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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Karmelitsystrarna : Nuns' Chorus in Stockholm

      From Royal Swedish Opera 2011 production
Brilliant choreography
They say the devil has the best tunes, but in Poulenc's 20th century opera, Dialogue of the Carmelites, based on real events in the 18th century, the best moments are the nuns' choruses.  The opera is based on  a group of Carmelite sisters martyred during the French Revolution and was the the highlight of a recent  trip to Stockholm  The finale, a Salve Regina is one of the most dramatic of any in the operatic repertoire and the director, Joanne Garpe  takes the approach here of having the cast members fall in their spots to a muffled drum stroke with the guillotine obliquely referred to.  (Sister Act it ain't, but it was hard to suppress the image of Whoopi Goldberg in a a similarly named number and a not dissimilar costume ) In contrast to other productions , the watching mob are in modern dress with the nuns' costumes transforming briefly  to burkas presumably a  director's reference to  accusations of xenophobia of Sweden's New Democracy Party*
Elin Rombo as Blanche de la Force

Stockholm Opera House
As the subtitles are of course in Swedish and my French is not good enough to follow the sung recitative, the first act felt quite long . I am delighted however to have a seat in the side balcony which gives a great view of the action in the pit. The orchestration is beautiful and the playing from the Kungliga Operan  Orchestra is very fine and there are beautiful colours particularly from the woodwind as one would expect from a 20th century French composer.

Like several of the operas I have seen recently, the sets are monochrome with muted shades in  the costume. Here the black white and grey  is replaced by an IKEA catalogue style blue and stripped pine silver. I love the mildewed convent wall from which you can almost smell the damp.  There is the obligatory McVicker's style splash of red however and in a neat stage effect  vertical lines of vermilion stream down the corrugated backdrop powerfully evoking the bloodshed of the guillotine in the final scene.

There are large cloakrooms on each floor and the audience are comfortably rather glamorously attired  and the lighting in these areas is restfully dimmed. My seat at 290 Swedish Kroner (€30) was perhaps the best value I have had in opera tickets in quite a while. The opera house with  comfy red velvet   seats and period decor is elegant space with an intimate feel to it  without being overly ostentatious.
Afficionadas study the programme

Earlier in the day I attended  the lunchtime concert at the Gustaf III Cafe in the basement.  Not a great venue for poor old Gustaf as he met his end I believe in this very house, the event  immortalisted by Verdi in operatic terms in Un Ballo in Maschera  Not having a ticket I came along early to find no door open to any part of the house. With the Box Office closed, I walked around the house (twice)  looking for a separate entrance to the cafe.  Feeling like Alice in the Looking Glass I found entrances that looked like promising but were not the Gustaf 111 which in fact is accessed through the main door  and which didn't open til the appointed hour of noon.

Local speciality
I assumed that we would have light frothy lunchtime arias. Had I read the small print I would have known to expect a Shostakovich piano trio which is a bit like being served pickled herring when one was in  the mood for lemon meringue pie  The playing I have to say was excellent but I couldn't help eyeing-up my table companions's cream  bun which I had overlooked at the self service counter.

I enjoyed chatting to door lady Lena about her time in Dublin learning  English and her enthusiasm for the operas of Gerald Barry, himself a Clare man. She hoped to get to the Wexford festival some day and pointed out a name among the production credits.  No mistaking the Irish influence with  a name like  Conor Murphy  listed as lighting for the production of Lohengrin.

All in all, I enjoyed a | very interesting, entertaining and inexpensive night at one of Europe's oldest opera houses.

*(The Sweden Democrats grabbed the headlines at last year's ecumenical service when they stormed out when bishop Eva Brunne argued that xenophobia and racism "is not worthy of a democracy like ours".)  

Best Arts Events 2011 A personal selection

the Marquis de la Force. Gunnar Lundberg 
Blanche de la Force: Elin Rombo / Natalie Hernborg 
Chevalier de la Force: Jonas Degerfeldt 
Mme de Croissy, old priors before Marianne Eklöf 
Mme Lidoine, new priors before Lena Nordin / Sara Olsson 
Mother Marie: Susann Vegh 
Sister Constance Marianne Hellgren Staykov 
Mother Joan: Agneta Lundgren 
confessor: Klas Hedlund 
jailer: Mikael Axelsson 
officer: Ola Eliasson 
Principal Inspector: Magnus Kyhle 
Andre Commissioner Magnus Lindén 
Thierry, valet: Christian Flor 
Javelinot, a doctor: Michael Magnell 
A handmaid: Madeleine Barringer 
Conductor: Marc Sous Trot 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Abbey Cluster Choirs gather with composer Bernard Sexton

Sing the Mass Accompaniment Edition 

Whatever views one might have on the amendments to the Roman Missal, one of the positive outcomes has been the commissioning of  new settings of the ordinary of the Mass and the reprinting of older versions by the National Centre for Liturgy.  An anthology of these commissioned settings both old and new was launched at the 2011 Irish Church Summer School.  I was present at the summer school when one of these commissions, Bernard Sexton's Mass of Renewal was heard as part of the daily liturgies  at the annual gathering. I thought then that it served the purpose well and  it struck me as being very suitable for Irish congregations . Some of Bernard's settings have found a regular place in the liturgies at Ennis Cathedral with The Shepherd Song and Beauty of the Earth both heard frequently in recent years and his setting of Laudates Omnes Gentes is a rousing recessional hymn.

Currently enjoying the liturgical limelight for his setting of the  Eucharistic Congress Hymn ‘Though We Are Many’  the composer,  conducted a choral workshop in St. Flannan’s College on Sat Feb 25th to teach his new Mass setting, ‘Mass of Renewal’. Choirs of the
Abbey Cluster  were invited to attend and a group of about sixty choristers from  Clarecastle, Ballyea, DooraBarefield, Ennis, Quin-Maghera-Clooney were assembled with Michael Hennessy, Music Director at Ennis Cathedral acting as accompanist.

The work has resonances with traditional Irish idioms and plainchant and is strong enough to stand up to simple unison singing treatment accompanied or accapella but the part  writing is accomplished and the  parts are agreeable and pleasant to sing. As a  bass himself, one  can rely on singable parts for the lowest voice .
Bernard Sexton, Michael Hennessy, Fr. Fergal O Neill

At the workshop, Bernard also presented a selection of new worksincluding a communion hymn, This is the Bread,  a  minor key melody with a descant part for an instrumentalist which I enjoyed playing on the day. There was also a jaunty Alleluiah with an unusual 7/8 time signature and a modal settting of a  wonderfully lyrical text by Timothy Dudley Smith , Christ is the Shining Sun.  The last one, a unison setting, would make a very suitable congregational hymn. Talking to some of the delegates after the workshop, my sense was that they enjoyed the repertoire and  the conviviality of singing with a larger group. Several of the directors I spoke to expressed the  hope the settings will become a regular feature of liturgies in their parishes and will encourage more congregational singing.
Cathedral Choristers

My review of a day spent at the annual Irish Church Music Summer School at the link below.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Walking on Sunshine in Stockholm

Stockholm winter by eGuide Travel
Stockholm winter, a photo by eGuide Travel on Flickr.
Dialogue of the Carmelites Swedish Royal Opera
Jazz Fasching Jam Session Amanda Sedgewick,
Thomas Prim and the Full Hand Blues   Stampen  Happy Jazz,
 Sunshine/ Walking on Water/Breaking the ice  
 Milk (Band), Darts and Dinner at Engelen
  Music Instruments Museum, Mohammad Rubaie,
  Lunchtime Shostakovitch  at Opera Cafe ,   Learys Sports Bar
 Sculpture God OurFather on the Rainbow 
Sightseeing  boat trip around archipelago

We  flew to Stockholm, the 'Venice of the North' for a winter break to explore  the Scandanavian capital  and seek out some live music.

Cuban jamming at Fasching
Jam List
Bass Clarinet
First up was Fasching   a Jazz venue in the Noralm district with quite a Bohemian, retro feel to the interior with red curtains and spindly chairs  Following a  West Coast style set by anchor musician, saxophonist Amanda Sedgewick, ensembles were formed from musicians in the audience and we stayed for three changes of stage lineup . This was a very entertaining evening and (relatively inexpensive as there was no cover charge).  I liked the blurring of the lines betweeen platform and punters and I loved 8 piece Cuban outfit with  bespectacled vocalist. Because  very few people seemed to be dining,  we ordered in some trepidation.  Although the reinder mousse with lingonberries was tempting, we settled for elk burgers and a surprisingly good beef bourgignon and can report that both suppers were very tasty and added to the enjoyment of the evening. Music lovers cannot survive on jamculture alone. While there was a mix of ages in the clientele and performers, the age range was predominantly 20-35 age group and there was a sense that jazz in Stockholm was a thriving scene and female input among the instrumentalists noteable.

Back nearer our base on Gamla Stan, we caught the end of the set in  Stampen Jazz venue,
Happy Blues at Stampen
a former pawn shop with an alarming amount of ceiling mounted  stuff.  The venue proudly promises a 'Happy Jazz' experience and  although  happy jazz and blues might seem oxymoronic, the  Thomas Prim Full Hand Blues Band seemed a cheerful enough of  and went down well with the mix of tattooed and tweed jacketed punters  .  In the nearby Engelen, we also enjoyed a  good reasonably priced meal and  a good covers band called Milk.  There was a very entertaining and highly competitive darts match amongst local pub teams.
Stockholm is choc full of museums covering all manner of memorabilia.

 I visited the Music and Theatre Museum hoping to see some Hardanger  fiddles . Housed in a very nice building, the museum displays though eclectic were underwhelming and featured more ethnic percussion than any other
Arabic drumming at Music Museum
instrument type.  There was an exhibition dedicated to Jenny Lind the famous songbird  and I was just in time for a demonstration of ethnic drumming, a global phenomenon it seems and not unknown in Clare (see Tribal Spirit pot).  The most striking display of folk instruments was the collection of  the late Kurash Sultan, a refugee Urgyar
Poet and Musician Kurash Sultan Display at Music Museum
musician, and folk music collector who had settled in Sweden. Listening to the snatches of recording I was reminded of Andy Irvine who is a bit of a magpie and collects influences from all over Europe in moulding his own style. It wouldn't surprise me at all  if they had gigged together.

Arriving late into Gamla Stan I was just in time to catch  Scotsman, Dave Stewart's closing numbers at the Liffey Bar. Anticipating Christy Dignam's eagerly awaited  gig at the same venue, Dave sang a heartfelt version of the Aslan classic, Crazy World. While a Scotsman singing songs songs by an Irishman was not quite what I had expected  for a musical experience in the Swedish capital, it was heartfelt and memorable.

Wednesday is given over to lunchtime and evening events at the Royal Swedish Opera house where I saw a production of Dialogue of the Carmelites by Poulenc. (My review of a day at the Royal Swedish Opera)

The strange sensation of jouneying on a boat through ice was one of the thrills of a sight-seeing boat trip. Our guide Ana Li was excellent and at pains to include as much local insight as possible including our own national
Arctic Cat
obsession, local property prices.  The  brilliant sunshine allowed  great views of the archipelago and many of the sights  including the famous sculpture God Our Father on the Rainbow,  rejected by the UN it appears for its religious overtones.

Stockholm was a very relaxing city to spend a few days in. Getting around is easy and most sights and venues can be reached on foot. Eating out and drinks are very expensive but gigs and the opera tickets were cheaper than other capital city prices and there was plenty of diversions for a winter break.  Lagom which loosely translated means an elegant sufficiency is a good word to sum up this Scandinavian capital.
God the Father on the rainbow