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

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sunday Roundup from New Ross Choral Festival

Waterford Male Voice Choir warm up with director Niall Crowley

 The streets were alive with the sound of music in New Ross on Sunday afternoon .  Everywhere you looked, clusters of suited and gowned choristers were clustering around the two performing venues in  the South East town. Outside the Theatre Tavern punters warbled over their pints and the smell of salt and vinegared chips was in the air.  Over the course of the weekend, 1000 singers of all ages  descended on the small town on the Barrow for the AIMS Choral Festival  to compete in various competitions . In contrast to the grand cosmopolitan air of the Cork Choral Festival , New Ross is a down home day trip event with the feel of a cosy knees up in the parlour.

Church Yard  Al fresco Green Room
My first stop was the Church of St Mary and St Michael where  Cork Airport Singers with conductor Anne Healy Mayes opened  Competition A for  part songs for large mixed choirs.  Outside,  gospel choirs were limbering up for a dedicated competition. Perhaps due to the clement weather, there were more bodies outside than inside the venues.

St Michael's Theatre
There was a younger profile in delegates at St Michael's Theatre for an afternoon of musical theatre. It was good to hear The Treaty Scene from Michael Collins by Waterford writer, Bryan Flynn  from the Teachers' Musical Society among the selected numbers in the Musical Cameo competition. I regret that I haven't yet seen any of Flynn's stage musicals. Lovely  also to hear a trio from Rush  close the singing with a delightfully old fashioned Gilbert & Sullivan number, Never Mind the Whys and Wherefores'. A very entertaining afternoon all for a modest €4 to cover the programme. It is rare pleasure to hear musical theatre un amplified and this bijou venue was ideal in this regard.

Lifting the Cup . Carrick on Suirs supporters led by Liam Butler 
There was a bit of a frisson as it was announced that admission to the adjudication would be by special pass only and there was  a clamour  in the forecourt for the few available tickets. Albert Bradshaw  commented on the staggeringly high standard. and complimented the accompanists who  executed some 'viscious' scores with 'polish and élan' One hard pressed pianoman accompanied 15 numbers before rushing off to a gig in Dublin.  'Respect the score' was Patrick Devine's advice and the Maynooth academic  was encouraged by the resilience of the event in the recession.

High spirits prevailed on the street as splendid silver trophies were lifted and huddles formed to pour over reports. Most jubilant of all were Carrick on Suir Musical Society . Although not placed for their fine male chorus rendition of Officer Kruppee- undaunted,they followed their leader,  Liam Butler  down the street as he held his  tea cup aloft, singing all the way.

Note to organisers: No results to date posted on website.

Cork Choral Festival  An Unclouded Day at Cork Choral Festival  My report on Sunday'events

Piece to camera. AIMS President Richard Lavery

Choral Huddle  post adjudication

Cork Airport Singers Limber up 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Homecoming Hug with Pierce Turner

Pub Song 

'A  mixture of O Riada, Wexford mumming and classical music' was how Fr. Aodhán Markham summed up the elements  in a new Mass composed by  Pierce Turner, heard at Bride Street Church as a pinnacle of a weekend  of events featuring the Wexford musician. That the acclaimed  singer songwriter sees his canvas in a global context is apparent in the listing of the event as a 'world premiere'.
  The church was full with a mixture of regulars, local dignitaries, family& friends and fervent atheists to hear the work sung by the Bride Street Church Choir with organist Ger Lawlor, soprano Róisín Dempsey and the composer on keyboard. 'Powerful and beautiful' were the comments on the featured Communion piece, Union, composed  to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion and recorded by Kathleen Tynan. The work included a gathering hymn, parts of the Mass Ordinary in Irish and Latin and a setting of the Our Father.   It may not be very rock and roll but Turner has always acknowledged church music as a major influence  on his musical style both in interviews and in song. No gig is complete  without a sing along rendition of  Faith of our Fathers as a coda to his song 'The Sky and the Ground'* and thus  ended The Gathering Mass.  It is
Turner Family with Roisin Dempsey and Mayor Allen

surely a measure of the extent to which Turner is cherished in his hometown that a pub is named after one of his signature songs.

The weekend kicked off with a performance at Greenacres Art Gallery by Turner accompanied by string quartet and bass. Moving from piano to guitar and keyboard, the set list included old favourites with songs from his new album, Notes for a Verry Small Orchestra. The age group was 50 + and the mood was   oddly  reverent in the white walled gallery space.  We shuffled to our feet  for the closing numbers, the charge led  by a lady on crutches almost like a scene from a Christian Revivalist meeting. The excellent string quartet, fitted with pick ups added a lush element and the arrangements are reminiscent of Beatles Sargeant Pepper with a touch of Handel.  Among the devoted  fans who had travelled a distance for the event was Mo Maloney, a regular at Turner's Manhattan appearances who was at the gig with his son Michael.

We're not in obscurity, but we're not top of the pops either' . So said playwright, Billy Roche somewhat ruefully at the  forum on Saturday .  Turner gets great press being  generally referred to as being an unorthodox genius with his name bandied about with those of literary giants, Beckett and Joyce for the quality of his lyrics .  A flick through his biography sees him photographed with  the likes of Pete Seeger and Phillip Glass- major figures from stylistically very different musical worlds.  Why he continues to fly under the radar of national consciousness, remaining relatively unknown  outside an ardent but modest fan base is something of an enigma addressed by the forum on Saturday titled 'From Wexford to Manhattan and Back'. Chaired by Jackie Hayden of Hot Press, it opened with the screening of a short documentary by Colin Murnane. Billy Roche spoke about growing up in Pierce's extended family with wry self deprecating humour. Broadcaster Frank Phelan is probably Turner's most passionate advocate and you can hear my audioboo with Frank below. Editor of the Wexford Echo, Tom Mooney drew comparisons with Julie Feeney and spoke about the impact of the changing nature of the music business.

Critic, Liam Fay completed the panel. 'The most intrinsically Irish artist of our generation was his assessment. . While the panelists were well informed and made interesting observations,  no interaction from the floor was encouraged  as advertised.

 For me Turner is a quixotic figure, An engaging live performer who somehow combines elements of a cosy parlour party with big stadium shapes. He takes the details of his life story from his early life as a working class boy, growing up in a musical family in an Irish coastal town, to his journey to  America and weaves them into  an eclectic and entertaining song set. The style  veers  from  sophisticated introspection   to cheerful  schmaltz, interlaced with great yarns. His  sense of  glee and  joie de vivre  is rare and very appealing.

Turner has a few dates coming up . He will be in Coughlans,  Cork on 23 May . More information on the website 

*Correction. The hymn Faith of our Father's is sung at the end of the song You Can Never Know, not the Sky and the Ground as stated. . Both songs include references to religious symbols.

Related  articles Hawley and the Savoy and Turner Pierces Gloom 

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Unclouded Day at Cork Choral Festival 2013

The University of Oregan Chamber Choir Winners of Fleischmann Trophy

With festivals re branded under the catchy new  title of Gathering,  Cork Choral Festival continues to do  that better than most. Founded in 1954 as part of An Tostal, a government initiative to boost Ireland's failing economy, Cork International Choral Festival is the longest running Irish  festival in its' original form, Chairman John Fitzpatrick reminded us at the closing gala. Over the weekend, song seeps out of the formal concert venues to permeate spaces all over the city.  Here is my selection of Sunday's highlights.

Afternoon in the Atrium The afternoon slipped away pleasantly  at the Clarion where  MC Colin Nicholls kept procedings moving along in cheerful fashion. With ground floor table seats in demand,  patrons ascended to the balconies to hear  the ten choirs  which included several barbershop quartets . Our favourite was Polyfonica, a choir from Belarus which  had a fiddle player and included Kalinka in the set of folk songs.

An Unclouded Day.  The University of Oregan Chamber Choir came to the platform at the closing gala concerts anointed as best in festival 2013. Would they have that special something that  set them apart. They did. It was elegant simplicity. Choosing two pieces in a spiritual vein, one traditional and a modern number, (The Road Home by Stephen Paulus), in contrast to most of the other choirs, they simply sang . No busyness. No actions. No clever vocal clucking  noises. Just seamless unadulterated vocal harmony.   Dressed in sober grey suits and dresses, the mixed voice chamber choir under director Dr. Sharon Paul, created a serene and heavenly sound that made me long for an encore. Of the novelty pieces, the French choir, Alter Echo, did make me chuckle with their stylish dynamic performance of The Ferret. Delightful also was the clarity of diction from  of the English ensemble Coro. Ceoltoirí Muscraí under director Martin Power presented an attractive and varied show case of Irish song and dance.

Malcolm Wisener

Organ Postlude at St Finbarres . We did a bit of singing ourselves as the choir had a rare evening off evening duties after the Sacred Music competition. We specially enjoyed Malcolm Wisener's playing of a postlude by French composer Pierné on the organ at St Finbarre's Cathedral at the close of Evening Prayer Service for Rogation Sunday.

Festival Club What did the choristers do at the wrap party. Carry on singing of course -and  dancing. At the Clarion, the more energetic made their way to céilí room where visitors seemed to have no trouble picking up the steps of Falla Liminí. In the lounge, Jack O Rourke, piano player extrordinaire from Oregan anchored the sing song around the piano, backing all comers and filling in during lulls although  in my opinion the  French delegation proved to have all the best chansons.
The Sub-terraneans

Best Buskers  It is quite a while since I've seen a melodica. The last one was worn by Sr Pius when I was in 2nd class. New kids on the block The Sub-terraneans include it in their arsenal snapped here on their first outdoor busking session on a lethargic Monday after all the singers had departed.

Related Posts Unholy Haikus, Great Glee and Brilliant Buskers A report from 2012 Festival

Examiner Review of Festival here

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gritty Urban Carmen at the Watergate

Sopranos consigned to wheelie bins, costumes direct from the urban grunge section of Penneys and hold the manzanilla, it's Dutch Gold and spice burgers  all round for the cast of Opera Theatre Company’s latest production of Carmen.

It’s Carmen all right, but not as we know her. Director Gavin Quinn relocates the anti-heroine of Bizet's opera comique  from Spain to the Northside of Dublin with a sleazy cast of  hoodlums that would fit right into a party scene of Love Hate.  The soldiers are transformed to unruly  members of An Garda Siochana,  with culchie accents , flirting with the tarty girls, in  lurid leggings and hoopy earrings . There is a shiny suit too for Escamillo, (Owen Gilhooly) a  fighter, maybe of the bare knuckle  or kick boxing variety  given the absence of gloves  with a fetching  mix and match wardrobe including pedal pushers and sleeveless hoodie ensemble that is surely the envy of baritones all over the opera world.  Some of the dialogue and lyrics are very funny and convincingly delivered- lots of Dublineze but no swearing.  Don  Jose reads his mother's letter on his smart phone. Of the on stage action, a gentleman next to me said 'It reminds of John Street on a Saturday night after the pubs close'  And I suspect that, for many theatre goers, the problem with this  Carmen  was that it was all too familiar with a gritty set of characters that repulsed rather than seduced.  Compelling  but appalling in a sort of 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding' sort of way. 

The singing from a 18 strong cast  is excellent. Imelda Drumm in the title role has an element of pantomime  dame Twink in her portrayal of a minxy Carmen toying with a gormless Don José played by American tenor Michael Wade Lee, who is understandably a little confused where to place his accent at times.  Maireid Buicke is tender and lovely as Micaela and Maria Hughs was impressive in her debut performance as Mercedes
By any standards, this is a big production with 30 or so musicians and singers  conducted by Andrew Synott. Luxurious in terms of the calibre of singing and quality of the orchestra led tonight by Mircea Petcu ,  placed on stage right giving the audience another performance aspect to watch . 
And the verdict of the interval audience . 'Well- quite different but the singing was wonderful ' said one lady. A gentleman who had arrived in elegant dress suit  appeared after the interval in less formal attire obviously  feeling the occasion didn't warrant the full dressing up treatment after all. 
Seductive and sultry? No way José- but compelling and enthralling in its own way and worth seeing? Yes!  

Venue Note . The foyer of the Watergate Theatre Kilkenny is a little cramped but the cafe upstairs had the nicest willow pattern tea cups I've seen in any theatre café. There is good leg room and the seats were very comfortable in this converted cinema  with good visibility in stalls and balcony.

Carmen continues to tour with a dozen dates around the country extending to Autumn 2013 

Related articles Pagliacci for Everyman

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dick Gaughan in Miltown Malbay

'What's the use of two strong legs 
If you only run away 
And what's the use of the finest voice 
If you've nothing good to say'
              D Gaughan

No applause greeted  Dick Gaughan at the Malone's Market Tavern, Miltown Malbay last night. Instead an expectant silence prevailed as the  legendary Scottish troubadour stepped onto the small stage , took off his leather jacket,  and picked up his guitar to deliver a quietly ferocious set of songs. The list included  his own songs mixed with a selection   by Robbie Burns, Ewan MColl, Johnny Cash and contemporary Scot Brian McNeill.  Interlacing the set were monologues where he shared his trenchant  opinions on a range of topics including Scottish history, politics, social injustice and his education. A sense of outrage was tempered with humour,  ironic understatement and wit, all supported by  fine finger picking guitar skills. There was a  gentler moments when he sang Burns Now Westlin Winds which you can hear in the video clip above.. A small detail but it pleases me to report that he wore blue suede shoes.

'I think I know everybody here' declared Gaughan as he faced patrons in  the packed intimate venue.  The audience included several well known singers , songwriters and  folk musicians, some of whom had travelled some  distance to renew old  acquaintance or memories.  I spoke to one man  who said 'It is 30 years since I've heard him- he is like an aged Scottish malt , smoother  but as potent as ever'

Gaughan continues his tour with a performance in Dolans Limerick on Wednesday 8th May

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cantate Domino: Sacred Music Week at the Crescent, Limerick

'If that's what heaven is going to be like, I want to there' declared one satisfied listener following the opening concert of a week of  concerts at the Sacred Heart Church in the Crescent, Limerick. Stepping inside the recently reopened church,  I wondered at first if I had stepped into a dress rehearsal for the Sound of Music  given the presence  of nuns in old fashioned habits complete with starched wimples . The church was purchased last August by an Italian religious community  dedicated to traditional forms of liturgy who have taken on the task of restoring the former Jesuit church which is back in use after seven years . Further details from the Irish Times here .

Local award winning* chamber choir An Cór  under conductor Cecilia Madden presented a programme of sacred music from Renaissance to Romantic periods. Cecilia Madden and Chloe Heslin offered a Purcell chaconne as a instrumental interlude. There was an leaning towards French repertoire with pieces by Duruflé, Guonod and Fauré included in a programme.

The series continues nightly at 8pm concluding with an organ recital on Monday evening by tonight's accompanist, Abbé Matthew Walter who adds further to the considerable pool of organists in the Limerick area between two cathedrals, Glenstal Abbey and the Redemptorist church to name just a few venues. Organ fans may like to note the next concerts from the Irish Chamber Orchestra are titled Steeplechase and will feature the instrument in various churches. The Limerick concert takes place in St Mary's Cathedral on Thursday 16th May and features organist of St Mary's Cathedral, Peter Barley 

*An Cór were awarded Best Sacred Music Choir and Best Limerick at the 2013 Limerick Choral Festival.

An Cor Chamber Choir

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hope Prevails at Dolans

David Hope  

Notes cascading from a mellow wooden  flute  greeted patrons stepping in to Dolans last night as the regular trad session musicians occupied their usual spot in the downstairs bar. The dockside venue was a hive of activity upstairs and down .  In the warehouse, Minister on European affairs, Lucinda Creighton was topping the bill at a debate in the Leviathan series  title 'Communicating Europe'. I can't say it looked  too lively but I didn't dwell too long as my destination was the  Upstairs  lounge  where travelling troubadour  David Hope performed a short but compelling  set of his own songs as part of the prelude to an album launch by rock group, Senakah. I suspect Hope has no ambivalence about  European citizenship and spoke to me with enthusiasm about his recent tours in Switzerland and \Germany where he regularly plays to packed venues. For more on David and his work, this article on Breaking Tunes  is quite comprehensive;

David Hope was preceded  by newcomer, Emma Kate Langford. There was quite a contrast between these two singer songwriters. Hope dominates the stage  like a colossus, the guitar looking diminutive in his  hands. The songs are at times dark in tone  accompanied by forthright rhythmic guitar  and delivered in a deep gravely voice. Emma Kate is winsome , petite and beguiling with a  clear bell like vocal quality . Something about her style reminded  me of Corinne Bailey Rae. The self penned songs are light in tone and she was well supported by Tod Doyle on beat box and vocals and Cillian King  on concertina. As usual at this venue, the amplification was effective but not overpowering.

If the performers were disappointed at the paucity of audience , they didn't dwell on it but it was hard to believe that Limerick is the home of two third level colleges, both offering music degrees One wonders where do all those  students go on Thursday night.  I might add that admission was low at €7. Dolan's do a great job in providing a convivial venue and engaging the artists but one felt that neither of these two high calibre live acts or the venue got the support they deserved this evening.

You can hear one of Emma Kate's songs from the Dolan's set list below and my interview with her on the audioboo.