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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Roundup from the South East

It has been a hectic week on the arts scene in the South East. Here are my highlights 
New Ross Piano Festival Sunday 

Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26
Rimsky-Korsakov Quintet for piano and winds in B flat major
Gerry Murphy Ros Tapestry Suite V: Battles in the Kingdom of Ossory
Bach Fantasie and Fugue
Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit
I am just back from a wonderful afternoon of music at the New Ross Piano Festival. This weekend festival  dedicated to the piano gathered a confluence of elements to make it so much more than a string of solo recitals in a scenic riverside location.  Artistic director,Finghin Collins,  to his own impeccable skills added  a quartet of European soloists at the top of their game, a wind quintet for exploring chamber music repertoire, a near perfect acoustic of an old country church and a magnificent Steinway grand piano  to produce  a terrific hive of musical activity blessed by Autumn sunshine.  Bravo Mr Collins and committee! Definitely marking the last weekend in September 2015 in my diary. 

Waterford Concert Orchestra: Pictures of Ireland  Saturday 

Conductor Kevin O Carroll and the Waterford Concert Orchestra marked the Waterford 1100 year with a gala concert of pieces with an Irish connection. The headline piece was the first performance in the medieval city of Shaun Davey's Granuaile Suite. Karen Donovan was the soloist in the epic hour long work. While it was good to hear the popular work in it's entirety, it was the second half works that most impressed. In the clever arrangements of Leroy Anderson's Irish Suite, individual timbres were heard clearly in the sometimes soupy acoustic of Christchurch Cathedral. It was terrific to hear work by two local composers. Mitch Cuss is trumpet player with the orchestra. His work, a movement from his suite entitled Lineage was a pen picture of his grandparents. In the notes, Cuss informs us that his surname is derived from the Irish word cos or leg The closing work was a substantial tone poem by Greg Scanlon. Legacy closed with a stirring rendition of the Angel's Chorus from Maritana performed by a mixed choir drawn from Madrigallery, WMVC and Voci. What a pity there was no official from Waterford City/County Council to add a civic gravitas to the occasion.

Dean Friedman  Friday Garter Lane 

I didn't have high expectations for an evening with Dean Friedman. I associated him with a couple of very catchy hit songs from decades ago  but I was wowed. Sharp well crafted  lyrics, mellifluous vocals with a Sesame Street twang and impressive keyboard skills. He reminded me of Randy Newman in the soft edged but biting satire and in understated  donnish style. It pains me to record that the audience was more meagre  than an artist of this calibre merited. How best to market these events in this era of fractured information platforms is a problem but it isn't enough for an arts centre  or a promoter to put an event on a website. Clearly more of a push in the marketing is   required.

Imagine Launch St Patrick's Gateway Centre Thursday

There was a palpable buzz of anticipation  among the arts community
gathered at the newly refurbished St Patrick's Gateway Church for the launch of the Imagine Festival 2014. Cllr Jason Murphy opened the proceedings. It was good to hear poet Edward Denniston refer to the contribution of  Rev Fred Vincent in instigating the process of opening the venue to a wider congregation. Jim Nolan handed over to actor Jamie Beamish to read from his play Dreamland. Director of Imagine Ollie Breslin spoke with passion about the arts in Waterford . Finally editor of the Irish Times, Kevin O Sullivan expressed  trenchant views on the state of arts in Ireland in his substantial address. More on this evening  in my next post. But for the time being mark October 16-26th in your diaries and check out the itinerary here 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Imagine That : Waterford Arts Festival Hits It's Teens

I have lived away from Waterford for most of the last twenty years but have been a frequent visitor for holidays .  The county's charm during the Summer months is easy to see in the miles of beautiful coastline and above average hours of sunshine. (They don't call it the sunny South East for nothing.) But even during the darker days of  late October,while jazz fans beat a path to Cork and opera aficionados  bored of the big house repertoire converge on Wexford, my arts destination of choice has usually been  Waterford, the attraction being  one of the best and quirkiest small arts festivals on offer in our festival infested isle; Despite the odds, Imagine Arts Festival is hanging in there and this year, it celebrates 13 years of  activity in the arts arena.

What appealed to me was the conviviality and the broad range of arts experiences at low cost running throughout the day. You could start with Booze Blaas and Banter (a uniquely Waterford event), carry on to a history talk and finish with a rare  music gig in the evening and that was not to consider at all the arts exhibitions which usually escaped me. 

This year, I am viewing the festival through the prism of a being a Waterford resident and involved in the team of volunteers assisting director Ollie Breslin.  I am looking forward to blogging on the festival. 

The festival programme is being launched this Thursday in the newly refurbished St Patrick's Church. The special guest invited to launch the programme is the esteemed editor of The Irish Times. Kevin O Sullivan hails from Tramore and it will be a rare opportunity to hear one of the most influential figures of the fourth estate off the page so to speak.  See you there! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Of Ladies Lost & Found: Karen Underwood and John O Brien

‘I want to feel something in the songs whether it be joy or pain’ said Karen Underwood during her show at Garter Lane Arts Centre, Waterford with pianist John O Brien. The Chicago native has built up quite a following with her tribute show to Nina Simone. She is currently on tour with a show titled, Of Ladies  Lost and Found, with a set list associated with singers who left the world stage too early .  There was volumes of  both emotions and a dollop of humour too  in the duo’s rendition of soulful  songs  made famous by the likes of  Judy Garland, Edith Piaf , Dinah Washington and Billie Holliday, to name but a few.
Opening on a devotional note with the spiritual,  Precious Lord   there was throughout  an unflinching and forthright approach  by singer and accompanist in the distinctive reworking of 20 songs. Underwood has a terrific contralto  voice but doesn’t trade on power and beauty of tone alone.  The long sustained notes sometimes have a rough edge , tempos swing freely and always the sense that the lines come straight from the heart.. The mood was darkest with her stark rendition of Strange Fruit. Her favourite song in the set she admitted was the rather more optimistic  Randy Newman song,  I Think it’s Gonna Rain Today
 She was wonderfully well supported by John O Brien on piano, whose sophisticated arrangements imbued familiar repertoire with a freshness making it sound newly minted.  There was an easy rapport between the two who are long time collaborators and  who clearly relish performing  this repertoire together.  O Brien is best known for his innovative work as musical director of Cork Operatic Society. In an era where electric keyboards have become the norm, it is worth noting that a proper grand piano was in place for the show and O Brien fully exploited the dynamic range of an excellent instrument . I warn you, I am going to go too far’, he declared  and indeed he did,  launching into a bravura version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  Quite unlike any other version you are likely to hear.  It  was terrific!

Further dates : Dolan’s,   Limerick Weds  17th , Kilkenny Watergate Theatre 20th , Cork Everyman  Palace 21st Sept
Set List 1. Precious Lord 2. What a Difference a Day Makes - Dinah 3. God Bless the Child - Billie 4. I Look to You - Whitney 5. Nature Boy - Sarah 6. I Loves You Porgy - Nina 7. Love is a Losing Game - Amy 8. And I Love Him - Esther 9. The Man That Got Away - Judy 10. If You Love Me - Esther/Edith 11. Je Ne Regrette Rien - Edith -------- 12. Kissing You 13. Mad About the Boy - Dinah 14. Over the Rainbow - Judy 15. Lilac Wine - Nina/Eartha 16. Ne Me Quitte Pas - Dusty/Edith 17. I Think It's Gonna Rain Today - Nina/Dusty/Peggy 18. Strange Fruit - Billie 19. Both Sides Now - Joni 20. Feeling Good - Nina 21. Somebody to Love - Freddie

Chat conversation end

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Irish Youth Opera Inaugural Production

On Saturday, I attended the opening night of the first production of a new company, Irish Youth Opera at Wexford Opera House My review is in yesterday's Irish Examiner (link here). I saw a repeat of the second act at the   Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork. The smaller  venue seemed to suit the scale of the production better and intensified the dramatic element. It moves to  the O Reilly Theatre, Dublin on 11th and 12th and then to An Táin Theatre,  Dundalk, It may not be everyone's  cup of tea but the voices are very impressive, there is a rich  palette of  dark orchestral timbres to savour and there probably won't be another production of  this Britten opera around again too soon.

Colette Sheridan's preview is here 

Irish Times review here 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Preview South East Arts Events

Here we are in mid September and the skies remain blue and knowing that chilly winds won't remain at bay for much longer makes these days all the sweeter. Here are some of the arts events on the radar this month.

Waterford Music open their new season with The Dublin Guitar Quartet in the elegant Georgian Large Room at City Hall. Contemporary Composers Taverner , Part and Glass are on the programme. There will also be a masterclass at WIT on Friday morning.

David Hennessy Musical Society present Into the Woods. This is a new musical to  me by Stephen Sondheim.  Start time is 7.30pm Tues 16 to Saturday 20 at Garter Lane . I saw Seussical a couple of years ago from this group and it stands out in my memory as one of the zingiest productions of recent years.  I am expecting very good things from Hennessy and David Hayes.

Imagine Festival Launch:  25th This quirky multifaceted arts fest brigtens the gloomy dying days of Autumn. The launch takes place in St Patrick's United Church on Thursday 25th September  at 7pm. The special  guest is esteemed editor of the Irish Times, Kevin O Sullivan who hails from Tramore.

New Ross Piano Festival.  25-28th I haven't been at any of the previous 8 festivals and I am looking forward to finally visiting this festival dedicated to the piano. Artistic director Finghin Collins has put together an attractive programme of piano recitals, master clsses   and chamber music performances. The focus this year is on wind and the Cassiopeia Wind Ensemble feature. There are specially commissioned works inspired by the Ros Tapestry by five Irish composers . The concerts are scheduled from morning to late evening and a season ticket at €110 looks like a very good deal. Soloists include young guns  Lise de la Salle and Joseph Moog as well as Collins himself of course. Melvyn Tan plays the fortepiano which is apparently not the same thing at all as the pianoforte. The evening concerts feature several pianists in each programme not just a single soloist which should make for conviviality in this more  usually solo pursuit. If the soloists sound half as good as they look it will be fabulous. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Lights Out On Red Kettle Theatre Co

The appointment of liquidators to the Waterford's Red Kettle Theatre Co. has been a cause for dismay when announced last month .  Established in the mid 80's it has generated  civic pride and a source of quality entertainment over the last three decades and many times featured in these posts.

Best known for the  association  with playwright Jim Nolan,,  Red Kettle premiered many of his plays in Waterford beginning with The Gods are Angry, Miss Kerr. It was encouraging to the whole scene that while other writers left for the groves of academia, Nolan chose to stay and write and produce in his native city. Together  he and Red Kettle made Waterford a beacon for what could be achieved by a regional theatre company on relatively low subsidies. At the same time the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera attracted many overseas visitors and the Theatre Royal was packed for a fortnight of musical theatre and operetta. Quite how that festival  slipped away in 2012 without any gloomy pronouncement, I can't fathom given that every small town has an active musical society.
Nial Tobín in Red Kettle The Salvage Shop 

'The magic is gone' said Liam Murphy, arts and theatre critic of Thye Munster Express  on Morning Ireland when the news broke  and the tone was mournful, not quite on the scale of the announcement of the closure of the Glass Factory but no less symbolic.   Coming in the same year as the death of Bryan Flynn, extraordinary man of theatre,  whose original musical Pentimenti was premiered by the company it has been a grim time  for Waterford arts.

1999 poster Light Opera Fest
Red Kettle along with other regional theatre companies  had it's  Arts Council funding slashed in recent years. Spraoi Festival,  which has to be the most accessible arts experience in the country and  which  reaches the largest proportion of Waterford citizens not to mention the many visitors it attracts has also had its funding slashed to ribbons.  Cllr Mary Roche who was on the first Red Kettle board, has done a trawl through the funding stream for the urban centres outside Dublin and Cork and  the results make for depressing  and infuriating reading. Her report posted on her blog  puts flesh on some misgivings I felt as I attended events this year.  While I love opera and have travelled to see many productions, I don't see how the Arts Council can justify spending almost  €600,000 on a single production of an avant garde opera production which at best will appeal to a niche audience. The BGE Energy Theatre was half empty on the one of three night when I visited, Wide Open Opera's producton of Nixon in China. . Arts practitioners around the country must read about it and weep. Nick Bankes Chairman of the Imagine Arts Festival which runs in October in Waterford had this to say on the funding level of the Imagine Arts Festival

' it seems disproportionate that the arts council can put 1/4 million into 5/6 nights and only 11k into ten days of 80 events including some original events at the Imagine Festival.
The most bitter commentry is in this week's Phoenix column in the News &Star which gives a sense of the alienation felt by those involved in Waterford arts scene ''We can but look (again) and marvel at the success (and €3 million support for Galway and it's notion of being a centre for the arts. pause for a while and consider the €6 million thrown without demur at Limerick City of Culture and suggest for the umpteenth time that WE ARE NOT BEING HEARD'

On a positive note, the Waterford Youth Arts under artistic director Ollie Breslin,  mounted an impressive production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible at Garter Lane Arts Centre.  There were some remarkable performances particularly from the male cast and a terrific set from Dermot Quinn. The launch of a new musical society augurs well for the future.