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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Fellowship of the String: London Fiddle Convention 2013

Cecil Sharp House Camden
For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle  
And the merry love to dance:
             from The Fiddler of Dooney WB Yeats .  
'We shall do what fiddle players do best which is  improvise and think on our feet' .   So said tutor,  Pete Cooper before launching  his solo set with tunes from Playford's collection  and some unusual  fiddle singing at the London Fiddle Convention I made my way to Camden Town last weekend  for the 21st annual gathering of fiddle folk, held  at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Dance and Folk Song Society.

Lost City Rambler Tom Paley

The  venue with its small  basement cafe & bar and  assorted meeting rooms has an austere but convivial air of a  youth hostel.
The format was  an afternoon and evening of workshops, informal jam sessions, a fiddle contest and finally a showcase concert to finish . There were three anchor tutors (sadly Ivor Ottley wasn't in the line up as expected)   Chris Haigh is  a self confessed plunderer of other musical traditions and his well researched trawl through Hungarian folk music was entertaining and informative . Veteran bluegrass fiddler Bob Winquist took us through the old timey, Roxanne's Waltz .  It is always interesting to see how teachers approach the group lesson experience and the shared experience of playing  tunes with a whiff of far flung places was fun.

Sonic Violins Henry and  Piotr
I met lots of interesting folk  and you can hear some of the voices  in the audioboos. Mandolin player  Ray Tassie manned the stand of attractive  fiddle books many of them by the tutors. Richard Roberts of Sonic  Violins had a steady stream of visitors  Fiddlers who want to sound like a cello?- Richard had a solution- the amazing Octave Violin   Under the stairs, veteran banjo and fiddle player  of the New Lost City Ramblers, Tom Paley had set out his stall of antique fiddles before heading off to play in the jam session in the bar where I met Kate of the Wagon Tales Bluegrass Band and  admired Ben's fold away  bass.
 Flame haired Elizabeth Flett from Dundee was a worthy winner of  a surprisingly small pool of teenagers. Her rendition of a Scottish air displayed a very mature style. Youngest contestant was Billy Hill and  I met both Billy and his mother who featured in this recent  Guardian article  I enjoyed David Protheroe's performance  of the Butterfly and he spoke to me about the pleasure of coming lately to a whole new world of fiddle playing outside the orchestral sphere.
Romany Diamonds

Winner of the senior contest was Henry  Webster. What, I asked Henry, were the defining characterics of the English tradition.  ' It's got to have bells on' he said. 'It's all about getting the foot stomping - getting the lift' said Henry and I cheered inwardly to hear his succinct  summary, refreshingly down to earth and free of any guff about tapping the ancient secrets of the universe  through gut strings that tends to be a feature of  any 21st century  folk blurb  I read these days.

A group barn dance by all the participants ushered in the evening concert featuring an eclectic set of turns.  Outside of Sweden, only in London could you imagine a group devoted to an obscure instrument  like the Swedish nyckelharpa . Described as a keyed fiddle with 4 main and 12 sympathetic strings, it is  played with a small  bow . There were turns from the three tutors backed by Ben Somers on his compact bass and Richard Bolton on cello.  Perhaps most extraordinary were the duo Ricardo Marek Czureja  and son Benjamin, The Romany Diamonds. In  a varied set of amazing virtuosity and comedy,at times sounding like Grappelli and Reinhardt and if that wasn't enough, they added  vocals as well. There was a song also from Old Time fiddler  Robin Gillan. The  sad tale of an accidental shooting of a beloved  might have been chosen with recent events in mind . The Clare fiddle style had an excellent champion in Matt Tighe, a student of Dermot Crehan ,a London based member of the legendary Crehan clan.

If the event was missing anything, it was  feet. The main Hall of Cecil  Sharp House is an enormous high ceilinged   brightly lit space presided over by rather stern looking door stewards. Lined with a high bank of seating, it lends itself more to hordes of dancing feet than a  resonant listening experience. I enjoyed the range and variety of styles and  the sense of collegiality among the participants.

'We've had a lovely day' said Pete Cooper and indeed we did !  Looking forward to the next one. I'm off to practice my czardas!
Jam Session Cecil Sharp Bar

Thanks to Richard Roberts of  Sonic Violins for facilitating my participation with the loan of a violin for the day .  Montage of videclips of LFC

listen to ‘Henry Webster’ winner  of London Fiddle Convention contest on Audioboo


Friday, February 22, 2013

Hungarian Maestro in Limerick:Takacs Nagy with ICO

Symphony No 15 G major K.124  Mozart
Symphony No 44 E minor 'Trauer'  Haydn 
Carmen Suite                    Bizet/Rodion Schedrin             

It has been ages  since I've heard the Irish Chamber Orchestra but free of commitments on Thurday  I joined the reasonably full house at University Concert Hall Limerick for a programme of Classical symphonies and a ballet suite based on melodies from Carmen . And very fine it all was too. While you can be sure that the playing will be first class from the ICO, a particular draw on this occasion was the chance to see and hear the charismatic Hungarian conductor, Gabor Takacs Nagy. After several decades at the helm of his eponymous string quartet, he has changed roles and is tipped  as being one to watch for a plum conducting positions with one pf the major London symphony orchestras. So far he seems happy to practice his art with smaller ensembles outside the capital and is working with premier chamber ensembles, Manchester Camerata and now in a new role as 'Artistic Partner' with the Irish Chamber Orchestra. (The Takacs String Quartet still exists now based in the US with two of the original members in the line up )

As if in an effort to make a connection with the audience from the outset, the tall and slim Hungarian , made his entrance  from front of house and first addressed the audience reprising some of his remarks made at a pre show dinner address.  His voice didn't project  quite enough to carry effectively to the higher levels of the house and that aspect of the performance didn't add value for me seated at the back of the stalls. You can catch a flavour of his style  in the video below. In his expressive conducting gestures he  radiates a sense of energy  and a most genial personality that is very appealing.  In the Mozart and Haydn symphonies, he drew a performance  marked with precision and contrasts from the Irish Chamber Orchestra. I have rarely heard such hushed pianissimos and the reading of the Haydn  brought out the dramatic elements of the work.. Unusually the two oboes were placed in the hot seats  right in front of the conductor and the Haydn was performed without a keyboard continuo part.
The percussion players were the star turn in the fabulous Camen Suite by Russian composer Chedrin .  A group of five players including the experienced Noel Eccles and rising star Alex Petcu fanned out across the stage enclosing the orchestra. adding lashings of sparkle to the rich and sonorous string sound  . I specially liked the marimba duet. Shorn of  the distraction of voices and stage sets, just how resilient and numerous  are those Bizet's melodies  was apparent in this reworking for the composer's ballerina wife who Takacs Nagy informed us had last danced to the work at age 61!  Hope for us all yet.   -And the very best way to finish-, the longest silence  before applause and a deserved standing ovation.

Venue Notes I went along to the pre show dinner  in the  elegant period dining room of Plassey House. The Hungarian maestro gave a  charming  pre dinner address  before departing to prepare for the concert .   He opened with an anecdote about his first trip to Limerick in the 70's as a member of the acclaimed eponymous string quartet .  He spoke animatedly  about his approach to the task of conducting and of course complimented the players of the  ICO.  Opportunities to meet the performers are welcome.  Open rehearsals, pre concert talks and post show signings extend  the concert experience.  Entertainers /artists in the commercial world know the value of meeting and greeting their audience and the show ain't over 'til the post show hand shakes and signing are done. However as in the NCH last week, UCH does not encourage patrons to dally . Why not open the cafe  and/or bar for a period after the show and even engage in a little merchandising. The ICO like any recording artist has CDs to sell  after all .

Related articles

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Happy Prince :Donegal Oscar

In a recent post on the Festival of Youth Orchestras, I included an audio  interview with composer Vincent Kennedy who accepted a Special Achievement Award from the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras on behalf of a Donegal arts initiative.I am grateful to the composer for sending this video on the remarkable project, commissioned via the Per Cent for Art scheme.

The Happy Prince (Featuring Little John Nee, Vincent Kennedy, Donegal Youth Orchestra & Donegal Youth Choir) from Jeremy Howard on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jammin' with the flying piano man

                                                                                                                            photo Irish Examiner
There are not too many pubs that can boast a real live piano player but the Hi B in Cork has a resident pianist on Weds and Thurs who has a rather long commute to work.You can read about Francis, the Bavarian in this article from the Irish Examiner

I was delighted to be invited to play with Francis on Thursday 7th Feb, We played a selection of popular repertoire Waltzes, tangos. rhumbas  Beatles , French chansons /Great fun / !

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Clarendon Chorale with Ronan McDonagh

Photos of St. Teresa's Church, Dublin
Just off Grafton St
Dublin was a hive of musical activity last weekend and we enjoyed the beginning  of an incredible Schubert odyssey  and the festive fun of an  annual youth orchestra extravaganza at the NCH.  Not too far away from the salubrious spaces of the National  Concert Hall, some of the finest  musical exponents in the land  were hidden away in lofts where without the  applause and the standing ovations they literally pulled out all the stops to give their audience a 'swell' musical experience. I refer of course to that modest but supreme band of musicians who play not only with their hearts and hands but also with their feet--the organists .

 The unimposing entrance to St Theresa's Church is tucked away on a laneway off Grafton St  and here, composer, Ronan McDonagh, one of the most pre-eminent  of this band of organists has been musical director for more than two decades. I went along on the last Sunday before Lent to hear his carefully chosen blend  of plainchant, Renaissance polyphony  and Classical and contemporary Irish settings . You can see  McDonagh conduct his own composition heard on Sunday 'Come Adore This Wondrous Presence in the video below.

Programme 5th Sunday  St Theresa's 
It was good to see the words of the opening hymn Christ Be Near at Either Hand  printed in the Mass leaflet to encourage congregational involvement  The emphasis on plainchant continued to the end with a recessional Salve Regina.The choir consisted of a dozen or so highly proficient voices with Mary O Sullivan a clear and lovely  soloist in Mozart's Laudate Dominum . Clearly  the choir succeeded in the mission statement on the church  website From the outset the choir has sought' to fulfil its liturgical function in the fullest way possible.' McDonagh as  director  manages to be innovative and yet preserve a solid sense of  a solemn and rich classical tradition. In his own  work he combines elements that draw on sacred and native Irish elements  that seems to resonate particularly well with Irish congregations.  His airs A Iosa Mhic Mhuire and Suile an Choilm are favourites in my sacred  repertoire and never fail to evoke a response.


I missed the opening as I stopped to chat (as Gaeilge ) to Seosamhín who was a very cheerful sight on a very rainy morning. Undeterred by the inclement weather, she offered a hymn to the elements on her accordion 'neath an umbrella bearing the slogan I Love Ireland.  Go hiontach - Maith thú Seoisamhin.!

** I realise on reviewing the year highlights that I omitted to acknowledge that the choir at St Theresa's is conducted by Grainne Gormley.    post amended 11 Jan 2014
Post amended  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

18th IAYO Festival at NCH

There was not just one but two  sold out houses for the annual festival devoted to young musicians held at the National Concert Hall on Saturday. The full list of participants can be found on this link to the iayo website  Here is the post festival update from the website.

'This year’s festival proved to be a resounding success, with all of the orchestras performing fantastically in both the afternoon and evening concerts. There was a great atmosphere throughout the whole day and it was an accurate representation of the vibrancy and enthusiasm of youth orchestras in Ireland.
A special word of congratulations must be given to Donegal Youth Orchestra for their Youth Orchestra Achievement Award, Julianstown Youth Orchestra for their Orchestra Development Award and John O’Brien for receiving the Agnes O’Kane Award. Coole Music also deserve congratulations for their special commendation on the night and we wish them the very best of luck on their tour to Sweden this week.'
 You can hear my interview my interview with one of the recipients of the Achievement Awards below.

My highlights  were the musical fairytale Rapunzal from Budding Bows Chamber Orchestra from Waterford under director Deirdre Scanlon. Deirdre organised the first youth orchestra of which I was a member and I can still remember the excitement. although it is a very long time ago. Composer Brian Irvine was in the house to hear his work performed by the Julianstown Youth Orchestra with a striking vocal performance by Ferdia Walsh Peelo.  There were many Cork accents in the foyer as supporters of the County Cork School of Music Orchestra arrived in large numbers to see Michael Cummins direct the impressive orchestra. There was a folk influence in the selection from a merger between Young Dublin Symphonia and orchestras from Denmark and Norway but time also for.  a tango Jealousy .  Sean Rocks brought his acting talents to the podium in his updated narration of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra ; perfect programming for the event with the accomplished symphony orchestra from The Royal Irish Academy.  Liz Nolan compered both concerts and had her work cut out with some of her young interviewees. Below are a few of the voices heard  in the foyer on the day . Well done to Artistic Director, Carol Daly , Allin Gray and team for a memorable and gala event  which no doubt will form happy memories for all fortunate to participate.

Co Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra with the President

Venue Notes
The National Concert Hall is a great venue for a festive occasion and lends itself to people congregating post show to meet and greet. I was amazed at the efficiency  with which the hall was cleared following the evening event. . The show finished at 10.40 and not much later than 11pm staff were poised with keys and preparing to lock up..  In the balcony we rather enjoyed the mime show as  ushers collaborated to locate transgressors of  the No Camera Rule.  While I think this is proper order, an announcement clearly stating the policy at the start of each half. might help reduce infringements

PS Adding this photo of renowned Canadian pedagogue, Joanne Martin who I met at the evening concert

Poetry and Emotion: Schubert Reise Begins in Dublin

Anticipation  was in the  air in Earlsfort Terrace on Sunday.There was clapping and cheering and a jazz quartet to serenade the English rugby team as they trooped out of the Conrad Hotel to board their team bus for the journey to Ballsbridge for their Six Nations  clash.  Across the road in the National Concert Hall, Conor Biggs was warming up for  the first Irish leg of an audacious musical odyssey in which he plans to perform all 600 or so of Schubert's songs, even the girls' ones  in a series of 35 recitals repeated in four locations over a ten year period, a feat never before attempted by any singer. 

Biggs, accompanied by  pianist Michael Stas began his Schubertreise with the song cycle Die Schone Mullerin in the Kevin Barry Room of the NCH just as the ball was being thrown in at the Aviva Stadium. And what an emotional roller coaster the first part of this journey was. The bass baritone seemed totally consumed by the spirits of the four protagonists of the songs and  his musical recounting of the tragic tale of the young miller starting out in cheerful optimism and ending in despair and tragedy  had an intensity that compelled your attention at every moment of the hour long recital.  There were no tickly coughs in this audience. The texts of Muller's poems were provided with translations in decent sized complimentary programmes  The concert closed with the a solo piano transcription by Liszt beautifully played by Stas acting as a  sort of  musical decompression before the audience repaired to the foyer to meet the performers. 

Biggs has lots of interesting observations about the whole business of lieder singing and Schubert's songs on his artsong blog . This from a post on 'Poetic Imagination' is revealing of his approach

 'On the recital platform, theatre and poetry are indivisible: the singer must act with his or her voice alone, just as he would if reading a straight poem. And the key to vocal acting is poetic imagination.' 

There is plenty on the nitty gritty process of learning the repertoire and memorising that is very interesting.

It was the first time I have been at a recital in this room upstairs in the venue and I thought it worked very well for this  event and had a much better acoustic than the John Field Room. There were  many noted composers and musicians in the audience including  Raymond Deane, Padraig O Cuinnegain and Professor Gerard Gillen. The audience lingered a while in the foyer to meet the performers. The journey continues with another recital next Sunday.

The duo plan to finish their reise in ten years with the song cycle  Winterreise.  I hope to be there and I was glad to be  in the Hall for the start of this amazing journey. Wishing them both well in their brave endeavour.

Venue Notes NCH 
I arrived early and was surprised to find the foyer very quiet . The Terrace Restaurant was closed and the foyer coffee bar didn't open until 2.35 for coffee and what were delightfully described as 'mini pastries'  perhaps in an effort to manage expectations of larger confections. But  if you were of an impulsive nature and rolled up expecting to be able to snaffle a pastry or two, you were out of luck for such treats were only available for patrons with the foresight to pre book,  which created a ripple of bemused disgruntlement. Mind you should I be so fortunate to be so prescient, I  should want to enjoy them for longer than the twenty minutes or so allowed by the timetable. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Barbershop Bootcamp at Harmony Row

4 was a magic number in a week in which have  I heard some remarkable musical quartets. The Vogler Quartet amazed me  in Cork  with their perfect string blend. In Ennis it was harmonies of the vocal acapella variety that beguiled me for a while when I dropped in to the annual boot camp of the Irish Association of Barbershop Singers held at Colaiste Muire on the aptly named, Harmony Row. We heard a selection of quartets and choruses from around the country at a Saturday night concert.  Our favourites were British Barbershop Champions, IQ.  A lovely blend of close harmonies delivered with humour and panache. Have a listen to them in the video below. Youngsters , Twelve Plus One, (or  12+1) were warmly received. by their more senior colleagues for their chilling rendition of The Sound of Silence. 

 A rough headcount of participants indicated that the female of the species, Warbler Acapella, predominated at the event.  Perhaps the gentlemen are saving themselves for the  IABS annual convention in Waterford from 4-6 October. You can read my report of  The 2010 convention here  Expect to spot warblers of indigenous and non native variety with group titles  showing a strong penchant for musicals  puns. Should be fun!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Vogler Quartet with Blumina in Cork

German Boy Band: The Vogler Quartet
   Dvorak : Piano Quintet in A Major Op.81 

I was just in time to catch the last item of the Vogler Quartet's concert at the Curtis Auditorium in Cork on Thursday,  a Dvorak piano quintet  with pianist Elisaveta Blumina. 
But this  work made for one of those memorable evenings that made you feel glad to be there to hear it. and believe   for these moments at least, that  the very best thing in the musical world is a string quartet. Better still, one augmented by a piano. 
So what was the wow factor in this performance  for it most certainly was a wow?  That these fellas can play is a given at this level. Rather it was the blend of sound that seemed as near perfect as I have heard and  the youthful enthusiasm  and apparent delight  they took in their task as they exchanged smiles at sunny moments in the work, The German ensemble have a slightly tousled boyish air about them and hard to believe that they are playing together for nearly three decades.  The group anchor an annual music festival in Sligo on May Bank Holiday and have had some interesting collaborations and I include a video on one below.
The hall was packed to near capacity with a pleasant mix of age groups. There were many musicians in the audience with  members of the teaching staff and their students well represented  at the evening hosted by the Cork Orchestral Society.  

In one of those strange coincidences, the name Vogler cropped in conversation later in the Hi B Bar where Francis from Munich was tickling the ivories, Vogler's Jazz Club being a great jazz spot in Bavarian capital. He  plays from Wednesday to Saturday evenings in the Hi B but more on Francis in a  future post.