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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Culture Night 2016 Waterford

Culture Night is a great incentive to get my performing skates on. Last year I enjoyed playing in Greyfriars' Gallery adding a salon ambiance to the exhibition space. This year my contribution was a more formal affair. I resurrected  a programme that I had performed in Ennis Library in 2011 with some changes. In Synge Songs, I aimed to create the mood of an Edwardian drawing room soirée which would chime nicely with the prevailing spirit of 1916 remembrance. I was delighted to be invited by Tom Hosford to use the wonderful space at St Patrick's Gateway Centre, a 17th century Methodist Church still used for worship. The interior has been beautifully restored and it has the most excellent acoustic for strings. I was wonderfully accompanied by composer and pianist Marian Ingoldsby. Earlier in the week I had spoken to TC Kelly's granddaughter, Rachel Kelly  about her forthcoming performance of his songs. She spoke about how well they sit in her voice. I love his beautifully crafted  piano and violin arrangements of Irish airs and included three of them in my programme.  They sit nicely under the fingers and the piano parts are full of interest.

I agreed with pianist Stephen Hough's recent remarks regarding length and timing of events. He advocated more early evening events and more shorter performances. The event ran for an hour at an early evening time of 6.30pm which meant patrons could go on to another event. The evening was unashamedly sentimental and nostalgic in mood and I relished every moment. of the playing but
more than that I  enjoyed that sense of connecting with the audience.  Thanks to everyone who came along.

(I hope to do it again. Follow me on twitter @fidleir or  drop me a line on email  if you'd like  to be notified of any future engagements)

As both Marian and I are committee members of Waterford-Music, I took the opportunity to announce the programme for the forthcomning season which kicks off with a perormance by David Power uilleann piper and Camerata Kilkenny on September 29th.

Later in the evening the Barrack Street Concert Band gave an alfresco performance in Bailey's New Street. In the calm  clear evening air they impressed with their tight well schooled sound in a selection that straddled several genres. I have to declare an interest in that my sister is in the clarinet section. Catch them in their annual concert at Theatre Royal Friday 30th Sept when their guest will be West End star David Shannon.

Synge Songs Set List St Patrick’s Gateway
The Lark in the Clear Air F  arr TC Kelly
Sally Gardens WB Yeats arr Herbert Hughs
2 Planxties Carolan G /Gmi  TC Kelly
Anach Cuain D Mode  viola
Baidin Fheilimi  A  arr TC Kelly
Scenes That are Brightest Eb / Marble Halls Eb  Wallace /Balfe
Chopin Raindrop Prelude 
Autumn: poem by Helen Sheehan 
Salut d’Amour  D Elgar
Jeanie with Light Brown Hair  D Foster/ Oft in the Stilly Night Thos Moore
Carolan's Concerto arr O Suilleabháin
Loves Old Sweet Song JL Molloy
The Coolin  arr Michele Esposito

Monday, September 12, 2016

Big Wind Blowing at Cariganore

 A perfect storm of music making blew up when a consortium of musical forces collided on the Ring Road in Waterford last night. The Irish Symphonic Wind Orchestra were united with the composer who was the catalyst for their genesis. Under the auspices of Symphony Club of Waterford, the ISWO togther with the Irish Youth Wind Ensemble under guest Johan de Meij, Liam Daly and Ronan O Reilly gathered to perform in the gigantic new WIT Arena  at Cariganore in Waterford, the first musical event to take place there.  It is difficult to think of any other indoor venue that could have accommodated the 150 musicians.

The ISWO evolved from the IYWE and was  formed in 2014 with the purpose of performing the Lord of the Rings Symphony, a much admired work by Johan de Meoj. I recognised many familiar faces, many from teaching establishments and brass bands around the country. The programme opened with a ceremonial fanfare and included Hobbits- from The Lord of the Rings. A piece titled Extreme Beethoven included references to all the Beethoven symphonies and  added an element of choreography with a marching band in counterpoint to the main ensemble. At Kitty O Shea's featured a medley of familiar Irish airs and was named for the bar in the Chicago Hilton where band delegates gather after the annual band convention.

The next gathering will be in Killarney. One senses that wherever the ISWo gather they will have a blast.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Opera Matters

Cork and Wexford Two custom built Irish opera houses. 

I penned this article last November. It didn't find a print slot and I am posting  it  now as yesterday I met some of the team involved in the Cork Operatic Society for a feature in the Irish Examiner. I regret to hear that no arts council funding has been forthcoming making their situation very precarious. 

Opera Matters

I spent two nights at Wexford Opera Festival in October and my reviews on Koanga and Guglielmo Ratcliff appeared in the Irish Examiner. The pews were full and there was a buzz of anticipation among the  seasoned cognoscenti, from home and abroad gathered at the opera house on opening night for the annual exhumation of neglected operatic repertoire.  So why did I feel a sense of disquiet.
It is a year since I was in the house for the announcement of the renaming of the house as National Opera House. Amid the cheering, there were some raised eyebrows. Just how was that going to work in practice, some asked. Would touring companies  use the Wexford House  as a rehearsal base before embarking on tours. It didn't seem plausible that there would be more than occasional performances outside the festival period. In theory, it's all very well to designate a national opera theatre outside the capital but to site it in a small town in a coastal corner was surely going to pose some logistical challenges. And what of the Wexford brand which prides itself on avoiding the mainstream which would surely be part of the remit of a national centre..
Michael Dervan addrsses the issue in a piece in the Irish Times last week. Dervan makes the point that you  would expect a national centre for any art form to reflect something of the national scene. He gets a hammering in the comments for having the audacity to suggest as much. Wexford Festival Opera presents very high quality productions with a superb chorus and voices. While there are valuable opportunities for young singers in training in the excellent chorus,  it does looks overseas for it's expertise. Irish singers were thin on the ground  in anything other than chorus and minor roles this year and production teams of the two operas I attended came from South Africa and Italy. Although it does occasionally programme new works, Irish composers have not yet featured.  Jurgen Simpson and Donnacadh Dennehy both had new works performed in major houses in London and Canada this year. Neither were performed yet at the NOH.  To the best of my knowledge , the only Irish work performed at the house was Eric Sweeney’s chamber work The Invader. Looking at the programme for 2016, the opera cupboard is pretty bare with just two  touring production s  scheduled for a one night each by Opera Theatre  Co and Wide Open Opera before the October Festival.  

But surely the house would make a great local resource  you might argue. The house along with many other purpose built arts centres with high running costs is simply too expensive to make it feasible for local community groups unless they have a guaranteed sell out. Last year I traveled to Wexford to hear an exciting new symphonic work played by the excellent community ensemble, Wexford Sinfonia, The  National Opera House was dark that night and the gala occasion  took place in the not- at- all suitable County Council offices which are most inconveniently located several kilometres out of town. It was simply too expensive to open the doors of the salubrious house. This situation is replicated around the country as rates in our purpose built arts centres are simply too high to make it feasible for local societies to use them on more than an occasional basis. No longer will every school child in Waterford experience the thrill of threading the boards in the Theatre Royal as the annual Féile na Scoile now takes place in a school hall as increased hire costs are beyond the resources of school boards.
In the hoopla around the renaming of Wexford Opera House, there were extravagant claims about the house being the only purpose built house in the country. Now where had I read that before? A search of the Cork Opera House website suggested  that the Leeside venue was also purpose built for the requirements of opera.  With a lively local opera society mounting a run of successful innovative productions,  both in the Opera House and the Everyman Palace Theatre, there was an argument for siting a designated opera house in the second city.  But despite rave reviews and a string of innovative productions involving local and international artists and crew , there is no staged production scheduled for 2016  by the Cork Operatic society  due  to a lack of funding.  Composer and director of Cork Operatic Society,  John  O Brien’s new work based on an Oscar Wilde short story, The Nightingale and the Rose will have to wait for a new round  in 2017* for a chance of Arts Council funds . There will be some opera in Cork however as an Opera Theatre Co touring productions of Don Giovanni will play here. Cork opera  practitioners would by remarkable if they didn’t view the generous grants for  three productions by Opera Theatre Company and Wide Open Opera’s ventures with a degree of envy  particularly with both companies under the helm of the same director.

Cork Opera House in collaboration with Cork Operatic Society are doing the best to keep the opera flame burning in Cork with two concert performances of La Traviata and The Merry Widow featuring sopranos Majella Cullagh and Cara O Sullivan in the title roles. Without regular funding  it is very difficult to keep it going. It is difficult to know what else opera practitioners in  Cork could have done to merit support from the Arts Council for their efforts.

* I have since learned that no funding has been allocated to Cork for opera in 2017 

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
Art in the Open  Ireland's International Plein Air Painting Festival runs from July 24th -Aug 1

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.


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.


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