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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Toscanissimo! A day at Wexford Opera Festival 2011

My Wexford Festival Highlights from yesterday  were;

  • Gianni Schicchi  Short Opera Whites's
  •  Foyer at White's Hotel
  • Orchestral Concert Rowe Street Church
  • Lunch at La Dolce Vita
Luongo, pride of Pisa
We made the annual pilgrimage to the mecca for opera afficionados in the  coastal town of Wexford and found it  buzzing with the usual activity in this the  60th anniversary year

The conference room  in White's Hotel was packed to capacity for the festival production of Puccini's short comic opera Gianni Schicchi. The maximum comic potential was extracted by the  large cast (fourteen including a non singing character) I am delighted to see the surtitles  (absences noted in my  post 2010) have  been reinstalled via two large plasma screen monitors on either side  so we could follow every nuance  in the comic  plot.

Director Roberto Recchia plays a Hitchcockian cameo as the old man Buoso whose early onstage expiration is the catalyst for the ensuing mayhem.  Recchia's programme note summarises the essence of this farcical plot set in the Tuscan capital, Florence.  ‘Toscanissimo is the evil spirit and the cynicism that pervades the whole work. No one is good here’ -even the daughter Lauretta (played beautifully by Belfast born Marcella Walsh)  who gets to sing the  the plum aria Oh Mio Babbino Caro shamelessly manipulates her father to become involved in the deception which ultimately dooms them all to Dante’s inferno. The title role is played by Tuscan baritone Alessandro Luongo who brings his authentic accent to the role. Musical director Andrea Grant is a firm hand at the keyboard and keeps everything moving along briskly. She spoke to me about the technical aspects of her role.

Musical Director Andrea Grant talks about Gianni Schicchi at Wexford Opera (mp3)

Lunch at La Dolce Vita was a treat with chef-patron Roberto Pons

Roberto Pons from La Dolca Vita restaurant talks about Wexford Opera Festival (mp3)

exuding bonhomie front of house with opera singers Alessandro Luongo and Alessandro Spina fresh from the stage amonst the diners. They were kind enough to speak to me about the opera and I had a brief chat with Roberto before he had to dash back to his kitchen.

Alessandro Luongo (mp3)

White's Hotel foyer was the traditional  lively hub and meeting point with people coming and going all day.  The self service counter featured the most attractive range of sweet things I have seen for a while and the  customary  range of artists' work adorned the walls. Artist Mick Mulcahy was a new addition to the foyer and seemed to be going for a Tracey Emin look with his installation.

Card reads 'Art in action rather than sterile on the Wall' on Mulcahy's stall

Rowe Street Church was also full for the afternoon concert featuring the Wexford Festival Orchestra with leader Fionnula Hunt.  Visibility was fairly poor from the rear pews but even from a distance young Venezuelan conductor Carlos Izcaray exuded a sense of dynamism on the podium and addressed the audience to set the context of the programme which included a tango by Golijov, a contempory of Piazzola and Beethoven’s  rarely performed second symphony. 
Carlos Izcaray
Champagne and canvases
 We had a lovely day at WFO 2011. As always there was plenty of events to suit all tastes and a great sense of festival activity  pervading throughout the town. I hope to return  before the festival  finishes to see one of the big works. My sources tell me that Maria is the musician's favourite. I look forward to posting a review .

 Aix en Provence my review  of a production at the Southern French town  earlier this year.

My party commented that WFO 2011 has a relatively low presence and engagement on social media. The twitter hash tag yielded a scant selection. There is no link from main website to the fringe festival and  while live blogging was trailed,  the most up to date post is 2010 ! The  Board and Marketing Department could take a look at Kilkenny Arts Festival  2011 exploitation of this medium . We found it difficult to get comprehensive  online picture of all the activity  and up to date information and consequently we missed events we would have considered attending . Kilkenny Arts Festival 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Classical Twist at Glór

Young Slovakian violinist  Vladimir Jablokov brought his quintet to Glór Ennis as last Wednesday in a programe of jazz and rock infused music underpinned with a fine  classical virtuoso technique.   I have to confess to approaching midweek events at this venue with a sense of trepidation as turnouts can tend to be low regardless of the calibre of artist and it is not a cosy venue for small intimate audiences.   The audience in fact numbered a respectable  eighty or so and filled the back section of the stalls  and last row of front stalls with  a core of half a dozen of us occupying the front row.

Vladimir bounded onto the Glor stage, the epitomy of cool  in a natty silver grey piped suit with matching winkle pickers and ran through a set list drawn from his new album augmented with some from Fiddler on the Roof. He spoke a little bit about his background and his experiences of busking in Grafton Street where most of his fans will have heard him first. I first came across Vladimir in the Gaiety Theatre where his dulcimer ensemble attired in Hungarian costume entertained in the foyer of the Gaiety at a Jim Molloy production called the Great Waltz, a perfect aperitif to the sparkling fare that followed. The Slovak Festival Orchestra is another of his endeavours, a chamber orchestra of family members and conservatoire students who played with great verve and enthusiasm when I heard them at UCH Limerick. My review of Mario Lanza tribute show hereClassical Twist is a relatively new venture and having toured pubs last year including Upstairs at Dolan's last November (my review here ) is going into larger venues this year.

The show was great fun . Vladimir is a star, compelling to watch and plays with his usual exuberance moving around the stage like a stadium  rocker tempered with the charm of a salon performer.  He is very well served by his band. What a pleasure to hear Adam Kurac on a proper accoustic grand piano rather than an electric model . Kurac's arrangements and original compositions are subtle and viola players will appreciate the rich alto lines beautifully played by Stefan Balazovics. The line up includes Andrew Czibi on bass who aquitted himself very well on his first night with the band.  If I had a criticism, it is that Conor Murray on drums was a little heavy handed overall  particularly in Eleanor Rigby. Younger brother Victor Jablokov completed the quintet.

At this venue audiences tend to disperse favouring the tiered seats at the rear stalls leaving the large front stalls on the flat deserted which  creates  a distance between artists on stage and audience when numbers are less than a hundred. *
Many fans stayed to meet Vladimir  and his band members who graciously came front of house to meet and greet  following the show and while his new CD has   much to recommend it, this is one act you have to see live!

*Several artists have remarked on this as they peered out to see if there is anyone there. Sitting in the front row with a few fellow enthusiasts with a gap of yards between you and the next full row can make one feel a little isolated . A middle aged lady on my left remarked she felt like a groupie. There must be a way to consolidate the audience reduce the size of the auditorium to create a more intimate space for these events. Is there a way of curtaining off the wide wing areas  and introducing some subtle lighting so the artist can see his audience. Performers  on the stalls floor works but I presume there are logistical difficulties in moving the piano .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coláiste Muire School Choir

Coláiste Muire choir at Cork Choral Festival

Coláiste Choir & Orchestra
There was a large crowd in the Danlann Colaiste Muire for the annual Open  Night procedings.  I always enjoy this occasion with the sense of  excitement and optimism  palpable  amongst  the potential new recruits. With my daughter in her last year, opportunities to hear the award winning choir are diminishing.
 The choir and orchestra under conductors Carmel Griffin and Michael Hennessy  sang  Vive La Viva by Coldplay,  a modern Benedictus (Karl Jenkins ?)  and Rolling in the Deep by Adele.

As far as I am aware Colaiste Muire is one of the few schools in the region  which has choir practice timetabled for every incoming first year thus ensuring every student has a musical education. You can hear an interview with  dedicated director Carmel Griffin below.

Carmel Griffin the director of Colaiste Muire school choir talks about it"s activities (mp3)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Holy Family Strings: Debut Performance at Holy Family School Cae

I am very proud of this fledgeling ensemble  in Holy Family School Ennis who gave therir first performance today after 11 lessons. You can read other reports on the group and follow their progress over on progress here

 Ms Gill's Class Trio Conga Bass Violin Announcing a piece All together Mr Connolly's class Mr Connolly's Ensemble Ms B...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Peggy Seeger in Clare

I am ambivalent generally about one man (or woman)  performances of any description but we had an inkling that we would hear something extraordinary when legendary folk singer Peggy Seeger was a guest of Sixmilebridge Folk Club County Clare. The intimate Courthouse venue was crammed  with circa 120 or so  which for  a midweek evening, even with a star of Seeger's renown is a feat of good marketing and PR work by the astute Brendan Walsh and the hard working committee members.  We arrived too late to hear Tommy Sands but in time for a cup of tea before Seeger took to the small stage. She was introduced by Cork based promoter John Nyhan who referred to encountering the Seeger siblings legendary recordings in trips to Crowleys Music Shop in Cork. Even for the uninitiated the Seeger name has a resonance following decades of collecting, recording and composing. 

 Wearing no make up and and with cropped grey hair, Seeger is a striking and commanding presence and looked elegant  in a simple black and white ensemble.  This is after all, the face which inspired  one of the great love songs of the 20th century.  With a matronly concern she advised her capacity audience to stretch their legs and get some fresh air before launching her set in the packed  intimate Courthouse venue.
Peggy's Box
Over the course of an hour or so she performed on a diverse collection of folk instruments and also accompanying herself very adroitly at the piano.  The songs range from simple unaccompanied ballads,  to witty comic turns and hard hitting protest songs.  Her consort of instruments included an Applachian Dulcimer rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic, the familiar concertina, banjo, guitar and autoharp. I particularly liked the soft gut string munitions box lute. At interludes she read some humourous quotations from a folder of clippings.

She spoke warmly about her upbringing in an musically  accomplished  household.  I was reminded of Andy Irvine both in the references to the parental musical influence in other genres,  the enduring  enthusiasm for the road despite maturity,  and intellectual rigour underpinning the performance .  Her song Bringing it Home  towards the end of the evening was for me the highlight of a wonderful  entertaining evening. 

Munitions Box Lute

Packed Courthouse
My only quibble is that the flourescent lighting was too bright  and militated aginst a soiree ambience. Following the performance Peggy Seeger retired to the back room to meet and greet and to attend  to the post concert commercial * end of the evening 
What wonderful energy, emotion and wit she brought to her performance at this intimate venue. Bravo Peggy!  A memorable and delightful musical evening!

*( Although an important part of the procedings, I do feel the promoter or host might make someone available to help with the business end  leaving the star performer free to sign and chat without the mundane task of finding 'change of a twenty')

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Irish Association of Youth Orchestras AGM Cork

View from the top
The Irish Association of Youth Orchestras (IAYO) is a resource body dedicated to supporting the endeavours of youth orchestras in Ireland. Over the years the ensembles that I have worked with have benefited from their instrument bank and pool of expertise. The annual festival hosted usually in the National Concert Hall is a well managed show case event that provides a memorable platform experience  for the many young players fortunate to participate. 

The annual AGM  was held at the Cork School of Music last Sunday. The procedings began with a tour of the impressive state of the art new building with staff memberTomás McCarthy. The view from the library at the top floor is perhaps the best in the city. Having viewed a dizzying array of technological features and (yes I can vouch there are two Steinways in every practice room),  the group paused at a most unusual feature which stood out from the gleaming glass, chrome and tehnical wizardry - a beautifully crafted wooden bookcase with a selection of handsome music volumes with ancient fonts and gasp! gold lettering.

Following lunch and AGM, we were treated to a performance by a student ensemble of arrangements of folksongs by degree students  under conductor Geoffrey Spratt with Alan Cutts at the piano. The dozen or so numbers,  most of them familiar arranged for strings with flute, clarinet  and percsussion were a charming collection and suitable for intermediate orchestras with players around grade 3 or so.  They will be an excellent addition to many school  ensemble's repertoire.
Tomás McCarthy in the studio

Well done to CEO  Allin Gray and  Bertie Buckley There is always something interesting and worth the trip at this annual meeting and as always good to catch up with fellow musicians and to make new contacts.  Membership rates are inexpensive and a a wide range of groups from fledgeling  small ensembles to symphony orchestras are on the list of members

Monday, October 10, 2011

Early evening French Baroque Music at Christchurch

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Although Ireland has had its own baroque period orchestra for sometime now, I had not heard this ensemble and I was looking forward to finally hearing  members of the Irish Baroque Orchestra under their artistic director and Grammy nominee Monica Huggett.  I went along to their tea-time performance at Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford.  Regrettably, I shall have to wait for another occasion to hear Huggett..  (If the PR material trails  a high profile performer, is it not reasonable that there is at  least an  announcement of a change of  cast?)

There were no programme notes but items were eloquently introduced by Lisa Beznosiuk who acted as leader.  The most vibrant aspect of the performance was David Adam's hapsichord  painted in vivid  peppermint green  embellished with eyecatching geometric shapes. As for the music by French early baroque composers Couperin, Rameau and Marais, I found the selection a bit dull and the playing overall a bit  clinical  and lacking in bite particulary from the strings. This may of course have something to do with my lack of familiarity with the baroque instrument timbre  but I can't say I was won over to early baroque instrumental music. I have on  rare opportunities enjoyed the different sound palette that period instruments have added to baroque opera performances but while the playing was polished and assured, I did not feel the players engaged particularly well with each other, seeming very focused on their own individual parts.
Tea time seems like a very good time to have a short performance. There was a relatively small turnout although the idea of combining a ticket with local restaurant offer seemed like a good one.  Local cognoscenti in the audience included  Liam Daly, newly appointed as conductor of University of Limerick Orchestra and his wife Maureen of Barrack Street Concert Band and flautist  Gerry Dower

Friday, October 7, 2011

De Dannan in Tulla

Frankie Gavin is my favourite of the high profile Irish fiddlers.  I like his eclectic choice of repertoire, his enthusiasm for embracing other styles and genres  and I love  his refreshing  lack of pomposity. While I had heard Gavin in Ennis  recently with the high priest of trad,  Tony McMahon, conditions on that occasion were less than ideal and I had never heard De Danann (or De Dannan ) live so I made a bee line for Tulla when the long lived super group played at  Minogue's on Saturday night  as a guest of Frank Hayes' Island Music Club.  

Gavin's virtuosity was mesmerising and sitting close to the stage gave us a good vantage point to view the incredible fluidity of his bowing and fingering technique.The band were joined  by singer Michelle Lally who had a  charming stage presence and gave interesting and thoughtful introductions to her numbers which added something fresh to the performance of familiar material.  In relation to the band she was a tad overamplified for the relatively small space . She was most sympathetically accompanied by the band with Gavin content to add lovely understated accompaniment figures often on viola gracefully making way for Cunningham's florid flute lines to soar over the vocals in jazz infused rhythms and Galvin's bluesy chord selection .  While we enjoyed the De Danann hits, with a brand new singer with her own style it was time we felt for less of  the  back catalog and a new set of songs.

There was much to enjoy in the two sets and one couldn't but be impressed with the individual members's musicianship and versatilty . All the signature De Danann  features were present. At the core is the violin and accordion  duet ,  either player never content to merely double a line  plus a quirky song selection  and  an infusion of other genres . Looking very smart in crisp white shirts and black waistcoats, De Danann don't claim to push out the frontiers of Irish traditional music but in a quest to entertain they strike me as being just as ground breaking as some of the more high profile fusion acts on the scene.   Galvin's guitar accompaniments were never overly percussive as with many guitarists accompanying in the trad idiom but always subtle and supportive. Cunningham doubling on percussion and flute/low whistle was a match for Gavin and there was a lovely sense of ensemble between the four players all genuinely seeming to enjoy the collaboration.

A high point for me was Gavin talking about his experience of playing with  Grapelli and attending his funeral before playing a set associated with his collaboration with the legendary jazz fiddler. How lovely it would have been  to have heard some more anecdotes from Gavin's other collaborations and long career but somewhat inexplicably with a mine of stories only he could have told, one of the best fiddle players in the world chose  to tell corny jokes.

Maybe it was the jokes that had us looking at our watches and noting that the set finished at 12.45 which is rather late I suggest for punters and band members travelling after the gig.  If a listing states that the gig will begin at 9, is it not reasonable to expect that it will begin not much later than 9.30. Afficionados in the audinece included Maeve Donnelly  a virtuoso fiddler herself and it was good to see the venue packed for this hard working outfit who were looking fresh despite being near the end of  32 county tour.  I note the band are off to tour the States. Go n'eirí an bóthar libh.