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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Salon Concert at IAHC with Baal Tine and The Academy of Irish Music

Baal Tine  at the IAHC Salon 

 I was delighted to receive an  invitation from Noel Rice, director of the Irish Academuy of Music  to to attend the May  Salon concert  at the Irish American Heritage Centre, Chicago This was a fortuitous opportunity  to see first hand the musical activity of  the Irish diaspora in America's second city. The IHAC is a large red bricked complex in North West side of  Chicago. The 5th Province  East Room was a lofty  space just inside the front entrance.  A cheerful  turf fire  burned in  the bar area warding off the   unseasonable May chill  and a family  audience of  young and old gathered to support the performers.

The line-up showcased  all levels of musicians active at the centre. The Junior Ensemble with two dozen or so boys and girls opened the proceedings in fine style.  An ensemble of their teachers followed them on to the platform. There was a  turn from a young piper Sean Curran. The teenager played with a remarkable maturity and his performance was much enhanced by Catriona Byrne on cello. Sean's  teacher, Pat Cannady was present and acknowledged in the applause. A jocular Terry Bermes (whose mother was a Nugent from Sligo I think) acted as MC. His  wry self deprecating style  had us all chuckling.

Of course I expected to hear good playing. There was plenty of that but I was surprised by the inventiveness of the arrangements. A spirit of challenging the orthodoxy of the periphery prevailed.. 'It is a living and breathing tradition' said Noel. The shifting blend of instrumental timbres and pace sounded fresh and appealing. Cello, fiddles and bazouki had a baroque quality that was given space to breathe in the Senior Ensemble. Tunes were tossed around among the different timbres, lyrical passages and drones alternated with more percussive sections with attacking punchy rhythms. Moreover there was a sense of fun and a lack of pomposity in the proceedings that was refreshing.

Not since De Danann have I heard a cellist feature so prominently and to such good effect. Catriona Byrne was  the most impressive performer of the evening, not only for her expressive soulful playing but her intelligent support of all her collaborators. Catriona told me she had come to the instrument through her school music programme. I mentioned that Natalie Haas had been in Ireland. Yes she was a fan and her recordings had been an influence. She had played in the school orchestra but enjoyed the freedom of improvising away from the printed page.

The final group, Baal Tine featured seven musicians, the director of the Academy,Noel Rice on flute together with his son Kevin and daughter, Cathleen on percussion and fiddle. Catriona Byrne  on cello was joined by her sister Keira on fiddle. Wicklow 'Mad Man' Richard Roche offered much more than a vamping piano chords. Matt Sundstrom on guitar completed the septet.

I was expecting wigged and costumed little girls but thankfully dancing feet came courtesy of Mr  Mike Doyle that extended the gaiety.

You can get a flavour of the evening in this audioboo of Baal Tine's opening number. It opens with Roche's minimalist chords set against Noel's haunting flute.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Back Log: May Day and Around

It was a hectic month  of teaching , performing and travel to unfamiliar places. Some of these notes have been sitting in drafts for ages so before they perish on the offline, here is a reminder of some of my highlights  from the beginning of the month.

Opera Flicks:  On Saturday, (26th April) I got a present of a  ticket for the  Met Opera Live screening of Cosi Fan Tutti. at the Odeon Cinema. I would have hesitated to go.  At over €20 a pop, it is a pricey cinema ticket. Most of the live events I attend are cheaper and I am a big fan of the radio broadcasts which are free from the comfort of your own armchair. All that Mozartian recitative  can sound dusty and dull to me. However a big draw was that  the event marked the return of Maestro James Levine to the pit. I had read the late  sports reporter, George Kimball's piece on the ill fated maestro, plagued with injury troubles and I was curious. What could he have that was so special, I wondered that the mighty Met would wait patiently for years his return continuing to pay him a six figure sum. Courtesy of a rotating platform, Levine emerged from the pit and  arms aloft turned to face his audience like a benevolent nibelung.  All I can say is that from the moment he lifted the baton, I watched mesmerized as he urges his troops  in the pit on. When the overture was over I wanted the camera to linger in the pit. The singers could wait surely.  For a moment,  I could understand how musicians and singers would want to rally round  and do their best for this conductor.  Susanna Phillips as the almost steadfast but torn Fiordiligi was fantastic bringing such colour and nuance to the role. Danielle de Niese sparkled as the scheming Despina. 'It's a kinda magic' said bass Maurizio Mauraro quoting Frededie Mercury in the interval chat when questioned by  host Renée Fleming about the Levine effect.  I do feel the chats between acts with performers in costume does spoil the magic a little bit.The transmission failed just before the final chorus but we had had the best of it by then.  I didn't expect I would but  I loved it.

Presto Strings School Gala Monday and Tuesday were concert days for my educational string projects in two Waterford schools, marking the culmination of two terms of instrumental classes with whole classes as part of an inclusive in school curriculum  .  On Tuesday, I was back in my alma mater, Presentation School where I had begun my own musical journey. My first lessons were on piano with Sr Baptist before I became a student of the late Fintan O Carroll who taught music at the secondary school. Good to have the support of my school friend Angela Tobin on piano  It was wonderful to see how excited the 3rd and 4th class students were to see their mams and dads in the audience. Indeed I was delighted to to see my own dad Bob Desmond  in the ausdience on this special occasion. The arts and theatre critic of The Munster Express, Liam Murphy attended and you can read his report on the project

The Sea Sings 
On Wednesday I was a guest performer of the Waterford Estuaries Communities Network at their opening event, The Sea Sings , part  of a conference titled Empowering Local Communities.  Other performers included Richie Roberts, The Hooks and Crooks.  Domini Codd and The Passage East Singers. Again there was an an element of revisiting past scenes of delight as the venue, the  Haven Hotel in Dunmore East was a lively spot for sing songs in the 80's and 90's with the late proprietor John Kelly as MC and  Des Manahan at the piano. I was especially delighted to have Des  accompany me on this occasion. We played a selection of favourites  Un Peu d'Amour, La Vie en Rose and The Bridges of Paris. The Coolim, Jealousy and La Golondrina. 

Allegro Salon:  On Thursday I made my debut at the Watergate Theatre Kilkenny as a member of Allegro in a delightful programme conjuring up a byegone era of salon ensembles,  tea dances and silent films under conductor David Forde and leader Jackie Burke  Cathal  Cullen did an excellent job as  MC adding much in setting the context with interesting programme notes. We learned that Ketelby, musical director of the Vaudeville Theatre was reputedly Britain's first millionaire composer. Whether as a punter or performer, I always enjoy the atmosphere and the welcome cup of tea in the lovely willow china  cups in the Gallery Bar. It;s the  little things.

  The ensemble is open for membership and is seeking new recruits particularly in strings and low brass instruments.  You can contact them through their facebook page.

Allegro will reprise the concert at a fundraising event in Thomastown, Kilkenny on Saturday 31st May

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Lovely War! in Waterford

 The Great War Roadshow made it's first stop at the Theatre Royal, Waterford  last night with an evening of songs and stories  based on the theme of World War 1. Deriving it's title from Joan Littlewood's iconic 1960's musical, the show was a cocktail of elements that for the most part made for an entertaining and thought provoking  evening at the theatre  Historian, Myles Dungan set the context with snippets on the provenance of the  songs and the ghastly war statistics with the consummate ease familiar to listeners to his broadcasts on RTE's, The History Show.  A male voice octet,  The Brooks Singers and female vocalist, Sadhbh Burt Fitzgerald accompanied by pianist, Rónán Murray delivered the  jaunty morale boosters and sentimental  songs in a comfortable understated style. The device of the presenter engaging with the spirit of dead infantryman, Lar worked well and Brendan McQuaile moved  from saucy songs to poignant monologue with aplomb, particularly in the retelling of the legendary Christmas truce in part two. The addition of a  strummed guitar accompaniment however broke the spell of the WW1  period soundscape. particularly in Act 1 with a John McCormack standard, It's a Long Long Trail being given a bland 70's  folk treatment.

Given that most of the repertoire is a century old, it was extraordinary how familiar most of the songs were to us.

The programme contained comprehensive notes on the material.. The emphasis was on the songs and stories but there was a snatch of Sassoon' poetry. I was reminded of the war poems of  Ledwidge from Slane. I recalled an event in Clare when broadcaster John Quinn evoked the powerful image of Ledwidge, stationed at the front, receiving his first published work in the post. The emblematic death of  John Condon, one of  the war's youngest fatalities, from Waterford was acknowledged in  a song from the Boys of the Island, a recent album of retrospective war songs. It was good to hear the less familiar song of Eric Bogle's trilogy, All the Fine Young Men.
Novello's work included

There was resonance with the  'Good Old Days' music hall aura of the Victorian theatre space in the final sing along when the audience were invited to join in a 'spontaneous quodlibet' of war ditties.  This was a decent effort at delving into the  music cabinet of war and shedding light on the conflicting emotions contained between the sheets. I am happy to report that  there was well deserved standing ovation from the stalls audience on the first night of the tour. We look forward to the lecture series which comes to Waterford Central Library later this month with a distinguished panel of speakers .

Related Posts Remembering Clare's War Victims

Pooles pictures Draw crows 100 years on

Your King and Your Country Needs You
Bombed Last Night

It's a Long Way to Tipp
If You Were the Only Girl in the World
Mdmoiselle from Armentieres
Keep the Home Fires Burning
There's a Long Long Trail
Oh It's a Lovely War
Pack Up Your Troubles
Over There
French Medley  I Don't Want to Be a Soldier;  Hush Here Comes a WhizzBang; I Wore a Tunic; Forward Joe Soap's Army ;When this Lousy War is Over
Part 2
Roses of Picardie
The Recruiting Sergeant
We'd Never Tell Them
Silent Night (Christmas 1915)
The Green Fields of France Eric Bogle
The Rose of No Mans Land
All the Fine  Young MenBogle

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pieces of Eight: Voces8 Charm at Christchurch

Sing Joyfully unto God Wm Byrd 
Cantate Dominum Monteverdi
Straighten Up and Fly Right Nat King Cole  
Fever Peggy Lee
Free as a Bird  Beatles
Plainchant  Borogoditse Rachmaninov
Jubilate Deo Gabrielli 

Steal Away  
The Lamb Tavener
Il est Belle est Bonne Passereau
Me and My Shadow    Jolson 
Mrs Robinson   Simon Garfunkel
Jailhouse Rock
James Bond Mash Barry
Don't Mean a thing if it ain't got that swing Ellington 

Encore Opera Mash

The British vocal ensemble, Voces8 arrived at Christchurch Cathedral, Waterford last night hotfoot  from a headline gala concert at Cork Choral Festival. This was enough of an imprimatur to expect something good. But  they weren't just good. From start to finish, they were superb.
Beginning with  British and Italian Renaissance music, the group of six men and two women,   presented a diverse choral cocktail mixing  cool  jazz numbers with a soupçon of classy  pop and a measure  of 20th century minimalism all presented with a refreshing dash of theatricality. There were no programme notes (tut tut) but all pieces were clearly announced without the aid of amplification  in well modulated, crisp tones by various members, a master class in how to address the audience beyond the first three rows.  We loved also  the interstitial moments of absolute silence after the pitch pipes had been blown. If we were forced to choose a highlight, their rendition of a Beatles number, Free as a Bird, an homage to the King's Singers   was so beguiling  that a  general murmur of approval was audible across the pews.

Indicative of their eagerness to connect with their audience was  a remark on the elegant crystal chandeliers, (the presenter said that they reminded the group of their time as choristers in Westminster Abbey),   I was reminded again of the reservoir of musical expertise in the English Cathedral Choral tradition.   Following the concert, the octet  moved from the platform to the front of the  house to meet and greet.. I left the cathedral to the sound of lively  chatter as  each of the eight had scattered  and been subsumed by listeners. A trip to their summer school in South West England  is not too far away and might interest some choristers.  A preview of their latest recording for the Decca label is posted below.

Venue Notes Dean Jansson of Christchurch,  remarked in her introduction that there were 30 choirs active in the county.  With such a busy scene, one might have expected the attendance to have been  fuller than it was last night for one of just two performances in Ireland by this group. It was unfortunate that one of the choirs had a concert on the evening so presumably members of the other 29 choirs were either at Cork Choral Festival or  in the pews in Ballygunner to support Ad Hoc Chorale. I am on the circulation list  of several musical ensembles including a choir in Waterford. I received no notification  via these lists that this event was happening.   

Who we met. We met tenor, Dermot Doyle of Concordia who tells me the male voice quartet,  will be back in action in September. No lull in the performing schedule however for Bealtaine. Choir. Their director, Anne Woodworth tells me that they have no less than  five events scheduled for May.. 

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