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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Proms Debut for Irish Trio in Billy Budd

Cast Billy Budd Glyndebourne

This is our moment
The moment we've been waiting for
these long weeks!
Now we'll see action
We're through with waiting
Now for deeds!

It was a glorious warm sunny day in London on Tuesday, perfect weather adding to the general good humour of the hundreds of queing promenaders. The crew of the HMS Indomitable  docked at the Royal Albert Hall for Proms no 60. The much lauded Glyndebourne Festival production  combining the large all male cast and chorus and the London Philharmonic Orchestra delivered a thrilling, gut wrenching performance of Benjamin Britten's nautical morality tale. Bass, Brindsley Sherratt's sinister black stockinged Claggert  hadn't a shred of a redeeming feature. Mark Padmore as the pale and tortured  captain and Jacques Imbrailo as the good hearted, doomed Billy were impressive, their emotional solos cutting through the cavernous space to pierce hearts all over the huge auditorium

The work was semi staged with singers in 18th century costume and the orchestra placed on platform between the soloists and the large chorus. The lighting was subdued enough to create an atmosphere but sufficient to read the libretto.  The visual and aural impact of seeing the brass and souped up military percussion of the LPO released from the sunken pit of an opera house was an added advantage  

An auspicious event from an Irish perspective in that no less than three young Irish singers made their Proms debut in the production.  Dean Power as Main Top , chorus member Padraic Rowan had a brief solo and Limerick baritone Brendan Collins also featured in the cast as Arthur Jones. Bravo ! So proud of you all .
I joined the crowd  gathered at the stage door to salute the performers as they disembarked for the last time. You can here my stage doors interviews with tenor, Dean Power and bass baritone, Padraic Rowan (chorus )   in the audioboos below.

This report is dedicated to artist and opera fan Sonia Schorman.

Related articles Curlew River at SJSS

The work is available to watch for a limited time via the link below

listen to ‘BBC Proms Debut Artist Dean Power and mother Maureen ’ on Audioboo

Monday, August 19, 2013

New Settings for Dawn at Kilkenny

There was a strong emphasis on 20th century and contemporary music in the  Kilkenny Arts Festival music programme under director Rosemary Collier.  Arts Council grandees , media folk, New and Early Music cognoscenti were out in force at St Canice's Cathedral on Saturday night for a performance by Ireland's premier new music ensemble with the added  lure of a rare appearance on this side of the Atlantic by acclaimed American soprano Dawn Upshaw, most famous as the voice in Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,  a surprise chart topper in 1992 .

 Upshaw was the soloist in Donnacha Dennehy's setting of  six Yeats  poems titled 'That the Night Come', taken from one of the texts. The settings appear on an album of Dennehy's work Grá agus Bás The programme notes inform us that  the work was commissioned by Upshaw with funds from the Arts Council. You can hear Dawn Upshaw's interview on radio show Arena here  where she talks about her interest in working with contemporary composers and how she came across Dennehy's work. The assorted  instrumentation of the Crash Ensemble (string quintet with accordion some wind and trombone, piano electric guitar and percussion)  created a varied palette of colour, in well crafted  soundscapes   over which the soprano soared with her distinctive unaffected style  emphasising the sean nos resonance in the settings.

If one was commissioned to write a piece to celebrate an Irish  40th birthday celebration, 'Dry' is not a word that would immediately spring to mind, no pun being a suitable title. But 'Dry' was the one  chosen by Michael Gordon for his piece commissioned to celebrate the significant anniversary of Kilkenny Arts Festival. Gordon is one of the legendary  Bang on a Can collective of American avant garde composers credited with pushing the boundaries in both style and performance practice. His work was heralded with a programme quote from Alex Ross as combining 'the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism. I can't say that the first two attributes were obvious in this work. This was  Steve  Reich lite  territory with pulsating low wind repeated sounds setting up a grid on which other timbres were added sparingly added over the duration of the peice  Suffice to say,  any celebratory sparkle would need to be added externally via a large glass of  bubbly. By comparison the Nico Muhly piece sounded lush and sonorous.

For acoustic and ambience, St Canice's is hard to beat. Any musical offering already has a head start in this hallowed space. One of the elements I loved was the use of theatrical lighting to create an atmosphere . It did mean you couldn't read the texts thoughtfully provided . I would quite liked to have heard the poems read as poetry before hearing the setting. Limiting the applause would have preserved the spell created by the lighting and sound effects  but a  little housekeeping announcement suggesting an applause  protocol would have helped the audience in unfamiliar repertoire.

I can report that the party carried on after the show at Cleere's Bar where audience and performers mingled to bask in the afterglow.  It was quite an occasion.

Keith Duggan's  recent Irish Times article on Dawn Upshaw Upward Trajectory no airs or graces is here.

Venue Notes
There was no distinction in ticket price between seats in the front part of the house and those at the rear part beyond the transept. While the acoustic is good here, the view isn't and one feels at a remove from the main party  I suggest there should have been a price differential between both parts of the house.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

London Dispatches August 2013

Violin School.
In London last week, I met Simon Hewitt Jones, founder of  Violin School, London. You can hear Simon and his students in the short video posted above. Clearly passionate about teaching, Simon has launched his establishment at the emblematic address, Palace Street, a stones throw from  the Windsor residence. The street is home also to the newly opened St James Theatre and there are charming  coffee shops and pubs. The school uses some novel strategies to make it easy  for adults to access tuition. Check out the Violin Fundamentals Workshop, a half day. which should get any aspiring string player up and running . Travelling by Ryanair? No Violin- No problem. Violin School will lend you one.  Hewitt is also working on  a set of e learning tools that no doubt will be a useful addition to the resource bank of string educators.
In the meantime, the string corps of Violin School are perfectly placed to nip around and offer a serenade when the royal baby comes to visit his great granny.

Thinned Down: Time Out
The London listings magazine is no longer sold at newsagents but handed out free at tube stations one day a week.  Great I hear you say -But be warned, the print version is a  much slimmed down version of the original and not that easy to find if you aren't in town on distribution day. A single page of music listings directs you to a website page.  Last week, this page was less than comprehensive with no mention of an event at one of London's premier chamber  music venues.  Now, much as I embrace the online culture as much as anyone, (I am a blogger after all),  I miss holding between my thumbs and forefingers, a print version of the myriad of diversions offered on any given week in my favourite capital city. When travelling, it is'nt that easy to access free wi fi  and one is less likely to stumble on new experiences through a cyber surf.

Marina Laslo at Pizza Express

We love jazz and we love pizza. Both at the same time and our cup runneth over. We enjoyed the Russian chanteuse, Marino Laslo at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho on August 6th. You can read a recent Telegraph article about Marina Laslo here  She was accompanied by a young quintet who I am guessing were local by their accents. They included piano bass and drums. and more unusually a violin and classical guitar. Ms Laslo looked on admiringly during the individual solo sections as if she was genuinely spellbound by the virtuosity of her accompanists

Opera Nova Debut at SJSS 
My report on Britten's Curlew River at St John's, Smith Square here.

Related Articles 
The Fellowship of the String  A report from the London Fiddle Convention 2013

London Calling   2011  Cathy's Reviews Trip to London

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School: St Peter's College Grand Concert

Pat Morris with St Peter's College Orchestra 2013

It was a  Sunday afternoon in Dunboyne, Co Meath. Dozens of youngsters arriving in their school uniform on a weekend afternoon  was unusual enough but even more so was that  all of them were carrying cases bearing musical instruments of one sort or another.   St Peter's College is a large co ed post primary school run by  Meath VEC with about 1200 students currently enrolled. Among the extra curricular activities it boasts a 40 + strong school orchestra. I was thrilled to be invited as guest of honour to a Grand Concert by St Peter's College Orchestra. last May, their first full length concert. There was a wonderful sense of occasion as the  hall was packed with colleagues, past pupils, siblings  and  proud parents, There were refreshments for all. The sense of immense pride in the endeavour was palpable and  both Principal Eamonn Gaffney and Vice Principal Maureen Murray were in attendance.

St Peter's College Orchestra 2006
My own involvement goes back a decade or so when I worked at the school and established the ensemble with my colleague Pat Morris as a feature of the school extra curricular programme.  I reported on the project in the early years for IAYO Newsnotes and you can read my article here . I am in awe of the commitment of the staff including my former colleague Pat Morris in sustaining  the ensemble over a decade as a regular activity in the school and  locality. I remain terribly  proud of my association with them. It  gives me great pleasure to remember the  highlights. Although there were many grand occasions including indeed an exciting performance in the grand  portals of  the National Concert Hall, the occasion I would choose as my favourite is one for which I have no photograph.  Statesman TK Whittaker arrived  as a surprise guest to hand out the prizes at the first PLC courses run by the school and said wonderful things about  education and learning and of course complimented the fledgeling ensemble.
TK Whittaker 

Since my time there Clare Carolan has been busy teaching wind instruments in the area and assisting with directing the ensemble The impact one committed teacher can have was apparent in the many fine wind and brass players in the ensemble.
On a practical level a full length programme was achieved with a good mix of solo and ensemble numbers and smaller ensembles drawn from the larger pool.  Players of all level of ability were included. I specially liked  film themes, The Great Escape, Concerning Hobbits, Pirates of the Carribbean to name just a few.

 Bravo tutti! Pat, Clare and your students on your wonderful work.

You can read Pat Morris' report on the event here 

Summer Music in Ennis ; Lunchtime Tafel Music and The Green Children

Summer Music Group in Glór
I enjoyed working with students at the annual Summer Music on the Shannon course held in Ennis last week. For the Friday lunchtime concert the group including  Elaine Kenny, Cork based violist and Bogdan Sofei  of the Contempo Quartet presented some pieces. Our selection was Ah vous dirai je maman, Ode to Joy and, Song from the Shetland Isles. The  group included two sets of siblings , Anna and Miriam Quin and Elizabeth and Leon Costa de Beau Regard. I am very proud of Eimear O Tuathail and Laura Copeland piano students who made their debut on cello and bass at the event.
We were preceded by a splendid brass fanfare. 

Later in the evening I heard the festival production of The Green Children by Nicola Le Fanu. and Kevin Crossley-Holland. Director Airlee Scott coaxed fine  performances from the young ensemble of twenty or so voices. Particularly impressive were Orlaith Wallace as Lady Alice and Emily Luff as the Green Girl. The tableau in costumes by Monica Hannaford evoked a scene from a Bruegel painting and I specially liked the maypole unfurled by the costume mistress herself. The show incorporated a number of project scenes where the cast devised their own lyrics and these were very charming.  A chamber ensemble added colour but never overwhelmed the young voices. Percussionist, Pete Mitchell, a student at the Royal Northern College of Music added all manner of bells and whistles to the sound palette.   I found it extraordinary that although I don't think there was any amplification I could hear most of the words quite clearly . Well done. Charming! 

Introducing the programme 

London Calling: Irish Classical Performers Shine in Summer Music Scene

 In London last week, I was struck by the involvement of Irish musicians in major classical music events. The list I am sure is by no means complete.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Beethoven's nineth Symphony, John Gilhooly, chair of the Royal Philharmonic Society unveiled a plaque on the site.  By all accounts, Mr Gilhooly runs a great show at the Wigmore Hall, London's premier chamber music venue where he is CEO
Beethoven incidentally received a bigger fee for his settings of Irish songs than he did for the famous symphony.

Also during the week another Gilhooly, Owen Gilhooly was a fabulous Ferryman in the debut production of Opera Nova, an exciting  new touring group dedicated it seems to 20th century* and contemporary opera. You can read my review of the production here 

Finally members of the Irish Youth Choir joined other youth choirs in the Albert Hall for a free Proms performance of Beethoven Nineth Symphony which featured soprano Ailish Tynan as soloist

Bravo tutti!

* I should of course have added 21st century opera as the group will premier a newly commissioned work by Sally Beamish  in their next outing

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Louis Stewart and Jim Doherty at Garter Lane

I arrived  back in Waterford from my travels to catch Irish jazz legends Louis Stewart and Jim Doherty. At the opening Stewart graciously acknowledged his local connection. He is one of the group of musicians like WV Wallace and Gilbert O Sullivan who left Waterford before the city made too much of an impression on them. After that there wasn't too much chatter, just lots of good tunes from the Great American Songbook, mostly in a mellow vein.

  These two seem to have been around for ever and one might have expected a certain waning of their skills after decades of playing together. Not a it of it. Both sounded in terrific form and the set was mesmerising. The highlights: Following a few uptempo numbers, Doherty opened with a  gorgeous extended solo piano version of the Gershwin song, Someone to Watch Over Me before Stewart on guitar took it over. Doherty's skill in improvising on a set of audience choices was extraordinary -moving effortlessly and seemlessly through a  song selection including In a Sentimental Mood, Honeysuckle Rose, Singing in the Rain- just some of the titles I recognised.

Not prolific recording artists, they have recorded a CD called Tunes and very good and pleasant it is too. 

I was too late to hear the first set by local guitar duo led by Dylan Bible and I was sorry to miss them as the word was they were very impressive.

Little Britten: Curlew River at St. John's, Smith Square


 There is no escaping Benjamin Britten this year. The centenary  has been a catalyst to blow the dust off some of the more seldom  heard works. In London last week, I was tempted by the novelty value and calibre of the cast, to visit the renowned chamber music venue, St John's, Smith Square,  for Opera Nova's production of Curlew River.
I was in time for a pre show talk with composers, David Mattthews and Thomas Hyde fleshing out the good programme notes. (You know this is a high brow gig when Matthews is credited as being Britten's 'amanuensis')

It seems that Arthur Sullivan wasn't the only British composer to be taken with things Japanese and Britten was inspired by  the Noh theatre tradition in his writing of Curlew River , one of three short works, titled  Parables for Church Performance, the fictional title placing the drama in the fenlands of East Anglia. (It seems like sacrilege but I can't help musing  on the parallel with the plot device of the Mikado of a parent searching for a missing child)
The playing of extracts from the Japanese play, Sumidagawa that inspired the work had me heading to the bar for something to sustain me through  an hour of more moaning glissandos in a similar vein. The musical style of Britten's work however wasn't overtly oriental, although sparse and simple in texture.

Owen Gilhooly

Mark Milhofer
The piece opened with the robed, all male cast processing up the aisle singing liturgical plain chant before the main protagonists assumed simple costumes for the telling of the tale of a journey in search of a missing child, the expression of the attendant grief and the resolution of finding peace at last. The elegant simplicity of the staging,the liturgical nature of plot, the ecclesiastical  setting and anchor of plainchant made this production feel  more akin to a passion play than anything else. A simple turquoise expanse of cloth served as  the river and a wooden mast and single white sail was  hoisted to signify the start of the journey.

The bulk of the  singing is shared between Mark Milhofer's Madwoman and Owen Gilhooly's Ferryman. Tenor, Mark Milhofer's performance was intense, almost unnerving. Baritone Owen Gilhooly brought out all the nuance in the role of the Ferryman You wanted to boo and hiss at his  sneering at the Madwoman and heave  a sigh of relief at the the softening to a more sympathetic mien.

The nimble musical ensemble placed to one side made up of a half a dozen or so assorted instruments including harp, flute and percussion added  colour rather than harmonic texture to the canvas.
SJSS aka Queen Anne's footstool

This was an intense  and absorbing evening, quite unlike any other operatic experience I have enjoyed, not least for the solemn hush  of the listening audience gathered.  You literally could have heard a pin drop for the duration and the cough index was zero.. That doesn't happen very often and it is thrilling when it does. Marking Britten at 100? - Opera Nova's,  Curlew River will do me very nicely to mark the centenary.  Thank you very much. At £10 for a side seat near the top, it has to be  one of the best value tickets for a top class experience.

The production is a touring production and auspicious in that It marks the debut of Opera Nova. The production  moves to Presteigne Festival later in the month and later to other festivals in Oxford and Canterbury.

Venue Notes. It would have been nice to have dwelt a little  longer in the lovely  Crypt. Although the programme notes clearly stated that refreshments would be available following the performance, this regrettably was not the case.  St John's Smith Square . Why an apostrophe but no comma?

I was surprised the event did not appear in the Time Out music listings either in the print or online version.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Climbing the Walls: Spraoi at 21

Is it really 21 years since the launch of Spraoi, a festival dedicated to street entertainment? In that time my children were born and have grown up and I have lost track of the number of times that I have moved house. Although I have lived away from Waterford for most of those years, Spraoi has remained a constant as we timed trips back for the August Bank Holiday weekend with the prospect of lots to keep all the family entertained over the weekend.  Organising a weather dependent festival might seem a triumph of hope over experience but Spraoi has weathered the storms and yet again provided thrills for young and old, high, middle and low brows on the streets of Waterford, free of charge and accessible to all.  The entertainers have reached many who maybe never or rarely set foot inside the city's formal theatre spaces. Over the years, the team have experimented with the format but the essence of fun for all has remained at the core.

There have been so  many  memorable acts. You can read my highlights of 2011 in a link below. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who returned to Waterford earlier this month played here in Spraoi 2007. Arts critic,  Liam Murphy says he heard them play on the back of a curtainsider lorry. They don't do too many of those gigs these days. I think my favourite steet theatre presentation of all was Silent Movie presented by Bash Street Thetare Company where slapstick physical comedy was played out to live piano accompaniment. I also loved the accompanied silent movies in  Christchurch. Sadly, I missed Eric Sweeney's playing to Frankenstein this year. Much of the pleasure comes from seeing the medieval portside city anew as the various streets and squares provide a backdrop for the action. Over the years the improvements to  the streetscape and architecture have been striking and we have remarked here before on the confluence of elegance around the Mall area with the restoration of historic buildings and the unveiling of new ones.

Pull Up Orchestra on Hanover Street

This year my highlights included the  daring vertical dancing Catalan duo Delreves, who literally climbed the walls of the Waterford Crystal building in a thrilling son et lumiere. Good to hear  Barrack Street Concert Band  flying the flag for  local musicians. The Pull Up Orchestra were a lot of fun and the sun beamed down on Paddy Cullivan and the Camembert Quartet's good humoured gig on the timber floored William Vincent Wallace Plaza.  What a terrific amenity, this space is. Younger family members raved about the ten piece band Papa Zita's featuring local musicians Hugh Beglin on trumpet and Kate Fitzgerald on vocals. 
Lowlights were amplified solo performers around John Robert Square/ O 'Connell Street area, most likely not officially part of the festival. City Council needs to look at regulating busking this area. Personally I would like to see amplified buskers discouraged as it can create a muddy backwash of sound extending a distance. The drumming troupe, Torann  on the Mall lacked a certain sartorial elegance (ie shirts) and didn't really have the bronzed torsos to carry off the bare chested , underpants showing over assorted shorts look. But these are mere quibbles that we mention to show our critical faculties are working.

The parade  was reinstated to its traditional spot on the Sunday night and there were many giddy kids and indeed giddy  adults anticipating the wonderfully crafted floats under the 'Flotsam and Jetdam' theme. The weekend was rounded off by the traditional fireworks and then the rains came........

Bravo Spraoi. We send a virtual applause  to director TV Honan  and  artistic director Mike Leahy, the dedicated  team and the dozens of volunteers who combine to show what can be achieved. We  congratulate and thank you for your sustained efforts over 21 years.

Selection of Best Acts Spraoi 2011

Movies at Christchurch 2011

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Gilhooly sparkles at Classical Thursday series in Ennis

  All would whisper there secretly to the soul in its soft native language, There is all order and beauty, luxury, peace and pleasure  from Invitation Au Voyage Duparc

The heavens opened in Ennis just before Thursday's lunchtime recital at St Columba's but despite the inclement conditions, a sizeable audience had gathered to hear baritone, Owen Gilhooly. Any dampened spirits  were rewarded with a  glorious musical treat. The Limerick based  singer sparkled and shone in a selection of artsong by Brahms, Duparc and Vaughan Williams . Opening with a quartet of Brahms lieder full of light and shade, there was such a range of expression and dynamic in his delivery from the mournful  Die Meinacht to a playful 'Futile Serenade'. (The latter also featured in the opening recital by soprano , Helen Houlihan.) The Duparc songs were new to me. Accompanist, Irina  Dernova created a gorgeous  shimmering soundscape for the seductive lyrics of L'Invitation au Voyage . In contrast the mood of Le Manoir de Rosemonde was  dark and there was a menacing edge of torment in the vocal delivery. Full marks for provision of full text translations.(Bryn Terfel and RTECO please note and copy)

Served up between the song sets were piano miniatures by Chopin and Poulenc played with flair by Irina Dernova.

Owen Gilhooly is a terrific performer. With such great control, faultless diction and  an actor's instinct for poetic imagination, it is  no surprise that he is  much in demand at home and abroad. The next chance to see him in Ennis  is in Opera Theatre Co.'s production of Carmen at Glór. I have posted a review on the production and whatever about it's questionable theatrical merits, it will offer a rare opportunity to hear a large cast of some of the best  singers on the Irish operatic scene here in Ennis and is a must for lovers of good tunes and singers.

The last recital in the series will be on Thursday August 15th when  mezzo soprano Edel O Brien and Helen Houlihan will be the featured performers. Well done Helen Houlihan on initiating the series which brought much musical delight in classical vein to Clare during the summer months.  An opportunity to sponsor the 2014 season is I understand, currently available.

Related articles  Review OTC Carmen 2013 

                                        Classical Thursday Series launched in Ennis