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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Selection of the Best Acts at Waterford Spraoi Street Festival

Most Energetic Act           Compagnie Luc Amoros 'Page Blanche'
 Scariest Act                      The Plastic Fantastic Show
Most Fun                           Sid  Bowfin
Best Local Act                  Parade Crew An Bosca Beo 
Most Charming Act         Piano C 'Senza Che'
Funniest Walkabout Act  Granny Turismo                
Best Venue                       Velodrome Arena in the Park  (tiered seats)

Sid Bowfin not holding the Handel bars
photo Shane McDonald

The front page of the Irish Times on Saturday features a photo of one of the  Waterford Spraoi Festival  performers, Professor Plunger and it is heartening to see Spraoi enjoying well deserved national attention. Over three days the  city is host to a plethora of street theatre entertainments both local and from overses serving up what must be the best value and most inclusive  festivals on the circuit with most of the entertainment being free  and open to all. The improvements in the city in the last year are striking  and the confluence of architectural elegance  both old and new around the Bishop's Palace is remarkable .

The Mall hasn't been used as a venue before and I went along to hear Adrian Garrett's madcap violinist act, Sid Bowfin outside the Bishop's Palace. The large open space makes it very good for a large crowd but as it is a national characteristic to aim for the back pew, it presents quite a challenge for a solo entertainer to draw the audience in closer in the space that extends both out and up steps to the terrace of the Palace. The high energy act involves much ad libbing and interaction with the crowd as this very engaging entertainer ploughs through a couple of well known classical favourites . It was quite a novel audience participation feat to get the audience to canoodle for Pachelbel's Canon and the passing of amenable Muc Potter on his BMX  bicycle with rear wheel bars was used to great comic effect. His violin is more than a mere prop and he plays very well indeed and the audience young and old loved it. 

Plastic Fantastic plays to the Gallery photo Neal Shirran

Spraoi veteran, Gareth Jones had a large crowd gathered for his escapology routine involving a roll of clingfilm. The audience volunteer has an onerous role here involving wrapping him in the stuff and crucially punching his airhole in time to avoid unfortunate consequences. There was a difficulty here with sound spillover from a nearby dance act putting a strain on Jones vocally and  as there was more passing pedestrian traffic here than at other venues, he  had a  lot of fun at the expense of tourists leaving and entering  a nearby visitors' centre. Performances by local groups are a mainplank of Spraoi's activity and Barrack Street Concert Band represented the host city admirably.
There was a good crowd for the performance art, Page Blanche by Compagnie Luc Amoros act in Bolton Street Car Park at sunset. The act featuring a live double bass player with a hypnotic percsussion driven backing track with 6 scaffold mounted artists painting a changing sequence of  9 square frames of polythene. Political consciousness raising graffiti was an element with voiceovers from the artists in this innovative act combining several dimensions.

There was a lovely buzz in the Park  on Sunday with lots of families, kites and  giant windmills with big queues for the icecream van  with plenty of room to manoevre prams and buggies. The venue was ideal opportunity to catch some of the acts we had missed and our favourites were the side splittingly funny segue/shopping trolley mounted three home counties ladies, Granny Turismo who had something of the Flanders and Swann era about them and the charming Italian  novelty acrobatic duo, Piano C:Senza Che who proved that some people really can look fantastic in a plastic bin bag.

Piano C looking good in a bin bag photo Neal Shirran

  Regrettably, one of the very few negative aspects was the  deep and loud  pulsating noise  emanating from  a sound system  in the band stand  that permeated all corners of the park  for a while spreading an aural sludge that conflicted with  the less powerful forces of solo accoustic acts and radio frequencies of smaller sound systems. It would have been good to have had a band in the bandstand to add to the leisurely Sunday afternoon atmosphere.

Ths parade was wonderful and in the daylight I could see more of the wonderful detail in the costumes and  great to see youngsters performing alongside veterans of the local theatre scene. 
Compagnie Luc Amoros

Compagnie Luc Amaros

My family love Spraoi and  while we have missed a year here and there, we  have been at most of them . We love the outdoor performance element, the variety, the freedom to walk away if |  not amused and the accessibilty and mass appeal  of a weekend of free entertainment,   I love the mix of local acts with exotic visitors from overseas and the common talking points to mull over in the following days. The many  volunteers visible in their bright tee shirts seem cheerful  and enthusiastic and while numbers appear to be a little  lower after the Tall Ships influx, there are still plenty of spectators to create the Sproai atmosphere.  It is a great feat of organisation to marshall so many forces  in this consistently  well organised event  which remains true to the original concept and we never cease to be amazed at how good it is . We remain grateful to the huge team for years of  fun  and entertainment for all our family and hope it goes on for ever . Bravo  and thank you! to programme director Miriam Dunne, director  TV Honan and all the   Spraoi team and to the many sponsors including Waterford City Council, Fáilte Ireland  and the Arts Council.

See more of Shane McDonalds photos of Spraoi  on

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Movies in Christchurch Cathedral

As part of the Spraoi festivities the Christchurch team  mounted a showing of an old silent movie to live accompaniment on their fine  recently restored organ. I had heard great reports about a similar production last year and  this  rare event was high on my list of must see events. The film was a  German 1930's production of Faust by Murnau.  The show started at 10pm presumably to optimise the light conditions and ran for almost two hours.  The centre aisle pews were respectably full and certainly the audience  appeared mesemerised throughout by the rendition of this dark fable .  The performance of organist Morgan Cooke was quite a feat of stamina and skill and he faithfully reflected the shifting moods on screen with organ , some auxilliary percussion and at one point some vocalising . Celestial heights, depths of hell  and all manner of earthly things were captured with a shifting palette of colours  at the console  from deep bass pedals,  bells,  jagged dissonance and jaunty rhythms.  Even the most demanding operatic or concerto role will allow some time for the performer to draw breath,  but in this marathon performance there is no time to pause and I thought Cooke did a wonderful job in stimulating and sustaining our interest throughout.   Not having seen very many silent films , this was fascinating glimpse into the art from another era and while a modern day film and its easily reproducible soundtrack will give a standardised experience wherever it is shown, there is something beguiling about the ephemeral nature of this improvised performance.  Well done to Joan Dalton and the team at Christchurch on their imaginative programming and I look forward to the next one.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Exeter Cathedral Choir at Christchurch

Exeter Cathedral Choir in Christchurch
One of the bastions of the English Anglican choral tradition, Exeter Cathedral Choir came to perform at Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford earlier this month. Although I didn't post near the date, such complexity and excellence of the performance in this most ambient setting should not go without acknowledgement in the list of posts. Making a splendid sight in brilliant  red cassocks,  there was less of the ancient and more of the modern in their nicely balanced programme.  A progarmme listing was supplied and Andrew Millington introduced the sets with additional notes. The  choir began with Palestrina, the musical voice of the Counter Reformation moving on to Byrd and Tallis and later to more modern settings mostly from the English tradition including a lovely modal setting by director Stephen Tanner, A Celtic Psalm.  Dublin born stalwart of the tradition Stanford is included with works by Chilcott and Britten. The singers had time to draw breath during two fine organ solos by David Davies. Benedictus by Reger seemed to cast a spell on the listeners and no applause seemed a fitting acknowledgement to conclude. In contrast, the exuberant Carrillon-Sortie by intriguing  post Romantic French composer Mulet which drew enthusiastic applause form the good sized crowd gave Davies the opportunity to pull out all the stops on the Elliot organ. 
For an encore the choir  drew again from the 20th century well in Hymn to the Mother of God by John Taverner. The choir sang with a brio and finesse that one would expect form their excellent reputation .  The range of dynamics  was a striking feature and the Cathedral almost seemed too small for the huge forte they made when at full throttle.
While the state and form generally of cathedral choral styles  is a cause of concern and debate, one hopes that the Exeter Cathedral Choir will survive  for another 800 years and demonstrated very clearly that while a stronghold of the tradition, they also are an important platform for 20th century and contemporary work.

Friday, July 22, 2011

OFF at Avignon

                                             Making a spectacle of yourself
Typical street corner in Avignon during OFF

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I am wary of committing myself to anything coming under the general title of 'spectacle' after an unhappy experience a number of years ago. Judging by the colourful posters on every billboard I had understood it to mean an entertainment in a chateau with if not hundreds a sizeable number of  actors clad in medieval costume and with some horseback jousting, blood and guts thrown in but I was shaken out of this misconception on attending a ‘spectacle’ in a  splendid Loire Chateau where after purchasing our billets, we were locked in a sealed interior chamber  with two no doubt very fine  actresses who intoned what seemed very dreary tales of Le Fleuve . All this following a buffet FROID and one petit verre de rouge.

Suffice to say it was not a highlight of the trip and the term 'spectacle' has become a by word in our house for entertainment falling far short of expectation.

The OFF Festival in Avignon promised a feast of 600 spectatcles. I gather like Edinburgh the official festival takes place in formal venues and consists of grand presentations and exhibitions and all info contained in a handy fold out paper poster. The  fringe or OFF  requires something the size of an Argos catalogue to give you even the briefest outline of what is on offer. Even limiting ourselves to music and dance presentations the choice is bewildering. Each back street has some sort of theatre space with room for anything from 25 or so up . Each presentation lasts an hour and there are 8 or so different acts presented in each venue every day. Most acts are in situ for ther 3 week duration and present once a day . The performers spend most of the remaining time going to other spectacles and prowling the streets presenting a soupcon of their wares and pressing fliers and reviews  to all in their path with a combination of graciousness and persistence.   No corner of any restaurant is immune , they will find you and seek you out and to stand still for any length and you risk being covered in your body weight of fliers.After a while we learn not to catch an eye to save them wearing themselves out beseeching our support while we nod as though we understood every word. I feel a nagging  sense of guilt not having made my way to a particular street circus troupe who pressed not one but two photocopied reviews and a free ticket . I did at least read the reviews and peut etre ' l'aneé prochaine' .
Our first attempt to see  the spectacle, Vox Populi was unsuccessful and as we insisted on joining the fil d'attente the penny dropped that Jour impairs meant alternate dates . Juste Des Chansons in Pittchoun Theatre  with young Parisian chansonier  Etienne Luneau was quite an intense experience for a lunchtime and fans of Camille will like his dramatic delivery of his own songs in the theatrical vein in sophisticated arrangements by Joseph Robinne worth it alone for his fabulous  duo of accomplices. Clement Duthoit showed what an effective bassline a bass sax can be and varied the timbre with a selection of wind. Robine on piano and accordion added that boulevardier element. It deserved a  larger house than the dozen of us gathered on this particular day.

Fliers Interdit \No Flyer Zon
 Beethoven ce Manouche ( The gypsy) is essentially a three piece jazz swing session with the pianist dressed in 18th costume and a the guitarist sporting a tache a la Django with a small hirsute bass player  ( reminded me of Animal from the Muppets) dressed as an angel keeping the two boys in check as they rehearse  for a party in heaven for St Peter .  The audience of different ages love it.  In the Petit Theatre de Louvre, Cecile Girard's presentation Cello Sur Canape (Cello on the sofa) was essentially a solo recital with a few chansons thrown in and some anecdotes about her musical journey. There is humour as one would expect from the musical director of the very funny Le Quattor and while she is very charming and full marks to her in her efforts to win over her audience, I didn't find the solo element albeit with some duet backing tracks quite satisfying enough preferring the collaborative efforts of the other spectacles we see. She includes quite a bit of Irish repertoire with  the reel The Silver Spear the slow air Bean in Eirinn coming over very well.

Brass Sextet Buskers
The larger Golvine Theare was packed for one of the hits of 2010 festival. Road Movie Cabaret was all about the chansons with the device of the characters playing a travelling raggle taggle band as a pretext for the performance. Versatility is the name of the game and key musician Cedric Molllié played a selection of strings and piano but mostly on viola to good dramatic effect. We loved the version of  Blake's Walking in the Air  or Dans Le Ciel .

We stayed two nights in the Etap Hotel in Boulevard Domenique just outside the magnificent walls which was cheap and cheerful and all in all nous somme tres bien amuées at OFF in Avignon. We specially liked the al fresco piano playing at restaurants at bustling  Place Celestin.

Scene from Road Movie Cabaret

L'Opera at Aix-en-Provence

L'opera at Aix en Provence 

There will be blood

Having left the hurly burly of OFF Festival Avignon, we arrive in Aix en Provence to take in the more refined pleasure of the entertainment offered and secured a few tickets for the production of  Le Clemenza di Tito at the Theatre de L'Archveché. Adjacent restaurant tables are at a premium and we join the hoverers and manage to secure a table with a good vantage point to allow a little schadenfreude  at the view of the fil d’attente  which for once we are not in  and to look at the procession  of arriving operas goers. It is a relief not to be plastered in fliers and to  have to balance between nodding too encouragingly at actors beseeching you most graciously to 'aller a leur spectacle’ and indifference. The audience are mostly elderly and comfortably attired . This is not a bejewelled and tuxedoed gang  and we need not have worried about being underdressed. The show starts late at 9.30 to allow for the optimum lighting in this large outdoor courtyard theatre. The seats and side panels are in a fine silver  hard wood and there are monitors for surtitles discreetly set into  the panels on either side.  Having climbed to the top of the Amphitheatre in Orange  this is a piece of cake.
The LSO under Sir  Colin Davis are in a sunken pit but all the orchestral colours are clearly heard with the clarinet solos particularly prominent in this score .  Although with characters from Ancient Rome the costume is 18th century with most characters in black or shades of grey with only Tito and Servilla in white.   The Estonian chorus sound splendid and the bit of choreography from the sword wielding guards adds some  welcome diversion to the action on stage.

Interior L'Archeveché Theatre

While opera plots are not known for their complexity, this one seems more flimsy than most.  There is a good girl (dressed in white)  and a bad girl (in what else –black)   Jealous bad girl, Vitellia (Italian soprano, Carmen Giannastasio) takes umbrage when Tito all in white, (so presumably good guy),  chooses another and begs basically confused  guy Sextus (in grey) to kill Tito  who also happens to be a good friend and Emporer of Rome.   Tito having called it off with unwilling good girl  (Brahim- Djelloul) finally comes around to idea of marrying bad girl too late to stop  confused  guy who attempts to kill Tito  and burn down Rome while he is at it but makes a mess of it.  Good pal Annius a guy (but also  a girl)  tells Sextus to fess up and ask for clemency while bad girl has much to lose and advises him to run for it.  Good boy and bad girl confess all and in an anticlimactic ending Tito forgives all so alls well that ends well.   This is just the sort of plot one imagines Mozart had in in mind in the scene from Amadeus where he pleads for permission to write a good German opera. We are grateful for the surtitles which allow us to follow the libretto with school French.
The singing is very fine, Sarah Connolly looking very much the part and carrying much of the hard work in the role of  Sextus. Anna Stephany sang very well but had  a somewhat insubstantial stage presence. Overall wih the predominantly female cast the production  lacks a masculine edge. American tenor Gregory Kunde  in the title role is supported by Darren Jeffrey as Publio, leader of the guards. 
Photo: Pascal Victor / Artcomart
Connolly,  Giannastasio
The audience did not applaud between scenes and the action flowed seamlessly.  The production looked flawless and the lighting effects were effective  particularly in creating an impression of a burning city. Any milking of  applause was discouraged at the close by the house lights going on as the performers and conductor, Sir Colin Davis were taking a final bow and the scramble to leave the stage before the audience made for the exits was a little undignified.  They might might have been allowed a little longer to bask in the glow of the appreciation of the production.
We enjoyed this performance, the playing and singing was very fine. We flagged a bit in the second half as it was late.  We loved the theatrical courtyard space inaugurated, I understand, in 2007 and the subject of some controversy according to a review in the Telegraph.  Being used to outdoor events in chillier temperatures we did not seem to feel the chill which saw most of the other patrons wrapped up in the fleecy blankets provided.
On a practical note anybody looking for a taxi in Aix after midnight should be warned they are thin on the ground!
Cloths Pegs Vital kit

Friday, July 8, 2011

Top 10 Things from the Waterford Tall Ships

The mist rising from the river Suir on Sunday morning is beautiful and eerie and a somewhat sombre crowd gather on the quay to wave off the tall ships and their crews. For an hour or so the boats glide out to cheering and waving. The crews of the Lord Nelson are in the rigging with the jaunty Bare Necessities blasting from the pa system. Some of the youth sail training vessels manage a few uggie uggie uggies and a couple of cheers but the cast of the Columbian vessel, The Gloria  show everyone how these things should be done . The crew are perched on the rigging and across the deck in their national colours singing an anthem. It is the most breathtaking and cheerful  sight . 

Top  Ten   Moments at Waterford Tall Ships

Best Moment 
The massed choirs and orchestra deliver a moving and rousing premiere of  'Come the Sails' The stunning combination of music and lyrics with a 250 strong choir and orchestra was premiered on the historic quays in the beautiful Wallace Plaza ;
Massed choirs and orchestra with conductor Niall Crowley open the festival
                                'Magnificence of Rigging above a mile of quays'

Come the Sails - Anthem for Waterford Tall Ships by Sue Furlong and John Ennis (mp3)

Best Sight  Crew of Columbian vessel The  Gloria singing from the rigging as their ship glided out of Waterford Harbour. Heart Stopping.

The Hucklebuck Shoes
Best Gig   Brendan Bowyer and Band rocking it on the Plaza.  Mothers with teenagers  and grannies in tow sang along and bopped to the music of this local boy and newly conferred freeman of the city. You can see this legend's Hucklebuck Shoes in a Museum case in the shiny new Bishop's Palace Museum. Surreal! Isn't he still wearing them? Doesn't look like he is ready to hang them up any time soon.

Best Fun Event: Pirates Parade . Everyone knows children  love dressing up but organisers were surprised when so many parents turned up suitably attired.     Talking of dressing up we also liked the cool shirts worn by  Steve Wickham  and Mike Scott of  the Waterboys  Psychadelic deck chair stripes  and purple paisley and marks go also to  Rowan Sherlock,  fiddling  Jazz Dude of the Waterford Gypsy Jazz Ensemble for his Ukelele Tie

Best Lyrics  Poems by Five  Poets set in Come the Sails opening cantata Mark Roper, Peter Sirr, Michael Coady, Megan Nolan and John Ennis

Best Foodie Experience  The vast range of food options all along the quay with massed al fresco dining. We enjoyed the chorizo and bean stew from Mediteranean Kitchen and the best aroma came from Green Saffron
Al fresco on the Quay for 3 days

Best Accoustic Act  Local sea shanty specialists Hooks and Crookes Sea Shanty Group was the hardest working group of the weekend. These gentlemen were on the go from lunchtime on Wednesday and were ubiquitous for the duration of the weekend.  Bravo! 

Best Twitter Updates @WaterfordTweet  and @HooksandCrookes delivered  useful up to the minute updates on events and information relating to the Festival. There was a terrific  on going  dialogue from the Waterford Twitter community with great tips on queing times and best entertainment around town.

Best Stall Ardkeen Quality Food Store for the  sheer size and range of their temporary tented emporium .

Best Innovation The decision to make the city traffic free. The massed crowds comfortably wandered the streets on foot or bicycles in safety as the park n ride system worked brilliantly. Could we look to do this again  on say the first weekend of the month? The Quay is a perfect amenity for a coninental style passeggiata.

Saturday at Tall Ships

 They wrapped you in linen
They wrapped you in clay
They gave me the promise 
of a bright new day     Peter Sirr

Against all the odds the sun shines for a third  successive day on Waterford.  I make the great expedition  by bicycle to the North Quays to see the larger vessels and I particularly want to see the Norwegian Vessel The Soerlandet, the oldest fully rigged vessel. I played a few tunes on the board and when I strike up a hornpipe a young girl Niamh Linnane joins in and dances a sailor's hornpipe on the lovely wooden deck. It was a magic moment. Sadly my camera man missed it so you'll have to take my word for it. We carry on to the Gloria but there is no reprise of Friday morning vocal manoevres. It is a long walk to Frank Cassin Wharf but I feel a sense of achievement in arriving at the far point  to view the largest vessels close up having viewed them all week from across the river.

Back on the South Quay I join RNLI man John Purcell, busking a few tunes on a nautical theme to assist his fund raising effort. It takes a particular sort of courage I think to take on the elements and go to the aid of those in difficulty at sea. The predicted crowds converge on the quay on Saturday afternoon and it is very busy indeed..

Sharon Shannon and band have a large enthusiastic crowd but the best atmosphere is on the WV Plaza where local boy and recent freeman of the city, Brendan Bowyer is  sending them home sweating with his lively selection. It is hard to square the image of the Bishop's Palace museum case housing the Hucklebuck shoes and other Royal Showband paraphanalia with this larger than life manifestation rocking it .  Even from the far end of the quay, one can hear the emotion in the voice as he belts out My City of Music by local Tops of the Town stalwart, Denny Corcoran. An artist with real cross generational appeal , teenage daughters with their mothers and grandmothers all sing and bop to the energetic and lively set.

As seasoned Spraoi goers, we are somewhat blasé about fireworks but the final fireworks are truly spectacular opening with a stunning waterfall effect .  All that remains is the final leavetaking and crews settle down for an early start with the morning tide

Here,  now, this very moment
In flowing time
within this harbour
And this haven  Michael Coady

The Hucklebuck Shoes

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pirates, a Parrot and a Putative President Friday at Tall Ships

Magnificence of rigging
above a mile of quay
the city's faces freshened
                               by salt from every sea           Mark Roper

It was another lovely sunny day in Waterford for Day 2 of the Tall Ships Festival
'I've got this pirate stuck to my foot'
On the North Quay, the crew of the Columbian vessel, 'Gloria' were perched 
Ennis Pirates
RTE's John Murray live from the South Quay
on their rigging and singing in unison like some exotic songbirds. On the South Quay, John Murray (assisted by Ennis man Colm Flynn)  clad in fishermans cap to keep the sun off was interviewing Waterford folk outside the RTE tent . I was too late for Brendan Bowyer and Brass and Co but I caught the very hardworking sea shanty group, Hooks and Crooks in one of their many performances of the weekend who closed the programme with a rousing O Ro Se Do Bheath Bhaile  following the discussion and competition to find the best Waterford accent. It all hangs on the ulvaral rrrs apparrrently!  In Bolton Street the gangs of marauding pirates could be contained no longer and swarmed onto quays colliding with presidential hopeful Michael D Higgins (sadly not in costume)  on his way to do an interview on WLR. The pirate count stopped after 4000 to the chagrin of late arrivals. These pirates came in all shapes and sizes and one even had his own live parrot!

Little and large pirates
'From Ship to Shore' exhibition housed in the converted Greyfriars Church was well worth a visit with an eclectic range of maritime paintings, prints , photos and watercolours. It was  poignant to see the bell and compass of the late lamented Asgard  11 on display here a reminder of the dearth of Irish boats represented.  The craft village was a hive of activity and you could see spinning weaving and glass blowing in the Cathedral Courtyard. Fran Ryan's Dingle Knits looked very tempting indeed.  From our perch in the Tower Hotel Bar we could keep an eye on the tennis semifinals and watch the  Crews Parade 

Bell recovered from Asgard 11

Donna Roche and Mark Fitzgerald lead the massed bands
The Springstreens launched the activity  on  the Plaza in the afternoon which was rounded off by a splendid massed bands concert combing the efforts of Waterford City Brass , Barrack St Concert Band and De La Salle Scout Band. A lean and angular Mike Scott,  the epitomy of a Raggle Taggle Gypsy in brimmed hat and leather jacket to keep out the nippy evening air and Steve Wickham of The Waterboys looked liked they were having fun at their rocking set at Bolton Street dishing up a set including their many hits  Of the numbers I enjoyed the slimmed down duets most with Wickhams wonderful playing at its most audible. .  From the plethora of food stall, local grocer Ardkeen Stores stood out for the sheer size and range of offerings.  The Saffron corner smelt gorgeous.  My companion  had a tasty chorizo and bean stew from Mediterranean Kitchen but my paella  from another stall was disappointing,  gluey yellow  rice and chicken is not a 'paella'  in any culinary dictionary.  When all was said and done, it was hard to beat Dooly's chips eaten from the box
 on the wall in the park.

Exmouth Shanty Men entertain in O Loughlin's
Michael D Higgins views parade
The ebb and flow of tides
and bedded silt
by wharves and quays
Michael Coady

More fun to come tomorrow and the weather promising fair.


Friday, July 1, 2011

'Come The Sails' - Launch of Tall Ships Waterford Festival - A view from the Plaza

Niall Crowley conducts the massed choir and orchestra at Tall Ships Opening Ceremony

Urbs Intacta Manet Waterfordia

 Lend us your sails, your stories too,
Taller than skytails in the blue,
Stowaways to the future
Lend Us Your Sails.

Come the Sails - Anthem for Waterford Tall Ships by Sue Furlong and John Ennis (mp3)

Tall Ship Waterford 2011
The Tall Ships Festival was officially launched on Thursday afternoon  in Waterford with a world premiere of a specially commisssioned cantata for choir and orchestra as the focal point of the opening festivities. The work commissioned by the Waterford Choirs Association features rich settings by five composers  of  poems by five  poets, all  with strong Waterford connections with the recounting of the city's maritime history a common theme. I love the pithy  narrated interludes by Michael Coady set by Marion Ingoldsby.  Even the titles hinted at the richness of the lines. Eric Sweeney's  semiquaver rhythms of A Prosperous Port contrasted with the more stately metre of Greg Scanlon's settting of Calico Dress sung by mezzo soprano, Bridget Knowles. There was a rousing anthem, Come The Sails to finish with a setting of words by John Ennis in a setting by my contemporary Sue Furlong well known in liturgical  composition and choral circles. It was good to see young poet Megan Nolan included in a setting of her poem, Child of Mine by Ben Hanlon,  known throughout the land for his work with De La Salle Choir.

The choir clad in colour coded tee shirts and orchestra met for a final rehearsal before adjourning to the courtyard of Christchurch Cathedral where mountains of sandwiches were consumed and tea drunk before we returned fortified to the splendid William Vincent Wallace Plaza with fingers firmly crossed for fair weather.  Enda duly arrived accompanied by his entourage and Derek Mooney bounded on to the stage to crack open the champagne , so to speak, on the procedings.

Crowd at the Plaza, Waterford

My spot in front of three tenors
 There was an anxious moment when a technical problem with the microphone forced a restart but conductor Niall Crowley calmly waited for the nod and on the second go the 200 strong choir and 40 strong orchestra were off. There was the menace of rain threatening to spoil the party but it mercifully didn't spill.

 Contemporary  music by Irish composers does not often receive such a large audience for premieres.  Afficionados I spoke to praised the innovative work  drawing on Waterford's rich history and maritime heritage and it is good to see the city further cementing its reputation as a hot spot for new music. (See my report on  Waterford New Music Week).  Huge credit is due, I understand, to Niall Crowley of the Waterford  Choirs Association? producer Joan Dalton and the Waterford City Council for bringing   this project from a good idea on paper to an actual performance. For myself, it is  many years since I performed with an orchestra in Waterford and it was thrilling and a privilege   to take an active part  in this gala day in my home city.

Déise Abú!
'Magnificence of rigging above a mile of quay' Mark Roper

Urbs Intacta  Manet

Thursday 30th June 2011