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

Friday, May 24, 2019

Myth and Magic at the Gaiety

Oval Victorian Splendour

Daylight gave a bright lustre to the red velvet and mahogany fittings of the  plush interiors of The Gaiety Theatre and it was pleasant to dawdle in the comfortable bars of Dublin's Victorian pleasure palace on a midweek afternoon in anticipation of the first matinée performance of Mozart's Magic Flute from Irish National Opera. A different sort of vibe prevailed than is usual at an evening event, The audience a little less voluble with the younger and older generations more fully represented than usual in  the house which looked about 75% full.

Wren boy Ring 
Morrigans meet the boys
There was a  enticing storybook quality to Caroline Staunton's staging with an abundance of vivid colours and textures. The characters looked as though they are plucked from the handsome  illustrations of either Celtic myths or a Dickens novel.Sets and lighting by Ciaran Bagnall created a magical setting that was very beguiling. A confluence of  elegance flowed from the stage design to the historic venue itself.  The oval two tier set was echoed in the auditorium as though it been cut to fit this space.  Strong performances across large cast  and a 24 strong chorus.  A red cloaked Anna Devin was terrific as Pamino. Kim Sheehan as Queen of the Night re imagined as a stooped and horned pooka hit all the high notes with crystal clear accuracy. Gavan Ring dressed as a wren boy  made much merriment from the role of Papageno. Nick Pritchard was an excellent Tamino. Andrew Gavin impressed as Monostatos. There was a hint of "The Greatest Showman" in Lukas Jakobski's Sarastro in top hat and scarlet coat.  Berlin bound Padraic Rowan  made an impression in the minor  role of speaker. The Irish Chamber Orchestra worked hard in the sunken pit. The woodwind ensemble sounding so clear and effortless in this acoustic. Fiona Kelly on flute and Richard McGrath  on glockenspiel provided the sprinkling of instrumental  fairy dust.
'The Greatest Showman'
The production ended the 18/19 season of the company. Any qualms about INO maintaining the high bar set by the opening production of Marriage of Figaro were quelled in this fantastic production which proved a superb bookend for the season. Bravo tutti!

The production finishes on Sunday with another afternoon performance on Saturday. Well worth an excursion.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Weekend Roundup May 20th: Sea Shanties, Sensational Symphonies and Sunday Songs

The Irish Baroque Orchestra brought their latest project to Christchurch Cathedral on Friday night as guests of Symphony Club of Waterford. It was sensational. The guest director, Kristian Bezuidenhout directing from the harpsichord was mesmerizing and there was a super-charged intensity to the performance. It was thrilling to sit close up and feel the energy transfer from director to players as Bezuidenhout rose and fell, oscillating between shaping a phrase at the console and with a graceful flourish of his hands. I found myself musing on some of the late Fergal Qunn's retail advice. The 15 or so players were a good fit with the proportions of the beautiful Georgian cathedral space. Quinn's advice to retailers was to replace fruit baskets with smaller ones as stock dwindled so that the baskets always looked full and the produce more appealing to the shopper's eye. Matching the venue to the forces assembled is a important factor and in that repect, this event was more satisfying that the first SCOW event event where a paino trio and reduced symphony orchestra looked and sounded underpowered in the 'larger basket' of the WIT Arena.

The repertoire was interesting. I had never heard of Erlebach and the IBO made a convincing case for the merit of his music. Like JS Bach, he wrote 5 cycles of Lutheran canatas. The programme notes (posted below) were very scant extending only to a set list and members list. In the abscence of some background, a few spoken introductions would have helped to set some contexts.

Well done to SCOW for yet again in bringing high quality performers to our doorsteps.

Sea Shanties in Dunmore East

Dordán at Nimmo 200
Dunmore East,  Co Waterford  was a perfect setting for a  festival dedicated to the music of sea faring. Sea shanty groups converged on the fishing village for, Nimmo 200.  It was as if a scene from the film, Fisherman Friends had come to life.  Local group Hooks and Crooks as Festival hosts kicked off the proceedings at a gala concert at St Andrew's Church. There was a eurovision vibe with groups from The Netherlands and Norway adding the international flavour to the event. Dordán under Damien Kehoe were best in show with a a great rendition of Regina Coeli and the Rugby Word Cup Anthem, World in Union. Balladeer Richie Roberts was MC. All the events were free and it was a cheerful edition the local festival calendar. It was my first visit to this picturesque church built with local red sandstone.

Programme note on Alexander Nimmo tell us that he was born in Fife in 1883 and came to Ireland to join the Commission for the Bogs of Ireland. In 1814 he designed  a new harbour, pier and lighthouse for Dunmore East. "We are delighted to acknowledge the contribution of Alexander Nimmo to the development of Dunmore East,; the fine lighthouse in the harbour is a true testament to his ingenuity and engineering skills."

Pub Gigs Karen and Fitz at Murph's Bar Tramore.

Karen and Fitz 

Continuing our trail of local pub gigs, we made our way down the hill to Murph's Bar in Tramore where we enjoyed an eclectic and entertaining set of covers from duo Karen and Fitz on guitar and bass for a sparse Sunday night audience. I specially liked a mashup of Blue Moon of Kentucky and Working 9 to 5.

Programme: Irish Baroque Orchestra
Handel – Trio Sonata in G major, HWV 399/Op. 5, Nr. 4 (arranged by Kristian Bezuidenhout)

Telemann: Sonata a 6 in G minor, TWV 44:33

JS Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052


Erlebach: Overture Nr. 4, in D minor

from Ouvertures Avec Leurs Airs À La Manière Française

Telemann: Wassermusik Overture

Irish Baroque Orchestra are delighted to welcome world renowned guest director, Kristian Bezuidenhout, to Ireland once more for his first performance with the orchestra.

One the world’s finest harpsichord virtuosos, Bezuidenhout turns his soloistic talents towards Bach’s D minor harpsichord concerto which is beautifully complemented by Telemann’s Tafelmusikwhile mythological creatures of Neptune and water nymphs are all depicted in his famous Wassermusik.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Round Up 8th-14th April

It was all about choirs for me this week. I heard no less four laudable vocal ensembles within a ten mile radius of home in the space of 24 hours in churches. As I write, events in Paris have caused moments of reflection on what treasures these local sacred spaces are.

Wexford Festival Singers brought a programme of mostly Baroque music to Christ Church,  Tramore. New incumbent, Rev Trevor Sargent welcomed a full house of around 250 to this elegant Gothic revival stone gem. The audience spilled in to the galleries and there was great sense of occasion. A string quartet from the Musici Ireland sounded very fine in this acoustic. We liked an Agnus Dei by Wexford based composer, Liam Bates
I look forward to hearing the organ here when it is restored.

The Choir of the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity Waterford.

I enjoyed Dermot Keyes article 'A hint of home in Trafalgar Square' in the Munster Express this week on a visit to  St Martin in the Fields in London's Trafalgar Square. Keyes notes that the London landmark was designed by a James Gibb and completed in 1726 and suggests that Gibb was a major influence on John Roberts who visited London prior to designing the twin cathedrals in Waterford. The music for Palm Sunday included some Lenten hymns. is encouraging to see the words printed and available to all ,an invitation to add your our own voice to those in the gallery under the direction of David Forde.

Ad Hoc Chorale; De la Salle College Vocal Ensemble
Some of the choristors at the Cathedral turned up moments later for duty  at "Heaven and Hell", a lunchtime choral concert given by Ad Hoc Chorale at St Patrick's Gateway. Under director Pamela Harrison, we heard a wondefully diverse selection of old and new repertoire, (including a psalm setting by choir member Ben Hanlon), performed with ease by the choir which includes many leading  lights of the local music scene. A great pleasure too to hear a four part harmony wonderful male voice choir made up of senior students from De la Salle College.!rii=b9_11023929_67_14-04-2019_
. Radio Moment: I was fortunate to be in the National Youth Orchestra when they made their first visit to the USA. The orchestra played in amazing venues, The Lincoln Centre and Boston Symphony Hall and the Kennedy Centre in Washington. I was interested to hear a clip of  conductor Hugh Maguire from the archives on John Bowman's item on the occasion of publication of Gillian Smith's book on her mother Olive Smith.

TV : John Bridcut's documentary on British contralto, Janet Baker for BBC 4 was extraordinary.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Round Up 1st to 7th April

A week when opera on screen kept us in touch with some great events. For a live experience, it was good to join a full house at WIT Arena to hear the NSO at full throttle.

There was a lot of buzz around the ROH production of La forza del destino in the press with the dream team of Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann in the lead roles and Pappano in the pit. Rumours of tickets selling for €4,000 were circulating. With curtain up at 645 I missed the first two but caught the last two acts at the Odeon Cinema, Waterford on Tuesday night which was enough excitement for a midweek night. Shown in screen 7, there were some issues with the projection format and sound quality that had punters grumbling. I don't know what the technical term is but the picture did not extend across the screen but  appeared to be in portrait format and body shapes seemed elongated vertically. I don't usually complain about volumes being too low, but i didn't quite get the oomph I was expecting. A great midweek opera treat nonetheless.
I was all set to head to Cork for the latest production from Irish National Opera but sadly couldn't make it. Serious FOMO was assuaged by  catching the production on RTE player. It is very easy to access. The sound quality is very good and it is good to see synergy between national platforms being exploited. Why not give Ray Darcy a night off and make room on the TV schedule. As Ko Ko in the Mikado might say, "He never would be missed"

You can't beat a live event and it was  good to see the RTE NSO fulfill the remit of being a 'national' orchestra by getting out of Dublin for two concerts. A full house of circa 500 came to WITArena to hear a programme of Sibelius and the Beethoven and Tchaikowsky under conductor Thomas Kemp. A rough estimate of the proportion of  populations of the Dublin and Waterford areas would suggest a greater turnout by a factor of ten in Waterford. Full house also in Galway, I am told. An attractive programme and glad  to hear the Fidelio Trio on my doorsteps. Programming a work that is essentially a chamber music work requiring a reduced orchestra was not however  ideal programming for this venue which is a huge sports arena. The Fidelio gave it socks but the cavernous auditorium was a challenge particularly for a solo violin timbre. Constructed posthumously from sketches, Tchaikowsky Symphony of Life  was one of those works that was good to have heard once. Perhaps a good choice for a Dublin audience bored with all the other symphonies and ballet suites but not compelling for an audience who hear a live symphony concert occasionally. Set against the stark grey walls, the honey hues of the strings stood out in sharp relief making an usually vivid spectacle.

Venue notes: The venue is not accessible by public transport. This is a drawback as it makes a car or taxi journey necessary to access the event.  I understand a shuttle service runs during college hours bringing students out to the facility from the main campus. It doesn't as far as I am aware operate on weekend nights. Is it possible to extend it to run a service from the city centre or the Cork Road campus returning after the concert? 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Round Up 24 - 31st March

There was a buzz on the Irish opera scene around the opening on Sunday of Madame Butterfly from Irish National Opera. Not everything was happening in Dublin though and I was delighted to be at Cork Opera House for the first of their season of concert performances. I'll be looking out to hear  more of  countertenor Viktor Priebe. He has a voice that will bring you to then edge of your seat..

@CorkOperaHouse #MarriageofFigaro My report for @irishexaminer here. Looking forward to more G&S and Verdi later

— Fidleir (@fidleir) March 27, 2019

Whinge!.  met a pal in the audience who was annoyed that the Cork Opera House  booking system would not allow her book a single seat if it had a vacant seat next to it reducing her choice of seating. I rarely book tickets preferring to take my chances as a walk up but  I had a similar conversation with a punter at the Theatre Royal in Waterford . who was similar baffled and annoyed when she couldn't book her seat of choice. Is it unfair to single attendees or prudent marketing strategy? What do you think?

I enjoyed talking to Patrick Rafter ahead of some Irish engagements for this article in the Irish Examiner  The young Kilkenny virtuoso was in the NCH on Friday performing with his mentor, the wonderful Russian violinist,  Maxim Vengerov.  I was in the Large Room for the Piano Day Waterford event and I caught up with his performance later. You can watch the video stream on this link here.

Piano Day Waterford.
We were blessed with beautiful weather on Friday and I couldn't drag myself away from the seaside for the daytime piano events in town. It all looked very jolly and I enjoyed catching Killian Browne's  plein air performance on line. See the tweet  below for a link . I did make it in for the evening concert and it was good to hear locally based performers enjoy the wonderful performing space .where Waterford Music welcomes international performers at their monthly series.   Doug Lowe is an excellent  American pianist based in New Ross., I have much enjoyed playing  chamber music  with Doug. Here he was partnered by cellist Ian McHardy,  a stalwart of many ensembles in the South East in Beethoven's Sonata no 2.  Both performers were making their house debut and I hope it won't be too long before I hear them both again here. Marian Ingoldsby wowed the audience with an eclectic selection and her drole spoken introductions. Marian's programme mixed her own compositions with work by Chopin, Mompou, O Suilleabhain  and drew a standing ovation.  An homage to Clara Schumann used some interesting special effects.  A layer of dance from Jess Rowell and others added to my engagement with the experience.

Venue Notes: There were some aspects of the event that marred the event.  I like it when a visual aspect, images or video clip is added to a musical experience but only if it it adds something. Here a busy moving projection displaying the sponsors names was merely distracting. The presence of a perambulating photographer  throughout the entire evening was irritating and gave the impression that the audience outside the room was more important than the one contained within. I would have liked a programme note.

High Plains Tradition.

Independent promoter, John Nyhan has brought so many terrific bluegrass and folk musicians to regional venues. On Saturday at Tramore, Coastguard Station, we heard High Plains Tradition all the way from Colorado. It was good to see the upstairs gallery full for the visitors. The five musicians had a collective senatorial air and apparently  all work in law enforcement when they are not on their annual tour. Nyhan himself lead the audience support from the front row and stepped up to sing a song himself- Freight Train. Check out the Bluegrass in Ireland blog for a comprehensive listing of gigs.

Pub Jam Croke's Bar

I had a lot of fun this week in at informal music evenings in my local pub. The Tramore Ukuklele Group met on Thursday for one of its twice monthly gatherings followed by a mellow song set from the house duo. On Sunday I joined a circle of terrific musicians who gather here usually on the last Sunday of the month for a lively jam that mixed trad, pop and jazz

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.