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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Waterford 1100 Talks: From Ballybricken to Belgravia

As part of the Waterford 1100 celebrations, Waterford Treasures has initiated a series of talks from high profile speakers on  life in Waterford over the last millenium. Tonight following a civic reception, Irish Ambassador in London, Dan Mulhall gave a insightful and eloquent address to a full house at City Hall.  He was introduced by Curator Eamonn McEneaney who gave a local historical perspective referring to illustrious ambassadors over the centuries. William Wyse, he informed us  represented Waterford affairs in the court of Henry VIII and Luke Wadding had an interesting diplomatic career, we learned, representing Spain at the Vatican. He acknowledged the sponsors of the series, Liam and Ann Cusack of the Granville Hotel who were in the audience for the occasion.

Opening with a cupla focail as Gaeilge, Mulhall began by sketching in some details from his biography from a conventional Irish childhood growing up on the Yellow Road, schooldays at Mount Sion CBS, summers of playing football and working in Clover Meats and the Jute Factory, an Arts degree at UCC before securing a place as 3rd secretary at Foreign Affairs.

He went on to talk about his various postings in several continents. He spoke about specific changes and   how much the world and process of diplomacy has changed. He recalled for us living in an era of instant global communication,  the time when the only reports from home arrived in a diplomatic bag and 'cut and paste' was meant literally. He set a broader context  of representing Irish interests abroad referring to the changes in global  economic canvas, the reduction in scale of violence in Northern Ireland, the reality of the Cold War politics and the importance of the German economy and its language in Europe. The diplomat advocated the value of social media and in particular Twitter as a tool in the communication strategy of a modern day ambassador. He spoke also about his pride and pleasure in seeing the improvements in his native city on his frequent trips home to his native city.

There was a lengthy Q&A  during which the diplomat fielded all manner of queries from international politics and how to get on the diplomatic ladder but declined to be drawn on expressing any less than  charitable opinions on any of the politicians with whom he had engaged. Quite a gala occasion, and  the evening closed with refreshments served in the Waterford  Medieval Museum, one of the architectural gems in the Viking Triangle.

Tall Tales from the Crypt : There was a resonance with the speaker at the first of the Waterford 1100 talks. Both Mulhall and Pat Wallace, retired director of the National Museum credited the serendipity of securing their first job to pals who waved a newspaper advert at them and cajoled  them into applying. Wallace, now retired entertained us with yarns and anecdotes from his decades of
working for the National Museum and as site director of Wood Quay.  It was quite a  different style of address,  free from the circumspection required of a working diplomats but it was highly entertaining.  It was touching that of all the wonderful artefacts he has come across, it was the written word that moved him most. The sight of his grandmother's handwriting and the 18th century livery notebooks of a Limerick stable offering coach transport  ( The Michael O Leary of his day as Wallace put it) thrilled him as much as the most glittering trophy artifact in the museum cabinets. How about that! Spare a thought for the historians of the future as they root through corrupted discs and memory sticks. There is something to be said for tablets of the stone variety.

The next talk takes place on 24th March when the speaker will be RTE South Eastern correspondent Damien Tiernan

Lunchtime History Bites: 15 minutes of history on the some aspect of the museum every Weds 1.15pm

Check Waterford Treasures website for details

Related Posts : Galvanized Goldberg in the Viking Triangle 

                         Proms Debut for Irish Trio

                         Climbing the Walls at Spraoi

                         Irish Classical Artists Shine on London Scene

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Symphonic Paean to Wexford Lifeboat Heroes

My review of this concert appears in The Irish Examiner on Wednesday 25th February. A fuller account of the evening is presented here.

Wexford Sinfonia: Heroes of the Helen Blake  
composed and conducted by Liam Bates 

On brave white horses that rise and charge,
Aloft the heaving breast of the way-ward deep,
T'ward weary ships and solemn hearts:
Make fast my bond, make fast my pledge to keep.....

Beat  hard the waves that drape my sense.
God's light, my compass ever be.
                                          Liam Bates

1 The Hymn and the Sea Shanty
2 Strength and Grace
3 Courage and Peril
4 Vale of Tears
5 To Bring Them Home 

It was a compelling  evening, brimming with emotion  as Wexford Sinfonia  premiered a new composition by Liam Bates to a capacity house at County Hall.  Among the elements,  there was the sombre sense of time and place. The event marked the centenary of the sinking of Norwegian vessel, The Mexico off the Wexford coast and the loss of nine lives among the local lifeboat crew who went to aid the stricken vessel. As a prelude we heard  author, Eoin Colfer reading from his late father's account of the epic tragedy.

The work for large  symphony orchestra in five movements was full of colour and drama written in a rich, post Romantic,  film score style.  The parallels with Vaughan Williams are apparent in the use of sea shanties throughout the movements.  The chorale like hymn tune, Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star features as the  main theme of the first movement and is echoed in later movements. The second movement is calmer opening with the clear textures of a solo clarinet line  set against scurrying string motifs and  delicate harp accompaniment. The most distinctive aspect of the orchestration was the unusual battery of percussion instruments assembled that create the dark menacing mood of  the third movement. In addition to the standard kit of assorted drums and tubular bells, we heard the clang of a  ships  propeller, old metal plates and a ship's bell rang out several times through the work.  Bass drum rolls and a poignant horn solo evoke the 'Vale of Tears' in the 4th movement.  There were resonances with Scandinavian composers in the low growling bass lines set against high tremolo strings.  In the final movement.  a male voice choir rose to sing a simple unison setting of the composer's own poem on  the theme before violins took over with a lyrical passage before the sound dissipated with an eerie single high tremolo note on upper strings.
By any standards, this is exciting and well crafted symphonic writing, teeming with ideas that deserves further airing on a national platform. Though  strong enough to stand on its' own merit, it would make great material for projected animation  project.

The players of the Wexford Sinfonia were fully up to the demands of the collage like score. There was much to enjoy also in their account of the opening pair of Grieg's  Peer Gynt Suites echoing the Norwegian theme . Brass and wind fared better in the acoustic of the T shaped space. All the solo lines could be clearly heard but the the full string sections lacked the strength of volume you might expect from the ample numbers

At the close, audience rose to their feet in sustained and heartfelt applause and  took some time to disperse as players and listeners mingled to savour the event. Bearers of inherited medals for bravery issued by the King of Norway and uniquely by the GAA  proudly  posed for photos with composer, Liam Bates.

It was appropriate that we stepped into wind and rain as we left the building, a reminder of the elements faced by those people in every coastal town who bravely  go to the aid of those in distress at sea. This was a fitting paean of praise to them.

Here's some voices from the event. Click in 'Read More' for more voices and Venue Notes
listen to ‘Composer Liam Bates on 'Heroes Of the Helen Blake' ’ on Audioboo
listen to ‘Leader of  Wexford Sinfonia, Teresa Doyle ’ on Audioboo

listen to ‘Wexford Sinfonia Percussionist’ on Audioboo

Venue Notes: I had some trouble finding the venue, a brand new glass and concrete rectangular structure  which is quite a distance out of town. (Whatever was the local council thinking?) With a long corridor like foyer space, there was inevitably  poor visibility for most of the 500 hundred or so attendees.  Wexford town seemed very quiet as I drove through on Saturday night. I gather the magnificent Opera House built at enormous public expense was dark that evening One would have thought that  the venue might have been made available at marginal cost for such an occasion.

Photo via Wexford Sinfonia Facebook page

Examiner article by Jo Kerrigan here

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Freud's Last Session in the Lone Star State

Guest Blogger John Hartery

The Alley Theatre nestles against the skyscrapers of Downtown Houston. It's a little oasis from the world of oil barons as they discuss the latest rise and fall in the price of the liquid commodity.

There's a real community once you enter the door and it has a feel of passionate volunteers protecting the art form of live theatre. There was extraordinary courtesy from first greeting to the gentleman who shepherded my group of standby ticket holders to the last of the seats on a busy Saturday night.

Before the performance a gentleman advised the audience of the Alley's plans for a major refurbishment costing $73million (read it and weep Irish theatres!). The refurbishment is aimed at maintaining the theatre's position as 'the foremost regional theatre in the country'.

The play I was was just in time to see was 'Freud's Last Case' written by Mark St Germain and directed by Tyler Marchant and is a two-hander. The piece was new to me and was first premiered in 2009 . It has played to a run of over 700 performances in New York City.

The plot concerns an imagined meeting in 1938 between the psychoanalyst and CS. Lewis the author. Britain is on the brink of war and the radio broadcasts of chamberlain pepper the stage action.

The work is staged in the round in a stupendous set (Brian Prather) - a drawing room compete with a range of miniature religious artworks that Freud has collected. The action is compact at an hour and a half or so and concerns dialogue between the two characters about religion, politics and life in the prevailing climate. Freud as an atheist is in contrast to the believer Lewis and they debate their positions. The Freud character is giving the best lines and cracks a few fine jokes full of wordplay. What's clear is that Freud is close to death and suffering from a dreadful illness that is realistically and vicerally played by James Black. Jay Sullivan played  the enthusiastic professor excellently as he brought the enthusiasm of youth against the elderly and wiser counterpart. A great night and the Alley is on my list of things to revisit in Houston, if only to see how they spend that $73 million.

Alley Theatre, Downton Houston

Friday, February 14, 2014

Alessandro Taverna: City of Water at City Hall Waterford

Pianist Extraordinaire Alessandro Taverna
Mendelssohn    Song without words Venetianisch Gondelied in G minor
Ravel Une Barque sur l'ocean'
Liszt Anées de Pelerinage  deuxieme anée Italie
Debussy L'Isle Joyeuse

Liszt La Lugubre Gondola (version 11)

Debussy Clair de lune (Suite Bergamasque 3)
Stravinsky Trois Movement de Petrouchka

Encore Gulda Play Piano Play

Venetian pianist Alessandro Taverna presented a programme of late Romantic and 20th century music   at City Hall, Waterford last night. While rain falls and water levels rise, 'city of water' might not immediately evoke images of  the splendours of Venice but the programme title took as it's theme aspects of his native city-  the gondolas, the islands, and  the composers that lived and died in the Italian city .

The pale and slender young man cut quite a Byronic figure on the podium and would be a shoe in to play Liszt in a biopic. The virtuosity was quite extraordinary in an extremely difficult programme.  There was gleaming clarity  with every dazzling cascade, glissando and tremolo audible in the sympathetic acoustic of the Large Room in City Hall. We heard an extraordinary spectrum of colour from  the most delicate nuances in the Impressionist repertoire to the wilder percussive effects in the Stravinsky. The Gondola Lugubre was the title of a piece by Liszt  inspired apparently by Wagner's funeral journey by boat to the station to begin the journey back  to Bayreuth.

For an encore we heard a jazzy piece by Gulda  You can hear Taverna play the piece in the video below.

With weather road conditions being dreadfiul, I hope Alessandro doesn't get waterlogged as he travels to Sligo tonight and then to Castlepollard and Dundalk.  Do catch him if you can.  More details here

The concert was part of Waterford Music season. The next concert is on March 6th . The National Chamber Choir

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dreamland Delivers at Garter Lane

In Waterford at the weekend , without any festival fanfare,  there was a feast of culture on offer. There were full houses at the Theatre Royal for Finbar Wright and Jack L. Christchurch Cathedral was packed to hear Finghin Collins play Gershwin and previews for Dreamland, a new play by Jim Nolan were sold out in Garter Lane. (The list is by no means comprehensive). The  play opened officially on Tuesday night at Garter Lane Arts Centre in Waterford to a full house and a standing ovation. There was a  spirit of  quiet pride in the air. Waterford residents are rightly proud of  author, local native Jim Nolan who has played a huge role in making Waterford a national beacon for theatrical activity  both as a writer and director. And pride also in the venue which celebrates 30 years of ventures with this production.

There was a certain weight of expectation given the quality of Nolan's canon but Dreamland delivered  with a strong cast of no less than eight players and the quality of the writing. The play is set in a 1930's seaside village. The plot hinges on an imaginative but deluded scheme to open a theme park in a seaside town  set against a backdrop of  the political tensions of lingering civil war resentments and the repressive activities of a quasi-fascist movement. The international context is referenced with the arrival a Jewish clarinet player and his daughter  played by Michael Power and Holly Browne. There are resonances with  Nolan's play, The Salvage Shop with gas masks and a 1930's generator featuring in the clever set  set design by Dermot Quinn. The struggle against fascism was a central element also of The Guernica Hotel set in the Spanish Civil War premiered at Garter Lane in 1994.

Playwright Jim Nolan

It was wonderful to see and hear the stagecraft in the sage like Doc played by veteran actor,  Des Keogh.   Brendan Conroy plays Kinnane a returned Yank, a Quixotic character full of hope and schemes.  The title refers to his plan to convert  the  bones of a washed up whale into a tourist attraction in a bid to recreate a happier time in his past. He forms an extended  family grouping of sorts with Doc, his grandson  Dinny,  (Conall Keating) and  widow, Grace (Catherine Walsh). There is real menace in the portrayal of  Blueshirt characters by  Karl Shiels and Michael Quinlan.  It is perhaps the authors' most autobiographical play to date with events from his own experience knitted into the thread of the play.  You can read an interview with the author in a the Irish Examiner here  .  A link to the 1987 radio documentary about the anti jazz campaign and the Duignan brothers is here

Dreamland runs nightly at Garter Lane Arts until March 1st and then tours nationally

Related Posts Trip to Brighton for Silver Anniversary 

listen to ‘Audience Reaction to Dreamland’ on Audioboo  WLR recorded audience reaction in this audioboo

Garter Lane Arts Centre celebrating 30 years

Opera flicks in Waterford

Just in from a night at the my local cinema. Not for a Hollywood blockbuster but a live relay from the Royal Opera House, London  of a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. It isn't the same as being at Covent Garden  Nah, of course not -in many respects, it is better. 

For starters, you get to see opening action in the pit. What an interesting baton technique Nicola Luisotti had in the overture. (Don't be  confused by the feminine ending)  And we get Bryn (sigh!) as warm up man.  During the interval he conducted a blokey interview with Danish director and CEO Kaspar Holten. On Met Live relays, I have never understood why Renée Fleming or Deborah Voigt are allowed to conduct interviews with characters in costume moments after they step into the wings having committed dastardly deeds thereby spoiling the illusion somewhat.  Interview directors, set designers etc. by all means but let the performers enjoy their fag break, I say. 

There is a roundup of the broadsheet reviews here  I agree with Kasper Holten.  Don Giovanni looked like Johnny Depp. While there was splendid singing from all principals,  my favourite performance was Elizabeth Watts . She was perfect as Zerlina ! Cast details here

The production was interesting with extensive use of projected images which I liked for the most part. The camera work was good. You get to see the faces without peering into your opera glasses. the ending was somewhat anticlimactic and I longed for some deus ex machina to add some drama to the finale but all in all this was a terrific evening's entertainment for a modest fee without the obligation to dress up. 

Note to Odeon Cinemas : Why aren't you promoting this fantastic entertainment more actively. You have to know what you are looking for when searching your website as it is hidden away in special screenings. I found one tweet about a week  before the event on the Odeon twitter feed.  I missed screenings I would love to have attended because even though I checked the website, I couldn't easily find the information I needed. And why no wifi in the cinema?
It would have been nice to share in the #rohdongiovanni  twitter experience in the interval.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Weekend Roundup from Rain Sodden South East

Finghin Collins
Christchurch Cathedral 

It was a weekend of grey skies and  floods threatened to submerge the island. On Saturday evening, amid the  shuffle of falling raindrops, the elegant 18th century interior space of Christchurch Cathedral resounded with the Latin American rhythms of beguines, tangos and two steps and  blue notes of jazz, (A preview of the evening here). While red shirted rugby fans mulled ruefully over sporting events in The Munster Bar,  Finghin Collins gave a bravura rendition of the solo piano part of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Waterford Concert Orchestra under conductor Kevin O Carroll . At the close of the first half, audience and orchestra members  rose to their feet to applaud the virtuoso pianist.  I have to declare an interest,  as a member of the string section.  Clarinetist, Stephen Mackey shimmered in the opening opening of the emblematic work. The huge brass and wind section showed they were well able to swing it in arrangements by Bernstein, Cole Porter. Trumpet player Mitch Cuss sparkled in an homage to  'Satchmo' .  Sinead O Carroll also featured as piano soloist in the opening work Danzon by Mexican composer, Marquez. Inclement weather didn't deter patrons and in many years of attending events here, I can't remember seeing it as full as it was last night with a capacity house adding to the sense of a gala occasion. I can report that both soloist and conductor wore summer white jackets. There  was a very sociable buzz with much meeting and greeting during the generous interval. Among the patrons, we met  composer, Gerry Murphy who tells me he is working on a commemorative piece for 1916. Secretary of Cork Operatic Society,  Deirdre Long told me that work has begun on the next production Der Vampyr. A very special evening in Waterford. Great to have been there and to be a part of it!
Dominic Finn 
  On Saturday morning, choral composer and Director of Music at St. Colman's Cathedral Cobh made it through wind and rain and arrived in Waterford to lead a workshop in liturgical music at St John's Pastoral Centre. Finn presented an attractive and  varied selection of  liturgical music by contemporary Irish and American composers and the ensemble drawn from choirs from around the county quickly got to grips with some serious 4 part harmony.  An engaging and good humoured facilitator, Finn shared some of his views on style and substance of liturgical music. ' A gospel acclamation should be joyful, uplifting and driven'  he said. He spoke about matching music to the surroundings. What might resonate in a great cathedral space maybe being different to what might suit a more modest parish church.

Neil Brand The Big Score
After a long journey on rain sodden highways, it was a relief to collapse in front of the telly on Friday evening. I don't usually mention TV programmes on these reports but Neil Brand's documentary of film music was so good that I am making an exception and  noting it here. The Sound of the Cinema was aired on Friday night, BBC 4. In the first episode, Brand gave fascinating insights into the work of 30's film composers of Steiner, Korngold and Hermann. Among the highlights, he travelled to Hollywood to peer into the hand written scores of classic movies,  The Adventures of Robin Hood and Psycho and  met one of a rare musical species, silent movie organist Bernie Anderson There are two more episodes airing on Friday evenings. I recommend staying in or setting your recorder.

First published 9th Feb , amended 10th Feb

Saturday, February 1, 2014

From Broadway to the Viking Triangle, Waterford

Finghin Collins with iguana ?

It is 90 years since Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in New York. Across the pond, plans are in train to mark the anniversary of this seminal moment and you can read all about it here in this post from a New York based blogger, James Abbott.  But  the good news is that for Irish music lovers, you don't need to book a plane ticket to hear this 'great serious opus of the jazz age' . In the very anniversary week of its' premier, the Waterford Concert Orchestra under conductor Kevin O Carroll will give the first ever performance of the work in the medieval port city , Waterford. The soloist is Finghin Collins, a pianist who combines a flourishing international solo career with being a major player in shaping the Irish classical  music scene. He is Artistic Director of New Ross Piano Festival and Music for Galway.
The performance takes place in Christchurch Cathedral  on Saturday 8th February at 8pm.  The rest of the programme has a Latin slant with works by Bernstein, Cole Porter and Marquez.  There is a perfect storm of events in the Viking city on the 8th Feb with Jack L in the Theatre Royal and not too far away in Railway Square, opera diva Renee Fleming appearing live from the Met via the Odeon Cinema Screen. I'll be in Christchurch in the viola section. I am looking forward to it!

And to whet your apetite have a listen to the composer  himself at the piano in the recording below. The Klezmer influence in the opening clarinet solo is striking.

Here is the Walt Disney  animated version form Fantasia 2000.
Fantasia 2000 - Rhapsody in Blue by R174