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

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
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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.
Related image
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..........

Saturday, March 3, 2018

On Song: Larchet and Moore remembered at NCH

Songmakers at NCH photo Dan Butler
Two interesting song projects tempted me to make a trek to Dublin recently.  Both were brought to the platform
Promoter and Painist Niall Kinsella
by the seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm of artists who found  something new in something old. It is one thing to play well but to coordinate and manage all that needs to done in bringing an event to an audience is a big task list.  Back in January pianist Niall Kinsella presented a lovely recital of songs by John F Larchet with singers Raphaela Mangan and Gavan Ring. It seems extraordinary that these songs have not much been heard or recorded. Bernadette Greevy did include some in her repertoire but otherwise they have been little aired. The dozen or so songs were full of melody and winsome charm. I particularly enjoyed  Padraic the Fiddler. I have a copy of the sheet music with an optional  fiddle part but have never heard it performed   I gather that a recording is planned and I hope that it will include this version.  Niall Kinsella presents the next in his series on March 23rd when the theme is Songs of a Gypsy Life and features tenor Owen Gilhooly with string players, Lynda O Connor and Gerald Peregrine. The concerts take place at lunchtime in the John Field Room.

Moore Reawakened: Baritone Simon Morgan assembled a fine  roster of performers to join him on the main stage of the NCH in a programme of songs by Thomas Moore under the title Moore Reawakened We are used to hearing the songs performed with piano accompaniments as they might have been heard in the 19th century drawing rooms. Pianist Una Hunt had a big project (My Gentle Harp) using young opera singers from RIAM and DIT recently .  Here is Simon talking about his project on RTE Arena.

The Moorings merged the trad elements of Karl Nesbitt and Drazen Derek , Martin Tourish on accordion and jazz stalwarts Myles Drennan and Dave Fleming on bass. A total of 16 performers on the night  ensured there was plenty of variety. It was like a very classy sing song. The duets were some of the  highlights of the evening. Jack O Rourke sitting at the piano joined Morgan in a duet of the Last Rose of Summer and there was a lovely guitar accompaniment from John McGlynn of Silent O Moyle. Not everything worked as well as a bossa nova version of Come Oer the Sea but most of it did. Cormac de Barra's harp was somewhat submerged in the busier numbers and Eleanor McEvoy's rockabilly Oft in the Stilly Night was a bit too sassy for the gentle lyrics to bear. An album launch is due in April. I can't wait.

My Funny Valentine:Simon Morgan was in Waterford  with trumpet player,  Niall O Sullivan's band  Feb 14th. The show titled My Funny Valentine was entertaining easy listening stuff  executed with panache by the excellent band. We would have listened to Brian Connor on piano all  night. Rod Patterson on bass and Guy Rickerby on drums were admirably understated.  James Nash on guitar added a completely contrasting timbre. We  had the luxury of two vocalists and Shona Hennebry was impressive. It did have a jazz club feel to the presentation. We could have only enjoyed it more if we were sipping champagne while listening. So pour yourself a glass and  have a listen  to Shona and Niall for yourself here

Wanders in Wales

No gallivanting this week as the nation retreats into the bunkers and watches the snow show. While our sympathy is with those who have to brave the elements to keep animals fed and emergency services up and running, spare a  thought for artists and managers stuck on the road. New Music Dublin had built up a nice of head of steam in their marketing and pre publicity. How devastating is must be for those involved to have all events cancelled. Also in our thoughts are the cast and crew of Irish National Opera who were forced to pull their Sligo and Navan dates. I enjoyed the opening in Wexford and have filed a review with the arts desk of the Irish Examiner. My preview is here which featured on Ryan Tubridy's news round up on Tues 20th Fingers crossed for the remaining dates of their inaugural production. Before the memories dim here is a round up of my recent trip to Wales.

New Opera Horizons. Wales is so close to us in the South East but up 'til now I've overlooked it although I did enjoy my trip to Fishguard Music Festival a couple of years ago. After the ferry, a couple of hours by train brings you  to the capital city of Wales, home of Welsh rugby and the Welsh National Opera.  Cardiff has long been on my to do list and I finally made it last weekend. My review of Don Giovanni the final production of WNO 17/18 season was published in the Irish Examiner. There was a notable Irish interest in that it marked a role debut for Irish baritone, Gavan Ring. The weather was bright and dry but very cold and the streets were full of young family's out and about for half term break. Cardiff is not the most immediately appealing city centre for sight seeing but a trip to the city art gallery  and Cardiff Castle delivered more than I expected. The National Museum houses one of Europe's finest art collections and. Admission was free to see "Five hundred years of magnificent paintings, drawings, sculpture, silver and ceramics from Wales and across the world, including one of Europe's best collections of Impressionist art". Most memorable though was a gallery cleared of paintings. For  The Sky in a Room exhibition, a young lady sat an ornate organ in the centre of the dimly lit  room singing and  playing an Italian pop song with an early music  Il cielo in una stanza. Guardian review of the experience here.

More surprises behind the walls of Cardiff Castle where Will showed us around the living quarters of the Stuart family. Having made his fortune in coal, the 3rd Marquess engaged the Dermot Bannon of 19th century England, architect William Burgess to do a makeover in a lavish Gothic Revival style. Here is the charming nursery complete with tiled tableaux of favourite fairy tales. The detail in the many rooms was eye watering.

While I made the journey home by boat, I flew in to Cardiff Airport. Change for the bus was in short supply but it is useful to know that you can pay the £5 fare in euro €7.

I stayed in the Futures Inn in Cardiff Bay. The Great Western Pub near the Central Train Station was full of Friday revellers just finished work and conveniently displayed the departure times.

With a population of 3million, Wales is not that different in size to Ireland and is probably a better comparison for what model of opera provision might work than say a wealthy German city The WMC hosts all sorts of events and is not dedicated to opera. The production was playing two nights there before touring to other UK venues.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Ventures in Chamber Music

Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor
Stanford   Piano Quartet in F major
Dvorak No 1 in D major
My Lagan Love  trad arr McHale

 The Vanbrugh roll on as trio since the retirement of their violinist Greg Ellis. A 4th wheel was added by pianist Michael McHale at a recital at City Hall Waterford last Thursday. McHale was last heard here with clarinettist Michael Collins. Piano quartets are not often heard on the concert platform. String quartets when they collaborate with a pianist will more usually play a quintet rather than leave a player sitting out.  The three quartets heard at the first recital on the Waterford-Music recital series in 2018 were unfamiliar to me. It was a thrilling if slightly terrifying experience to sit at the City Hall Steinway as page turner and see at close range the black dots of the score transformed into cascades of sound by the superb playing of McHale. The surprise of the evening was the quartet by Stanford, a four movement work full of contrast and exuberance. An encore of a gorgeous arrangement of the slow air My Lagan Love made the audience melt at the close. It was great to see a good house in to enjoy a terrific evening.

If you missed the tour, the Vanbrugh with McHale have a few dates coming up at the NCH and UCC later in Feb and March when they add a trio by Schubert and quartet by Schumann to the programme.
 Details here

Portraits: Debut of McGill/McHale Trio on Cedille Records

Pianist Michael McHale adds to his expanding discography with this most unusual collaboration. Flute and  clarinet merge with  piano in an attractive and refreshing programme of contemporary works. Adding much to the pleasure of the collection  is the addition of spoken word delivered by the clear measured voice of actor Mahershala Ali. The title of the album is taken from Portraits; a series of a dozen poems by American poet and social activist Langston Hughes.  Hughes I discover hailed from Joplin Missouri and is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.The poems punctuate musical portraits by Valerie Coleman. I  enjoyed the suite of dance movements by Paul Schoenfield . McHale's flair for arrangement is beautifully  demonstrated in arrangements of Rachmaninov's Vocalise and The Lark in the Clear Air which suits the wind timbre perhaps,dare I say it, better than TC Kelly's violin and piano arrangement that we are more familiar with.

More rare quartet repertoire coming up at the next recital in Waterford on 1st March. Musici Ireland features Waterford's Emmet Byrne on oboe in a Mozart Oboe Quartet. Emmet is a member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Related posts Q&A with Michael McHale

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Diversions in Dungarvan

On Saturday, I took a trip down to Dungarvan drawn by the Tionól Nioclás  Tóibín, an  annual weekend of events dedicated to the memory of the famous  sean nós singer who was a native of An Rinn.  I was too late for the morning workshops but I was just in time for a lecture by Brendáin O Cróinín who has just published a book  on the life and work of 18th century poet, Piaras Mac Gearailt. Mac Gearailt is best known for the song Rosc Catha na Mumhan. O Croinin read from his prepared script and the local male voice choir. Cór Fear na nDéise enlivened the event with a rousing rendition of the Munster battle song and the song Sean O Dí.  The choir formed eight years ago under director Darren O Droma  have just launched a CD of songs with instrumental accompaniments from the area (Ceolta Néata)  and I look forward to hearing it on my journeys in the coming week.

Over in Mooneys, as the the Ireland Italy rugby match was in the final moments, fidils and accordions were striking up in the two  snugs. at opposite ends of the bar.   But it was songs we were after and we made our way to  Teach Ui Muirithe in Helvick Head where singers were gathered around the hearth in true sean nos fashion and taking their turn at the request of the bean an tí.  Among the many items I enjoyed was a stirring rendition of Sliabh na mban by a gentleman bearing a Nioclas Toibin  tee shirt. I much enjoyed hearing a young man from Connemara. Concubhar o Lughasa, winner of the 2017 Corn Ui Riada, the premier sean nos singing competition. There was room for sport and music in this convivial pub in Helvick. A large photo of local hero, long distance runner John Treacy took pride of place over the fireplace and a clutch of hurling supporters watched the broadcast of the Limerick Cork game with the sound off so as not to conflict with the singers.
Concubhar O Luasa in action at Tionól Niocláis Toibin

Paul Dunlea
Tempting as it was to stay for the evening events, we came back into Dungarvan where a weekend of jazz events was in full flow at Lawlor's Hotel. We caught an early evening session with a very sophisticated  quartet in the bar. Fronted by trombone player Paul Dunlea, the line up included pianist Cormac MacCarthy who I had met in Cork at a Kaleidoscope event. My piece for the Irish Examiner is here  The quartet were staying on to play for soul diva Karen Underwood for the late evening Prohibition ball. Sadly we hadn't packed our flapper dresses and a little reluctantly we left what looked like the makings of a great party night if the style in the foyer was anything to go by.

Hurrah for Music Shops: Earlier in the day I was delighted to meet  Ben O Neill in his  music shop in Dungarvan. Ben has been in business since 1973 supplying instruments and electrical goods as well as carrying a range of recordings in all their formats from vinyl, cd and cassette. It strikes me that music shops are one of the last family retail businesses on the high street. The challenges that face these shops are similar to those that face book shops and while there has been much lamentation the closure of  Liam Ruiseal's  book shop in Cork, there is not much point in moaning about the demise if you then do your shopping on Amazon. Long may independent music shops prosper.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Hometown Launch Gig at Coastguard, Tramore

I caught the first gig of a newly formed ensemble, Hometown at the Coastguard Centre in Tramore on Saturday night. A strong line up  included stalwarts, Gerry Madden on mandolin, guitarist Paul Grant and  Richie McDonald on bass. The group fully exploited the potential for a variety of timbres and  delivered an appealing and  eclectic  programme of jazz, folk and world music to a full house. Suzanne Rowe added a 'café orchestra' vibe on accordion. A new face to me was American singer , Bobby Carey who impressed with her classy renditions of jazz and folk numbers.   Set against the ensemble efforts, it was good to hear reduced instrumentation  such as a waltz on accordion, a guitar treatment of Gabriel's oboe and the Latin American riffs of bass and guitar. Highlights were the bossa nova version of folk standard, Black is the Colour and original  songs by  band member Paul Grant and Paul Foskin who was in the audience.
My sources tell me that you might catch members of the band in a more informal session on Tuesdays in Downes' Bar, Waterford.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Keane Power of Imagination: Imagine Festival Launch

The power of imagination to carry us through life's difficulties was the theme of Eamon Keane's engaging key-note address at the Imagine Festival launch at St john's College. Drawing on childhood reminiscences and his rich and varied career as a broadcaster, musician and counselor, Keane drew in the audience with his easy story-telling style, -recalling his mother Maura Hassett playing Chopin in their council house-an incident of stage fright as a fledgeling virtuoso and his encounters with assorted characters including Nelson Mandela, fiddler John Sheehan and some colourful North Kerry denizens. Describing himself as a musician who fell into journalism, he graciously paid tribute to his WLR colleague Mary O Neill for her arts programme 'giving voice to artists and documenting the local scene'. Hear hear we say! Sadly with no piano in St John's College Oratory, we'll have to wait for another occasion to hear him play
Rick O Shea seemed genuinely delighted and excited to be taking on  the direction of Waterford Writer's Week and gave a glimpse of what's in store in the weekend of events in various venues around the city. Mark Roper was on hand to read some of his poems. There were a couple of songs from troubadour Lorcan Reidy and a snippet of Sam Shepherd.

I love the Imagine Festival and often  gravitated back to Waterford for it when I lived away. On a very small budget and with a team of committed volunteers, it presents a range of arts events to brighten up those dark and dull days in late October. While it is works hard to spread the word nationally, I believe the festival aims to serve the local audience first and makes a virtue of its diversity rather than targeting a niche. I do have a quibble though. I found this launch event too long and the scheduling made it awkward for attendees to support the many arts events already happening in the city that evening.  A 6.30pm start wrapping up at 7.30pm would have  facilitated patrons to support the launch and also get to Garter Lane in time for a trad group or to  classical music recitals in the Large Room and Waterford Crystal. And surely there would have been a few takers for a cabaret singer in Theatre Royal. Maybe we could have a diary somewhere where any confirmed events could be posted so planners could see at a glance what is scheduled and avoid those awkward clashes.

Related posts: I was fortunate to hear Eamon Keane and John Sheahan perform together at Listowel Writers' Week some years ago My report here

My Round up of Imagine Festival 2016

Culture Night Waterford

To Hell in a Handbag

I set out last night to get a flavour of the Culture Night activity in Waterford city.  My experience was good in parts like a curate's egg. Speaking of clergymen, I enjoyed Helen Norton and Jonathan White's witty spin off of Wilde's Importance of Being Ernest. An hour long of crisply enunciated dialogue by the actors in the comfortable space at Garter Lane was a cheerful and well executed theatrical experience and drew a full house. My first stop at the Fat Angel Wine Bar was less successful, I couldn't hear or see any of the four short plays by local authors presented in the small back room and by default joined  the lively chatter in the front room. Gravitating toward Greyfriars, usually a focal point for culture night activity, I was surprised to find the doors to the exhibition at the Municipal Gallery closed and was left with feeling that the buzz and the culture vultures were somewhere else this year. Later I did manage to squeeze into the Oak Room of The Munster Bar for the Mod Poets session. I heard a intense monologue with a bleak theme of post traumatic stress disorder delivered by a very well turned out actress in 50's costume by Anna Jordan and Paul McDonald's ode to his dog.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hungarian Feast on a Famine Ship: New Ross Piano Festival

A famine ship and a grand piano seem unlikely co-stars. Add in a distinguished Hungarian diplomat, a pale young man in concert tails and a flock of starlings perched in the rigging as unwitting extras and the scene looked like a setting of a classy spy thriller.  I was on the Dunbrody moored on the River Barrow, Co Wexford for the launch of the 13th New Ross Piano Festival. This year, there is an emphasis on Hungarian repertoire and artists  in the weekend concerts. This year,  artistic director with his formidable team are scheduling  some jazz piano events. Heavyweight on the international scene Enrico Pieranunzi will be in New Ross on Wednesday. Check him out on the video above.
 I was pleased to meet chairman, John Kissane who said he particularly loves the chamber music element of the festival. There are loads of attractive programmes and an impressive roster of emerging and established talent in daytime and evening concerts. Check out the details on the festival website After a few well chosen words by the Hungarian Ambassador, Istvan Phally, there was a little piano music from Sean Morgan Rooney and director of the festival Finghin Collins. As the last notes faded out over the river Barrow, the starlings with a whoosh abandoned the riggings and flew away,. no doubt to return to St Mary's Church when the festival proper begins.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Billy O'Brien & Friends

Sur ta lèvre pure, ô ma bien-aimée,
Telle aussi mon âme eut voulu mourir,
Du premier baiser qui l’a parfumée.

The dreamy  setting of Coibri  by Ernest Chausson telling of a hummingbird who sups too much love 'from the rosy cup' seemed to catch the languid mood on one of the warmest days we've enjoyed this summer.  Expressively sung by tenor Phillip Keegan with sunlight flooding  in the  Large Room from the Georgian windows, the song was just one of the many highlights of a programme presented by pianist Billy O Brien. "A concert of summer classics that will wow you" was promised in the publicity and wow us they most certainly did in the nicely balanced programme featuring  various permutations of  five performers, all young professionals in the early stages of their careers. On violin was Siobhan Doyle and Marian Power. The cellist was Yseult Cooper-Stockdale. As well as Borodin, Schumann and Elgar, we also heard a premiere of a new work by Ben Hanlon who introduced the work in his self deprecating manner. His Piano Quartet no 1 was a series of four reflections taking inspiration from eclectic sources; Autumn leaves, the rhythms of politicians names and a gruesome painting of a Pictish Warrior. The writing was lively with much colourful interplay between the parts.

An encore of Gardel's Por Una Cabeza brought the audience to their feet but that was not the end of the proceedings. Aside from the excellent musicianship displayed, the evening was extraordinary  on another front. It was packed with more than 200 patrons and many under the age 30. Not since Joanna McGregor performed here have I seen a full house for a classical music programme. When the music stopped, another soundscape kicked in. The sound of  buzz of conversation resonated in the room for a long time as the audience which included many family and friends of the musicians lingered to chat, take some snaps and generally  savour the magic. Bravo Billy and Friends and Ben Hanlon. It was marvellous!.