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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Preview: Summer Song Recitals

Several appealing song recitals merit attention this week.

Love, Actually: Mezzo soprano Rachel Kelly appears as part of the Summer lunchtime series at the NCH accompanied by the RTE Symphony Orchestra. The Dublin  mezzo is getting a lot of exposure to London audiences as one of the JP young artists at the Royal Opera House. She appears in the cast for Il Duo Foscari with Placido Domingo in October.  There have been glowing reviews and she is heavily tipped as one to watch . Great value at €10 and if you can't make in person you can listen live on RTE LyricFM to the programme of arias by Mozart, Rossini Offenbach and Guonod.

Kathleen Ferrier A Life in Music: Also at the NCH, on Wednesday evening , the Irish Songmakers present  Raphaela Mangan and Niall Kinsella in a reprise of their 2012 programme of repertoire associated with the iconic English contralto,  Ferrier whose brief but brilliant career was cut short by untimely death. A taster of what you can expect here .

Finally Sean Boylan is in Ennis in the lovely neo Gothic interior of St Columba's Church  as part of the Classical Thursday Summer song recital series hosted by soprano Helen Houlihan.  We enjoyed hearing  Sean in the Mid West Opera production of Riders to the Sea in Kilkenny recently. The young baritone  will be accompanied by Tham Horng Kent. Programme includes songs by Schubert, Duparc, Quilter and Herbert Hughs.

Related posts  Rachel Kelly at Wexford Festival

Musical Postcards France with tenor Dean Power

Opera at Castalia

Free and Easy: Daytime Dublin Culture Bites

Free and easy in daytime Dublin.
I found myself in the capital last week with a couple of hours to amuse myself. Here are a couple of recommendations for free or low cost diversions in the capital.
Bewleys Café Theatre : Climb the stairs to the second floor of Bewleys Cafe on Grafton Street and you'll find this gem of a theatre space.There is usually a production scheduled daily at around a tenor. This week Pat McGrath appeared in a one man show of his own devising. Small Plastic Wars was a bittersweet story of one man's story of coping with unemployment by escaping into a more easily controlled world of model making. This didn't sound compelling but I was drawn in  and  it held my attention over the hour or so duration. It was unfortunate that the amplified buskers struck up on the street outside  distracting somewhat from the delivery of the final lines.

Perusing Pictures at the National Gallery.

There is a rolling programme of documentaries and lectures at the National Gallery. I watched an excellent BBC documentary High Art in Lowlands presented by Andrew Graham Dixon and felt rather better informed about Mondrian, Van Gogh, Magritte and Delvaux and the various art movements in the Netherlands. There are talks daily on some aspect of the collections. On Friday, Sarah lead us through a dozen of Jack B Yeats' works in chronological order. I was interested to learn that Olympic medals were awarded for painting in the 1920's. Yeats won silver for the Liffey Swim . Fancy that!

No Go zone in Grafton Street
Whatever is going on in Grafton Street. Roadworks, bare torso-ed guitar strumming buskers, collectives  of sinister statues and a proliferation of microphones made the 'premier' shopping street  a somewhat oppressive place to be. A report by another observer on the situation here
Dublin City Council needs to get  a grip on this if they want to preserve a chic ambiance in this hub of commercial activity. 'A Wonderland' it most certainly was not!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Something Old Something New : Metropolis with 3EPKANO

The music collective, 3epkano celebrated their 10th anniversary with a showing of Metropolis, considered by many to be the most unique cinematic achievement from the silent era.  Fritz Lang’s sci-fi epic was screened at the National Concert Hall on Thursday with an original live score by a 5 piece band.  The music scored by Stephen Shannon recalled the  style of 70's prog rock bands of  the likes of Pink Floyd. Lioba Petrie's cello, both acoustic and electric emerged from the aural canvas created by guitar drums and keyboard and synthesiser carrying  most of the melodic input . A long sit at three hours with newly recovered  material added, but a mesmerizing glimpse into an interwar cinema experience with a contemporary element in the menacing pulsating score. There stalls were almost full with a mix of music and cinema buffs.  Excellent value €15 for an extraordinary experience in this classy venue.

  Metropolis from 3epkano video on Vimeo.

Metropolis from 3epkano video on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Synge Songs at Castalia

Tim Shaffrey, Laura Gilsenan, Callan Coughlan, Andrew Gavin. at Castalia 

A google search of 'Irish plays turned into opera' was the starting point for this year's  programme of Opera at Castalia, Alan O Conchubhair explained to the audience at the concert hall located deep in the heart of rural Kilkenny. More specifically, the theme was Synge in Opera form,  the playwright at the vanguard of the  Gaelic Revival. The experience proved to be a convivial evening of chamber opera and chat as for a third successive year short contemporary and 20th century  work was presented by O Conchubhair and Brendan Mills at the Camphill Campus at Ballytobin. The operas were presented in a semi staged format with the furniture of a cottage dwelling and the obligatory sacred heart picture on the dresser.

Two settings of plays by JM Synge were separated by a short humourous piece by Fiona Linnane.  Both Fiona Linnane and Nancy van de Vate,  were in the house to hear their 'black dots turned into sounds' for an audience that included several luminaries of the Irish new music scene'.  Both ladies spoke a little about the genesis of their pieces.  The cast were predominantly young artists in training in various third level colleges with some star stalwarts. 

Sandra Oman as Katy in Linnane's The Bay of Fundy
The most substantial piece was Mid West Opera's production of Riders to the Sea by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I so  rarely  hear a contralto voice and Sarah Ellen Murphy,  was terrific in conveying overwhelming sorrow and grief as Maurya who loses everything to the cruel sea.  I was impressed with newcomer baritone Sean Boylan and soprano Rebecca Rodgers had a notable dramatic instinct for getting her lines across as Kathleen. Michael Young at piano gave the most sympathetic accompaniment of the evening particularly lovely in the final choral 'keening' element of the play as young Bartley is waked.

Concert Hall and amphitheatre at Castalia, Ballytobin
Composer Nancy van de Vate
The other Synge play, In the Shadow of the Glen was in a style of extended recitative for  a vocal quartet with occasional  spoken lines. Perhaps it was this element that  reinforced my ambivalence about the play working  as an opera libretto. The insubstantial plot  needed more nuance  than the opera format could deliver. The most dramatic dramatic singing came from tenor Andrew Gavin as Daniel Burke.   This is just the second time the opera has been performed and it added much to the occasion  to have the composer in attendence who clearly was delighted with hearing the work for only a second  time after a gap of decades. Originally from New Jersey , Nancy van de Vate is  domiciled and much lauded after a long and successful career, in Vienna. The composer had some some  sensible and succinctly expressed things to say about the chamber opera genre, most memorable of which  her rhetorical question 'you don't need 500 ladies in ball gowns to make an opera, right?' Of course right.
Contralto Sarah Ellen Murphy

In between, Sandra Oman demonstrated yet again what a fine comic performer she is  in an extended  aria in Fiona Linnanes' piece, The Bay of Fundy a sort of Bridget Jones diary style sung monologue.
Composers Eric Sweeney wih Fiona Linnane

My impression was that the intention was to stage the operas outdoors in the super amphitheatre space. However, with the threat of rain, the action was moved indoors to the hall, an unusual high ceilinged octagonal space. The generous intervals allowed plenty of time to chat to the other patrons. We met composer Eric Sweeney who was fully recovered after the exertions of
Sean Boylan Baritone

bringing his new opera to stage. Writer Michael Fewer told me about  his exciting new travel writing project which takes him far from Waterford's, cliff and shore to Portugal. Keith Pascoe of the Van Brugh String Quartet told me about his favourite continental music festival  and Gerry Murphy  just back from guiding  music lovers around the Schumann trail filled me in on his exciting new composition projects. More on these pages in due course. Sean Boylan, legendary football manager and his wife Tina were in the house to support their eldest Sean Óg and also making the trip from Dunboyne, Co.Meath were Rebecca Rodgers' parents all very proud and justly so. Bravo tutti!

House notes. Finding this venue is tricky. Getting lost going or coming was a common topic cropping up in conversation. Signposting is not good. Be aware that there are two Camphill Campuses. You want the Ballytobin one- not the nearby Kyle one. Can I suggest concert organisers post a volunteer at the car park to guide patrons to the right building. The way is not obvious and not clearly marked. We spent ten minutes trying to find the concert hall. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Seó Time in Waterford

I went along to see Seó this evening, a song and dance show,  produced by Lismore Music Festival  in an Irish traditional vein,  staged at the Theatre Royal and incorporating a guided promenade from the nearby Reg Bar. Although aimed primarily at the tourist market, there was much to enjoy for both natives and migrants over the hour long set. The musicians were excellent, all highly skilled and they played with relish and enthusiasm. Tony Dunne of the Butterfly Band on accordion was the lynch pin leading  Anthony Roche on flute, Amanda on vocals and piano and Andy on guitar. Best of all, four exuberant dancers gave life to the dance sets and you couldn't but be cheered by the vigour of their leaping and clattering feet. The showy solo turns were impressive while in contrast, a set dance was done as simply as it be might be in the local hall. At one point a small raised platform offered a variation in pitch in the foot  percussion to  one of the male dancers. simple but effective.  I gather that the performers were all  drawn from the West Waterford pool of Booley House entertainers which I hope to get to soon. 
Victorian Gem Theatre Royal on the Mall

 Tony Dunne Mighty Boxer
I have seen and been involved myself as a musician in several of this type of entertainment. Seó was very good indeed in the musical and dance aspects and had none of the cheese factor you might expect from a production of this nature. It had quite a fresh contemporary approach with other world music styles referenced in the tune selection. However, the music of the South East or the maritime theme didn't seem to the feature to the extent promised in the publicity material. It would have liked  a little more emphatic MC'ing. A  tad more of the spoken word, announcing the tune titles , dance type, provenance of the songs  etc would have added some context.  What set it apart also was the use of authentic historic building for performing space  as opposed to ersatz village halls and bland ball rooms. 
New roof top garden on The Reg with a close up view of the Reg and the Suir
 It was good too to see a synergy between the theatre and a  nearby  bar. Many of the attendees stayed adjourned to the bar after the show where the same musicians played a more relaxed unplugged session. The preamble was a beer in The Reg located next to the city's signature Reginald's  Tower. Local historian Demot Power greeted the group and escorted them to the Theatre Royal adding nuggets of local history along the route. It was nice touch to invite guests to stand on the stage and look out at the horseshoe space. One guest home from abroad for the holidays was quite emotional recalling her schoolday appearances in Feile na Scoile. 
 Such a lot of excellent work has been done on this Viking Triangle and it is heartening  to see  the elegant streets incorporated into a tourist initiative and great to see the Reg Bar complex rejuvenated and back in business after a dormant phase

If you want to see this show, you better get your skates on as July 17th is scheduled to be the final date for this season. It is keenly priced at €14 with kids free. The programme of entertainment at The Reg continues with some activity and some novel additions every night. More details here 

Related posts My night at the Corn Barn

Booking in The Reg on performance nights from 5.30pm

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Musings on the Southern Opera Scene

My review of Clonmel Junction Festival's production of  Orfeo and Eurydice is in yesterday's Irish Examiner. Aside at all from the splendid musical strengths, this was a production that could be  proud of it's Tipperary input. It had an exotic international  element in the extraordinary counter tenor Roland Schneider and  Austrian conductor, Elizabeth Attl. You can hear Attl talking about the festival production in the video below. But this was a production  firmly rooted in the commissioning region. Local involvement is a cornerstone of the Junction Festival which includes a participation consultant on it's team list. The Clonmel Orfeo was an excellent vehicle for  local choristers and showcased one of the impressive rising professional stars from the county in Jennifer Davis.

Local involvement was lamentably limited in a recent opera project in the South East. Theatre Royal Productions crowd funding campaign to 'Adopt a Soprano' highlighted the fact that not one local singer was engaged  after the initial workshop and funding campaign stage. Moreover, it seems production team, cast, the musicians, even the sets were sourced outside the region for their recent production of The Invader, a new work by Eric Sweeney and Mark Roper. With the exception of choreographer Libby Seward,  there was no local participation once the production moved beyond the initial workshop pilot phase. Whatever about the undisputed  merits of the work and I thought it was a super piece (my review is here), I feel that this is not as it should be in a county with a third level music degree, a strong choral and theatre tradition  for a production in receipt of  significant civic funding.

Next year's project in Clonmel,  is a setting of work by poet Michael Coady from Carrick on Suir (Coady  contributed programme notes for Orfeo).  As part of the the participation programme, the festival choir usually  invite experienced choristers to join them for a week of rehearsals in advance of the performance. So if you fancy a week of choral, singing in Tipperary bear it mind for next year. Based on Friday night's experience, that looks a very attractive proposition. Link to choral project information

ps I met Catherine McGuiness recently, the distinguished Senator, when she was a guest speaker at the Waterford 1100 talks. During the Q&A she quoted choral singing as her favourite pastime and is a committed member of the Culwick Choral Society.

Review of Cork Operatic Soc Orpheus

 (My piece on Clonmel native  Kelley Lonergan is here )

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Preview: Summer Synge Songs

I note that the Classical Thursday series of song recitals has resumed for a second season at  St Columba's Church,Ennis. The series initiated by soprano Helen Houlihan last Summer gathers a mix of heavy hitters of the opera world with rising stars in the treasure that in the quirky neo Gothic Anglican church on Bindon Street. Here is the line up.
And a report from the archive on the launch last year. It is great to see this initiative continue. A high standard of music making is guaranteed.

Recommended. Do lend them your support

June 12th Ruth Kelly Michael Hennessy
June 26th Helen Houlihan Irina Ira Dernova
July 10th Owen Gilhooly Irina Dernova
July 24th Sean Boylan Colette Davis
Aug 7th Cara O Sullivan Michael Joyce
21st Aug Edel O Brien Michael Henness

My review of Owen Gilhooly's recital at this venue last year is here Owen Gilhooly's  Opera project, Mid West Opera presents on eof the one act operas at Opera at Castalia in Kilkenny this weekend. 

Opera at Castalia 
This sounds like fun. Three one act operas based on texts by JM Synge will be performed in the open air amphitheatre in Ballytobin with the contingency plan of moving to a hall in case the weather is inclement, The cast features many emerging professional artists Worth  a punt if you are in the or around county  Kilkenny  on Saturday evening .

Preview: Pierce Turner at the NCH

 Pierce Turner will be performing the last date of his short Irish tour on Thursday night  in the salubrious surrounds of the  John Field Room at the National Concert Hall.  The Wexford native  is an extraordinary performer and was my pick for solo gig of the year in 2012.  Turner  was on RTE Arena with Sean Rock's tonight talking about his work and early musical experiences. The influence of sacred music, particularly plainchant on his work is very apparent in the pair of numbers heard on show.  You can listen back here

 Despite a fervent fan base and rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, he remains unfamiliar to many outside the  Hot Press cognoscenti.   There was a suggestion on social media sites that the arts editor of the Irish Times  hadn't heard of him. Gasp!  \Storytelling is at the heart of his craft. The spoken word meshes seamlessly into songs in his inimitable performances. His memoir is expected later this year. You can read my review and others of  recent gigs  on Turners website here ,   It promises to be a great gig.

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