummer Meanders

I spent a day  at the Cork Midsummer Festival recently . My review focusing on the concert performance of La Traviata at Cork Opera House appeared in the Irish Examiner  I had a lovely day and enjoyed the mix and spread of events, from early to late, most of them free.

I didn't have room to refer to spoken word events . I caught two of the stages of Kevin Barry's Crosstown Drifts, a series of readings by various writers including Barry himself.  The newly restored Elizabeth Fort just off Barrack Street was impressive and made a great setting for one of the stages. Writers don't always make good readers but Barry is one of the best readers I've heard. I also enjoyed Conal Creedon's yarn which included a reference to a review Barry had penned of Joe Mac and the Dixies at the Silver Springs which appeared in the Examiner.

Review Live Music Events Cork Midsummer Festival 2016






Writers reading on medieval ramparts, a bridge merged with a drum kit, and Verdi pared down to the essentials were among the highlights on the final Saturday as Cork Midsummer celebrated a 20 year milestone with a festival true to the original ‘Sense of Cork’ spirit.

After a run of boundary pushing productions at the Everyman, Cork Operatic Society was down but not out returning to the Opera House with a concert performance of La Traviata.

There was a sense of anticipation and pride in the local legacy in the air in the foyer of the capacity house. Without the distractions of staging, the evening relied heavily on the strength of the work and the quality of three main voices.

To judge by the alacrity with which the audience rose to their feet at the close, this production was a triumph.
Leading a strong cast and chorus, Cork mezzo soprano Majella Cullagh wrung every ounce of pathos from her role as a worldly-wise courtesan, Violetta. The brightness of her first act coloratura softened in Act 2 to give some of the most tender moments in her duets with English baritone, Julian Tovey as Germont Senior.
Korean tenor Jung Soo Yun’s also heard in Faust last year was an ardent, clear voiced Alfredo.
Among the supporting roles, Emma Nash and Brendan Collins impressed in their cameo roles. Under director John O’Brien and leader Alan Smale, the 23 piece orchestra played with precision and style. Macdara Ó Searadáin’s haunting clarinet lines and string pianissimos in the instrumental preludes were enthralling.

OTHER BITS

Earlier and for a much younger audience, there was a soothing simplicity in a charming theatre show, Blátha Bána with an ethereal soundtrack by Fiona Kelleher at Graffiti Theatre Co’s HQ in Blackpool.

The natural percussion of flowing water and the metal bars of a city bridge were incorporated into Alex Petcu’s drum kit in one of three site specific pieces by Tom Lane. Children in the audience lining the Mardyke Bridge jumped in the air with the drummer enhancing the good vibrations under our feet.

A memorable and marvellous day!

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.





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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
                        http://cathydesmond.blogspot.ie/2013/01/roll-over-obeethoven.html

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 http://cathydesmond.blogspot.ie/2014/11/jacob-deatons-tribulation-at-garter-lane.html

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. http://www.newschool.ie/Waltons_World_Masters_presents_the_Hot_Sardines_on_Wednesday_8_June_2016/Default.4486.html

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  https://www.facebook.com/hotsardines.

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!

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Missed it ? Available to watch free online https://wigmore-hall.org.uk/wigmore-hall-live/live-stream

Related post: Ceiluiradh at Royal Albert Hall Some Musings  http://cathydesmond.blogspot.ie/2014/04/ceiliuradh-royal-albert-hall-some.html
Gala Set List