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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Project Opera: The Dead

Looking at the line up of offerings at Dublin theatres, there is a paucity of new work as programmers return to the classics with Wilde at the Gate and Shaw at the Abbey. There was a fresh approach  to a theatrical presentation of work by  James Joyce. A new operatic setting of the short story The Dead  went down very well at the Project Arts Centre at the opening night on Wednesday. There was a good regional representation of arts folk in the full house. This is a very neat production with a octet of singers and string players that should travel very comfortable to summer festivals.

Read a review of opening night here.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Classy Finnish at the Bello Bar

       Lisa Dowdall John O Brien                                                                                    photo Juraj Jablonka

Kaleidoscope, the monthly classical music salon  has moved to a new base at The Bello Bar at Portobello, Dublin. There was a big Cork contingent in the line up last Wednesday for an evening with a strong Finnish flavour.

Marja Gaynor presided as well as playing violin and viola. We heard Lisa Dowdall play Sibelius' Valse Triste on viola accompanied by John O Brien. John played a charming waltz by Merikanto.  There were polskas from a viola duo and Baltic Folk inspired jazz from a quartet with Carolyn Goodwin and Franco Turrisi.

Most intriguing was a preview of a brand new opera by John O Brien based on Wilde's story, The Nightingale and the Rose with singers Camilla Griehsel and Mark Chambers. It is hoped that it will come to production in The Everyman in 2017.  I look forward to it.

Winterval Tree

Waterford City Centre has been transformed for a fourth year running into a Winter wonderland with all the seasonal trappings of jollity. There are carousels,  ferris wheels, swing boats and jingle bell clad shire horses. My favourite thing in Winterval is the singing tree, a tiered platform camouflaged with seasonal greenery.  On Sunday, Storm Desmond yielded briefly to allow a mild and pleasant afternoon when  the ladies and gentlemen of the excellent Barrack Street Concert Band under their director Mark Fitzgerald entertained us with a festive collection. The Band are a treasured institution who work harder than other ensemble to add a musical grace to many civic occasions. They are mighty. Have a listen to their closing number, Christmas Collage  in the audioboom

If you missed them, they will be repeating the programme, in Ballybricken next week. Check with for details.

Click on the arrow to hear the BSCB play Christmas Collage


Sturm and Drang: Messiah in Limerick

 'Yet once a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land

I made it through the wind and rain of Storm Desmond to join the orchestra of  Limerick Choral Union  for their biennial performance of Handel's Messiah - a truly glorious endeavour and one to savour and delight in with a sold out house at UCH. Soloists on this occasion were Jean Wallace, Martha Bredin , Patrick Hyland and John Molloy.

'I want seething and spitting and  none of your niceness' said Malcolm Green as he urged his choristers on to emphasise the elements of sturm and drang in a text. What a thrill to experience the force field that is bass John Molloy as he sang of darkness covering the earth, raging nations and hell raising trumpets. This voice has the heft at the bottom  to make you tremble

 He tells me he has three more Messiah engagements this season, one of which is in Halle, Saxony, the birthplace of Handel. On closer inspection, I note that,not only are there three Irish singers in the line up of the Happy Birthday Haendel -Messiah in Halle but also a familiar figure at the helm in Prionnsías O Duinn who has had this gig for the last nine years, I gather. This has to be at the classiest end of the Sing it Yourself Messiah's available. If you fancy it, you can sign up for the waiting list for the 2016 festival. (My report on a trip to Halle here)

Closer to home, you can sign up to Come and Sing Messiah favourite choruses at St Mary's Cathedral with Peter Barley on Sat 23rd April.

Related Posts Report LCU Messiah  2011

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Smitten by Appl at Hugh Lane Gallery

I haven't been to the Hugh Lane Gallery for years and I'd forgotton what an elegant venue, the domed chamber is. Usually host to Sunday mid-day events, it was packed to capacity last night for a terrific  recital by young German baritone, Benjamin Appl and English pianist, Gary Matthewman. Appl, a BBC Young Generation Artist and an ECHO Rising Star arrived garlanded with rave reviews and I can vouch that he is superb. Appl's got it all; gorgeous tone, vivid, animated chacterisation and handsome to boot. His pianist was the equally excellent British pianist, Gary Matthewman who we heard last in Waterford with soprano Máire Flavin. Together they made up a powerful duo that wowed the gallery audience who were reluctant to let them go even after a very subsatntial and wide ranging programme that included German lied, French melodie, operatic arias, an Irish air and a show tune.
It was exciting to hear work by Waterford based composer and associate of mine, Marion Ingoldsby. Marion's new song setting of Yeat's Never give all the Heart' was a high point of the evening. Like most in the audience last night, my heart was enthralled by this smashing song team.

There are a few more dates remaining . Tipperary tonight, Cork tomorrow , Dun Laoghaire on Sunday All details here Tickets on this Music Network tour are great value around €15 mark.

Audio of Sean Rocks super interview for RTE Arena here

Des O Driscoll's interview for Irish Examiner here

Venue Notes : I loved the subdued lighting which added to the sparkle.

Robert Schumann: Widmung (Rückert) Op. 25 no 1

Francis Poulenc: L’offrande (Anonymous) FP 42 no 6

Reynaldo Hahn: À Chloris (Viau)

Edvard Grieg: Lauf der Welt (Uhland) op 48 no 3

Felix Mendelssohn: Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (Heine) op 34 no 2

Franz Schubert: Liebesbotschaft (Rellstab) D957/1
Franz Schubert: Die Taubenpost (Seidl) D957/14

Benjamin Britten: The Salley Gardens (Irish Tune)

Marian Ingoldsby: Never give all the heart (Yeats) - New commission by Music Network

Francis Poulenc: La maîtresse volage (Anonymous) FP 42 no 1

Hugo Wolf: Hoffärtig seid ihr schönes Kind (Heyse)
Hugo Wolf: Wir haben beide lange Zeit geschwiegen (Heyse)

Franz Schubert: Der Tod und das Mädchen (Claudius) D531

Richard Strauss: Allerseelen (Gilm) op 10 no 8
Labours of the Heart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fin ch’han dal vino (Don Giovanni’s aria from Don Giovanni KV 527)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Deh vieni alla finestra (Don Giovanni’s aria from Don Giovanni KV 527)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Madamina, il catalogo è questo (Leporello’s aria from Don Giovanni KV 527)

Richard Strauss: Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen Zagen (Harlekin’s aria from Ariadne auf Naxos op 60)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Papagena, Papagena! (Papageno’s aria from Die Zauberflöte KV 620)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Hai gia vinta la causa… Vedro mentr’io sospiro (Count Almaviva’s aria from Le Nozze di Figaro KV 492)
Benjamin Britten: Within this frail crucible of light (Tarquinius’ aria from The Rape of Lucretia op 37)

Sweet Romance
Richard Wagner: Wie Todesahnung… O du, mein holder Abendstern (Wolfram’s aria from Tannhäuser)
Frederick Loewe: On the street where you live (Freddy’s aria from My Fair Lady)

Encores Schubert Die Forelle Schumann Du Bist die eine Blume

Sunday, November 15, 2015

All Beethoven Night at SCOW

I am just in from a wonderful night of orchestral music in Waterford courtesy of Symphony Club of Waterford. The Hibernian Orchestra is a Dublin based ensemble  that straddles the amateur and professional sphere. It is a voluntary group but skill levels are high and most of these players could sit in comfortably to a  pro orchestra desk/

The all Beethoven programme featured a Leonora Overture, the relatively sunny second symphony and a mighty performance by Helena Wood of the Violin Concerto. I can't imagine hearing a better rendition of this work . Ms Wood's performance was full of vim and vigour but with plenty of sweetness and delicacy to make you swoon too. Leader of the NSO, she is superb and clearly a great asset to the Irish  scene. The orchestra under conductor John Finucane coped very well with the washy acoustic keeping everything short  and scaling back the pianissimos to  'barely there' to allow the soloist to shine. The Larghetto augmented by the counterpoint of  a natural sound effect of a whistling wind was sublime.

The team of volunteers at Symphony Club of Waterford under administrator Liam Daly  do a terrific job of bringing large scale ensembles to Waterford.  SCOW has just announced five attractive events for 2016 featuring some of  the very best  ensembles in Ireland. Details are posted below.  I was disappointed tonight not to see many fellow musicians in the audience. Waterford has umpteen choirs, several brass bands , several orchestras, music schools  and a third level degree music programme, none of whom were well represented this evening. Where was everybody? The standard of music making deserved a bigger audience cohort than the sub 100 gathered in Parnell Street for a remarkable musical evening, surely a highlight of the 2015 season.The evening started with silence as we remembered the many in Paris who just like us had set out to enjoy a night's entertainment in their city.  If the audience was meagre, they did not lack enthusiasm and I am happy to report that there was a standing ovation following the final triumphant bars of the concerto. Bravo tutti!

The Hibernian Orchestra repeat the programme on November 28th Christchurch Cathedral Dublin

SCOW 2016 Season 

Camerata Ireland with Barry Douglas (piano) Friday 12th The Large Room

Itish Chamber Orchestra Thursday 19th May St John's Church

RTE NSO July Date Venue tbc

Irish Symphonic Wind Orchestra Sunday 11th September  WIT Sports Hall

Irish Baoque Orchestra Friday 11th November St John's Church

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Violent String Attack at City Hall Waterford

The young Paris based quartet  knocked us out in The Large Room with the sound of their sixteen resonating strings combined. They were so young and so good with  such colour and energy in their playing.  Little wonder then that they are winning all round them at international competitions and are playing prestigious venues as recipients of the ECHO Rising Stars. Leslie Boulin Raulet with charm introduced the programme in  clearly enunciated tones and the ladies  as you would expect, looked trés chic . The quartet wore quite the most stylish high heels we have seen in the Large Room for some time. If you missed them tant pis! Have a listen to them in the video below.

Watch out for Liam Murphy's review in the Munster Express soon.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Waterford Festival of Architecture Preview

Travelling back to Waterford for holidays over the last two decades, I was struck by the quality of design in some new buildings in the city and the care with which  features in period buildings have been restored.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the confluence of elegance around the Mall/. The brand new Medieval Museum with it's velevety soft-scoop icecream front nestles cosily with John Roberts Georgian Cathedral and Bishop's Palace and the Victorian gem that is the Theatre Royal. I feel very proud that a local firm of architects produced the award winning design for the new Museum. It is fitting that Waterford City is the location for  an annual festival of architecture. The 2015 Waterford Festival of Architecture takes place next week. There are all sorts of walks, talks, exhibitions and related events. Local treasure-historian Julian Walton gives several talks in a variety of locations. There is an opportunity to peer beyond the hall door of buildings not usually open to the public. The lovely new gardens created in a Japanese spirit dedicated to Lafacadio Hearn are included in the itinerary.

Visit on October 15th and you can hear an excellent evening of string quartets from the visiting Quatuor Zaide  in The Large Room, a  gracious assembly hall at  City Hall, a venue as fine as any temple of chamber music in Europe.

Photo John Power 
More on the Waterford Festival of Architecture on their website- an extract here.

'The festival is over 14 years old and is still going strong, thanks to the endeavours of a very hardworking committee and support from our many sponsors and friends including ID2015 Waterford City & County Council, Fumbally Exchange, Waterford Institute of Technology, and WLR FM.

This year the festival will celebrate the life of Waterford through the built environment and encourage everyone to engage with the city including the metropolitan areas of Dunmore East and Tramore, on a more intimate level, with lectures, events, tours and walks.

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Origins’ and we will be digging deep into our local archaeology and historic buildings as well as showcasing new and developing projects to help create appreciation and understanding for both how we started and where we are going.

Speakers on Friday afternoon and evening will include The Waterford Metropolitan Mayor Eamon Quinlan, who will open the festival, including Waterford born, internationally renowned architect Professor Michelle Howard, James Howley , conservation architect, and celebrated travel writer and Waterford native, Dervla Murphy. For Additional information on festival events'

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tonos on Tour

Tonos are a very fine duo specialising in early music comprising soprano Roisin O Grady and baroque guitarist Eamonn Sweeney. They have just launched a new CD and are on a nationwide tour. I heard  them yesterday at Castalia Hall Co Kilkenny in  a recital of great charm and grace. I commend them to you.

Remaining Tour dates are here

Music and the Dramatic Arc

It has been a busy week.of teaching, playing and  one in which I became enamoured again with theatre after years of indifference.

On Wednesday I happened across the press night of a new Abbey production of Sophocles' Oedipus. Given a choice, undiluted
Greek drama would not be high on my must see list but I had heard good things about the composer Tom Lane and there was a irresistable opening night buzz leaking out onto Marlborough Street on a balmy evening on the last day of September. The drama was simply told in a Spartan brightly lit set. Denizens of McCoys Bar familiar to viewers of Fair City peopled the Greek chorus. The demands of Tom Lane's scoring made stiff demands on the vocal abilities of the chorus who rose remarkably well to the challenges. It is years since I was at the Abbey main stage and I was pleasantly surprised at the results of renovations which have transformed the interior  and the acoustic was excellent. Afterwards, the upstairs bar was full of the great and good of the theatrical and political world.  There was some consternation among some theatre
goers at the straying into semi operatic territory but as Tom Lane reminded me, opera was conceived as  an attempt at riviving Greek drama. The sung choruses combining modern and Renaissance elements added interest and help carried the dramatic arc.

Another production that benefitted from a live musical input was Decadent Theatre Company's touring production of Vernon God Little seen at Garter Lane , Waterford. The Lifebuoys, an excellent trio with employing vocals, guitar, mandolin, beat box and bass were a sort of meolodic glue that made the whole production  stick together. How lovely too to see Little John Nee back on a Waterford stage. Little John was last here with his solo show Sparkplug.

Related posts

Sparkplug at Central Hall

Thebans at the ENO Coliseum

Monday, September 28, 2015

10 Years of Piano Magic in New Ross

I spent a lovely day yesterday at the New Ross Piano Festival. My preview of the event appeared in Thursday's Irish Examiner The riverside town was blessed with Autumnal sunshine as patrons and performers congregated in the picturesque  St Mary's Church for two daytime events on the closing day.

To say Daria van den Bercken is a Handel entusiast is an understatement.It's bit like saying Rory McIlroy likes to play golf.  A trawl of her youtube videos shows her inveigling  passers-by to her appartmemt for impromptu recitals and literally taking to the air for a spot of extreme piano playing in her mission to spread Handelian vibes. You might expect that the Baroque master's work to be a bit dry and dusty. Not in Daria's hands. At a mid-day solo recital, the Dutch virtuoso imbued the Baroque master's work with such colour and feeling that was enthralling. There was charming Mozart too with a quirky Rondo a la Turca and a new piece bt Deirde Gribbin

The afternoon concert was a satisfying three course  banquet-a  shared effort .  The Fidelio Trio brought a stringy starter of Beethoven. There were dazzling Russian fireworks from Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk. Then onto a  generous dessert of all 21 of Brahms Hungarian Dances (which were originally written for 4 hands, the comprehensive notes informed us) performed-y Finghin Collins and Cedric Tiberghien. Who  doesn't like to sit down and eat a whole bag of bon bons occasionally. I don't think I've heard more than a handful of the most popular ones before.

We send a final burst of virtual applause to artistic director, Finghin Collins and the hard working team who put it all together and pull it off with such aplomb. It is a remarkable  achievement to keep this niche festival going off the beaten track with  such a consistently high calibre of performers into a tenth year. What is partcularly  pleasant is the sense of prevailing convivilality. It feels like a rather elegant house party as performers sit front of house to hear fellow artists and  Collins,administrator  Connie Tantrum with  fellow committee members mingle to greet patrons.
As a final blessing, a  magnificent amber moon glow beamed down as I drove home  adding a lttle extra sparkle to the close of a delightful day.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Waterford Jazz Weekender

There has been much handwringing over the economic woes of Waterford, the closure of the Glass Factory and the Red Kettle Theatre Co pointed as markers of a deeper malaise expressed in articles like Kathy' Sheridan's 'Unsunny South East' in the Irish Times. While the city centre can lack the vibrancy of other urban centres, there is no better location for a festival. We salute the efforts of individuals and groups  that get off their backsides and make things happen . While we love to travel, the best events are those we experience at home. Spraoi continues to offer the most inclusive, accessible fun filled weekend to suit all ages. Claire Lynch were the classiest bluegrass heard at Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival.  Imagine Festival will brighten the early days of Winter. I was encouraged to see a new initiative announced in 2014. Building on a launch in 2014, Waterford Jazz Weekender recently launched a second mini-festival devoted to the jazz genre.

Phill Collins introduces Louis Stewart Len McCarthy

Paris Swing 

Spearheaded by Phill Collins, (note two l's), a jazz pianist on the staff at WIT, the weekend schedule offered a mix of styles and gigs, most of which were free.  The signature event was a mellow evening with the veteran guitarist, Louis Stewart accompanied by Cork saxophonist Len McCarthy and guitarist Stephen O Keeffe. It was guitar night at the Munster Bar as guitar duo Dylan Bible and Orm Kenny played a set before the main event. While there was a suitable hush at the Munster, Jane O Brien Moran and trio fought a losing battle at Katty Barry's with a yappy Friday night crowd. 

  Paris Swing brought a whiff of Parisian Boulevards to Bailey's New St where played a mellow open air gig  . I love the Cafe Orchestra style line up violin and accordion with bass and guitar. I was only sorry that I hadn't worn my dancing shoes as there was a bit of waltzing in the forecourt of the French Church. 

It was good to see the Jazz Weekender link in with other initiatives . The Dublin City Jazz Orchestra came under aegis of Symphony Club of Waterford. While they lacked  a certain glam factor, they made up for it in sax appeal. Good to see local lads, Brendan Doyle and Gavin Roche among the ensemble. 

Cork vocalist, Laoise Hanlon accompanied by Phill Collins rounded the procedings off in fine style on Sunday night at the Munster Bar.

Maithiú Phill Collins . Here's to Jazz Weekender no 3. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Page Turner:

Green Room Snap Cooney & Collins 
Stunning virtuosity was on display at City Hall last night as Waterford Music opened their 74th season. Elizabeth Cooney violinist partnered by Finghin Collins were a wow at a buzzy gala occasion. Opening with  a brilliant Grand Duo by Schubert, they shimmered in otherworldy Szymanowski and calmed with the soothing elegance of Elgar and Faure. But enough about the dazzling duo. Today's post is all about me. Last night was a debut of sorts for me as I stepped in to take on that role I have been carefully avoiding for years and one  that very musicians covet- the page turner. Finghin Collins made it as easy as it could be with clearly pencilled in notes as to repeats and a clear nod when the moment apparoached. On the whole it was a thrilling experience to see at close range the notes on the page magically transferred to sonority. Should the job ever come your way here are Jessica Duchen's dos and don'ts of page turning from an article in Standpoint Magazine Just for a giggle,  a video clip of Victor Borge's encounter with a
page turner.


1. Check with the pianist in advance which repeats s/he is doing, if any, and exactly how they work.

2. Dog-ear the top right hand corner of each page for easy grabbing.

3. Make sure you've got something to sit on and can see the music clearly.

4. Remember that a lot of pianists read ahead so may need the page turned several bars before reaching its apparent end.

5. Agree with the pianist what signal s/he will give to alert you that it's time to turn.


1. Wear anything intrusive: plunging necklines, dangly necklaces or ties, long floppy sleeves and bright colours are real no-nos and could distract in a variety of ways. (Of course some pianists might enjoy the plunging neckline, but that leads to a whole different set of problems.)

2. Obscure the music from the pianist's view with your arm while preparing to turn.

3. Simply smile sweetly back when the pianist smiles sweetly at you. He's probably indicating that if you don't turn that page NOW, he will put you through the mincer.

4. Eat anything containing garlic before the concert.

5. Take a bow

Extract from article by Jessica Duchen

Monday, September 14, 2015

Waterford-Music:Launch Season 74

Waterford Music Committee members Elizabeth Twohig, Pat Grogan , me , Jim Walsh, Eamonn Phelan         photo John Power
September has been a busy month as I prepare to return to teaching commitments. I have also been working on  PR for Waterford Music, a society dedicated to bringing the very best performers of the classical music world to perform here in Waterford, something they have been doing for 73 years. The Large Room is a fantastic venue and the acoustic is perfect. I have been struck by how genuinely delighted overseas performers have been to discover it. It is about the same size as the Wigmore Hall in London, the premier London venue where most of our visitors have performed. A new series opens Thursday with an evening of violin and piano duos with Finghin Collins and Elizabeth Cooney dedicated to the memory of founding member William Watt. Details of all eight recitals have now been confirmed and are on the website.

We had a very jolly time with Mayor John Cummins who graciously  came along to help us with our launch photocall. Although not a pianist himself, he tells me that his aunt, Sr Redemptoris was a renowned piano teacher at the Mercy Convent and introduced many young players to the pleasure of playing piano.

Press Release 
Waterford-Music has just released details of their Autumn series of chamber music recitals at the Large Room, City Hall.  September sees the arrival of two major figures of the international piano scene to release magical sonorities from one of Waterford’s treasures- the house Steinway at The Large Room at City Hall. Acclaimed Irish pianist, Finghin Collins arrives on September 17th and French virtuoso, Phillipe Cassard follows a week later on 24th September.
Secretary of Waterford-Music Vincent Byrne explains- Following their highly successful summer tour including a sold-out Galway Arts Festival recital, violinist Elizabeth Cooney and Finghin Collins join us at The Large Room to perform a programme of works by Schubert, Szymanowski and Elgar.   Cooney wowed a Waterford audience at the WIT Sports Hall earlier this year when she joined the RTE NSO on their tour. This will be an excellent opportunity to hear this terrific player in a more intimate chamber music setting in the excellent acoustic at City Hall.  Collins is one of Ireland’s leading pianists and a great favourite of Waterford Music since his first appearance here in 1997 when he stood in at short notice for the indisposed Russian pianist, Vladimir Ashkenazy. It is a busy time for Collins who directs the forthcoming New Ross Piano Festival amongst many other engagements. ‘We are delighted to have this wonderful Irish duo to open our Autumn schedule’ said Byrne.
A week later on September 24th, Phillipe Cassard arrives on the Mall for a solo piano recital. Since winning the very first piano competition a quarter of a century ago, the French virtuoso has gone on to establish himself in the first rank of the world’s great pianists, much admired for his mellifluous tone and subtlety of phrasing.
The French accent continues when  the ladies of the brilliant Quatour Zaïde, arrive in Waterford for an  October date. The quartet’s daring and élan has garnered them many prizes at international competitions since their formation a mere five years ago. The distinguished Austrian cellist, Florian Kitt brings our 2015 proceedings to a close in November with a wonderful diverse 20th century programme.
Pat Grogan,  treasurer of  WM reports that during the Summer, a major figure of the piano world visited Waterford. But his name probably won’t ring a bell.  ‘Ulrich Gerhartz is a master technician who travels the world working on pianos for manufacturers Steinway. We are delighted to report that Mr Gerhartz gave our house Steinway C a tip-top rating’ said Mr Grogan.
Tickets are keenly priced at €15 and we have great value season ticket deals available with a family subscription of €150 for 8 recitals which is fantastic value to hear artists of international standing. Our mission is to continue to bring the best Irish and international classical performers to perform in Waterford and we are already looking ahead to our 75th season next year said Pat Grogan.
 You can hear the Steinway C piano played by superb soloists in the elegant Georgian assembly room, The Large Room at City Hall on September 17th and 24th September. All recitals begin at 8pm

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Final Notes Edinburgh 2015

I am sitting down to watch Sue Perkins Saturday night broadcast from Edinburgh Festival. It is just a week since I was in the maelstrom of bewiildering frenetic activity that is the Edinburgh festivals. A highbrow arts festival, a sprawling fringe , a book festival and a military tattoo just some of the elements that make up the Edinburgh Festival. It is a bit like infinity, you will never get to the end of it. Just a few final notes on my Edinburgh experience for future reference.

 The BBC enclosure was one of the most pleasant and cheapest places to hang out in. You could apply to sit in the audience for a programme or wander in off the street, sit in a deck chair on the faux green lawn and watch a Proms on the large screen or catch  the odd live band all for free. Definitely worth a look.

Liz Lockhead is the poet laureate of Scotland. She was funny, feisty and irreverant in her midday show at the Assembley Rooms nicely enhanced by Steve Kettley on sax. I loved her bittersweet monologues delivered in a range of in character voices. I had a lovely chat with Liz after the gig who was in Ireland recently at the Yeats festivities in Sligo. Good to hear a Scottish accent at the festival.
One of my favourite events of the fringe.

UKIP The Musical :The rise of a British right wing party might seem an odd subject for a musical, but UKIP the Musical at Surgeon's Hall was one of the hits of the festival. Hell Bent Theatre Co lampooned a range of British politicians in a satirical musical by Cath Day. The tunes were catchy, the keyboards augmented with clarinet and the odd  backing track were very effective and the largely white middle class audience lapped up the satirical portrayal of past and present political figures . Darren Benedict's portrayal of Farage reminded me of Leonard Rossitor's Reggie Perrin.

Jonny Awsum -  ~ I overcame my reservations about one man shows and took a chance on Jonny in a bunker at the Gilded Balloon.  With a day job as a hypeman - a warmup man for TV shows, Awsum had an appealing way about him and easily persuaded audience members to join him in what became a sequence of double acts. It was great fun.

The Edinburgh Book Festival: Not far from the raucous activity of Andrews Sq a rather more genteel audience was gathered in Charlotte Square for wordy events at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Cold war makes for hot fiction when there is a novel app attached  and Iain Pears was in the Spiegeltent to talk about his new book, Arcady along with with Simon Mawer.  If the sprawling fringe is a bit overwhelming, the Book Festival is a tidy  event contained in a collection of marquees sited on one of Edinburgh's lovely Victorian squares.

5.30pm  Cabaret in the Spiegel Tent : Lili La Scala was mc for a variety of cabaret entertainers for a demob happy post work audience. Cheap and cheerful.

  The Martini Encounter: Shaken and stirred ?  No but  A late night encounter with ukulele toting trio in a boiler room at The Pleasance was entertaining in an old style music hall variety fashion, Special guests, a wind duo,  House of Blakemore were a delightful novelty. turn

Weill at Heart: Cabaret singer Bremner Duthie and a trio led by pianist David Patrick played the dark, decadent and  lovely music of Kurt Weill. With Bremner Duthies big dramatic baritone voice, it was quite an intense experience in the basement Jazz Bar.

Mark Steel Who do you think you are. The broadcaster has fashioned his search for his birth parents  into a stand up routine. The story was the subject of a Sunday Times feature Entertaining but lecture hall ambience was a bit of a buzz kill.

Not everything was good and the less said about a

overheard at edfringe    'startin in 10 minutes.Free comedy gig 5 stars supposedly'

Friday, August 21, 2015

Edinburgh Festival: 48 hours at EdinburghInternational Festival

After dallying in the fringe,   I set out to visit as many of the six main venues of the Edinburgh  International Festival as possible. I got to four of them. Here is a round up of the highs and lows of two days at EIF

Queen's Hall: Iestyn Davies with Ensemble Guadagni. The acclaimed  countertenor Iestyn Davies

was joined by a  lively period instrument  ensemble under Richard Egarr in a programme of English Baroque music mostly by Purcell at Queen's Hall. It was thrilling to hear the beauty of tone and immaculate ennunciation of Davies' otherwordly voice in the packed 19th century wedgewood blue hall.  The concert was skillfully paced to maximise the capacity for varying sonorities within the instrumental ensemble. The ensemble of eight ncluded a quartet of strings with Croatian violinist Bojan Cicic, two recorders and theorbo/ baroque guitar showed their flair and agility in a suite by contemoporary, Blow.  Thrilling ***** Listen to the BBC Radio live broadcast here

Festival Theatre: Israel Galvan LO Real. The best thing about

this show was the venue, a large modern theatre space with a curved glass front. Experimental flamenco is likely an aquired taste. The show with a Holocaust theme of Nazi extermination of gypsies but it would have been hard to pick that up unless you read the notes. The piece appeared to be an very self indulgent vehicle for leader, Israel Galvan who opens the procedings with a fidgety  unaccompanied sequence that lasts for twenty minutes or so before he is joined by a singer and a guitar.'He likes to use objects on stage' said a foyer afficionado. Well so did Fred Astaire- remember him  dancing with a hat stand?. Galvan does spend a lot of time twanging a beat up piano carcass before he moves on to get maximoun sonic value out of  four  metal beams. When he leaves the stage to two other female soloists he retreats downstage to play  a second drum set to augment the bass drum pedal of which there is  already a lot threaded throughout the score. Tedious  **

Edinburgh Playhouse: Edinburgh Playhouse is one of the UK's largest theatres. The former cinema based on the Roxy in New York has a charming faded elegance about it and there was quite a buzz for the first night of a performance of Seven, with choreography to Mahler's Symphony no 7  presented by Ballett Am Rhein. The large  troupe from Dusseldorfwere accompanied by the home team Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The style was modern, quite elegant nothing flashy, the costumes monochrome black and white. I note Cork School of Music Mark O Keeffe was listed in the trumpet section.

Impressive ****

EICC Conference Centre: Edinburgh's Conference  Centre is conveniently located in the town centre. Simon McBurney's
piece reminded me of one of those immersive  theme park experiences but without the visual element. McBurney, looking like a stage hand in jeans and teeshirt  stands on the grungy stage littered with plastic bottles and discarded unreeled video tape and begins by explaing the technology before telling the story of National Geographic photographer who gets stranded in the jungle and his encounter with an indigenous tribe. A long sit for a two hour monolgue, a feat of endurance for audience and performer. More a high tech radio than a theatrical experience

 ** Underwhelming

Still to visit the Usher Hall: 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Navigating the Fringe at Edinburgh: Supertown

 I am in Edinburgh on my first visit to Scotland drawn by the magnetic pull of the month long extravaganza of high class arts festival and sprawling fringe which sees hundreds of pop up theatre spaces all over the city. Having skimmed through  the programme, a weighty tome about the size of a telephone directory, I decide to leave it to chance and  set off through damp streets to get my bearings and sample the Edinburgh fringe.  Just down the road from my hotel is venue 45, a church hall which seems to have a respectable queue forming. A musical?- with more than one person?- that'll do nicely Anxious to lose my festival neophyte status as quickly as possible, I buy a ticket and thus stumble on Supertown.

Supertown is a new  musical by the delightfully named team of , Sidgwick and Sanders - It is bright and breezy spoof based on superhero comic genre presented by members of LIDOS, which appears to be a company drawn from Insurance industry folk based in Leeds. Supertown is peopled with superheroes,  soft centred villains and ordinary people, -crawlers. One geeky guy sets out to prove that the town's favourite Superhero is not all that he seems and the moral of the story is that you don't need superpowers to be a superhero.  A company of generous proportions of over a dozen sing and dance with panache. A trio of Susan Boyles and a Jamiacan Bob Sled quartet are among the hilarious cameos. It is  fast paced, witty and funny. The tunes are catchy, the arrangements slick. I note later that the librettist, Sigwick plays the role of slovenly superhero, Zapper in a style that reminds me of Hugh Fearnely Whittingstall.

Later,I catch a comedy benefit night at the magnificent Assembly Rooms which has the advantage of hearing a half a dozen or so comics in the space of an hour or so which is plenty. I don't really like that style of improvised comedy that riffs on front row audience members but I have to admit that Jason Byrne did get the crowd going.  Scottish comedian,  Fred McAuley and the quirky  Paul Foot appealed most to me of group.

Finally a nightcap in Whiski,, a terrific bar where a table of musicians sent strathspreys and airs into the mellow evening air


Now whatever to choose tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Steinway Piano Man arrives in Waterford

Piano Man Ulrich Gerhartz photo Guardian pic

One of the single most important figures in the piano world visited Waterford last week but you'll struggle to find his name on the programme. Steinway surgeon, (piano tuner seems too mundane a term) Ulrich Gerhartz artrived in Waterford on Thursday  to overhaul one of Waterford's treasures-the house Steinway housed at the Georgian Large Room. I was sorry to be out of town to miss seeing one of the 'key' figures of pianism in action. I am grateful to Pat Grogan of Waterford-Music for this report on the service history of this much admired instrument.  You can hear it next when Finghin Collins to open the 74th season of Waterford-Music recittals
Steinway, Model C, s.n. 525785.
    Manufactured 1995, Hamburg factory. Purchased February 1996 from Steinways of London, having been vetted at Steinway Hall, by Philip Martin, John O’Conor and Jan Cap, during visits to London, on our behalf. We had intended replacing our old ‘D’ model with a similar second-hand instrument, on grounds of cost, but on urgent advice from Philip Martin, who found that the sound from the 9 foot D model would be too big for our venue, we bought the smaller 7’ 5” instrument,as being more suitable venue with it’s bright acoustic. The price was  49,350 sterling, with 5,000 ‘institutional’ discount, and 5,000 trade-in allowance on our  1908 American Steinway. The Arts Council of Ireland and Waterford City Council had agreed to help in the purchase with matching funding of 17,222 Irish pounds each, with loyal Waterford~ Music members making up the balance. This was achieved only after intense lobbying with City Council, in the persons of Manager Michael Doody and Asst. Manager Terry O’Sullivan, and The Arts Council through Dermot McLoughlin, and Government Ministers of the day, Michael D Higgins and Brian O’Shea.
     The new piano was delivered 6/2/1996,and prepared for first performance by Alex Jeffers of Bandon, by Dearbhla Collins, with Michael d’Arcy, violin, Annette Cleary, cello, on 7/2/’96, who performed Beethoven Trio E flat, op.1, no.1, Rachmaninov Trio op.9, Shostakovich Trio E minor, op.67. It received a free inspection and tuning by chief Steinway technician, Ulrich Gerhartz, on 11/4/’96, who has continued to look after our piano ever since. Specially prepared by Gerhartz for the much publicised visit of Vladimir Ashkenazy on 18/5/’97 [who due to arthritis in his fingers was unable to perform], but whose last minute replacement Finghin Collins, well prepared for the Dublin International Piano Competition, who performed brilliantly. Just a few of our sell-out audience accepted refunds rather than hear Collins perform.
    Mr Gerhartz has been to over-haul our piano in April 2000, October 2003, November 2006, and November 2010. This is an expensive but necessary operation to maintain this valuable instrument in perfect condition.The  recommended interval between overhaul of 3 years could not be adhered to in recent  years, due to severe financial constraints on our funds. He has just completed the overhaul on last Thursday, 13th August, at a cost of €1794.00, and which would be even more expensive if he made a special trip to Waterford only. He found the piano to be in excellent condition, due to the perfect storage conditions at the Georgian Large Room, and the fact that the instrument is not over-used or indeed, abused. For the record, it was used in 20 full performances in the period 3rd November 2010 and 16th April 2015, as part of our regular recital seasons, with 15 bookings by other groups [generally for a tuning fee], in the same period. The piano is made available free of charge for charitable fund-raising purposes, and for purposes connected with City Hall—as part of the original funding agreement.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kilkenny Arts Festival 15

I pressed 'publish' a little prematurely yesterday. I am republishing with some additional comments regarding inequity in  public funding for arts in South Eastern counties.

I spent two days at Kilkenny Arts Festival last weekend. My reviews appeared in the Irish Examiner last week . You can read my review of Opera Theatre Company's production of a pair of short works here . I love the welcoming atmosphere in the Watergate Theatre with it's cheerful cafe and Cleere's Bar across the road. There was a lot of love in St Canice's for the return of French Baroque specialists but  I was a little underwhelmed with headliners Les Arts Florissants. You can read that review here .

The nature of the programming was a subject of some debate this year.  On the ground, I did hear grumbles about the  worthy high brow nature of much of the festival fare. The lack of variety with an  emphasis on the music of one composer, JS Bach came in for some criticism. with not one but three sets of Goldberg Variations. High ticket prices  and the scaling back of the art exhibition element were other negatives that came up in conversations.
 No question, the festival team  brought an almost bewildering selection of luminaries to the city . The festival was clear in it's direction and didn't try to be all things to all festival goers or to please a broad range of palates. For me though, it lacked an element of fun. Walking around the streets, there wasn't a sense of a town en fete. On Sunday afternoon,  Kilkenny natives seemed to have decamped en masse to Croke Park for the semi final clash with Waterford and a sound that fills me with dread drifted down Main St- the wheezing of amplified Peruvian pan pipes pervaded the eerie Sunday afternoon hush.

Amendment:  The main funder of the Kilkenny Arts Festival is the Arts Council which put up €390,000 for this years' festival. Neighbouring county, Waterford also mounts a 10 day  multifaceted arts festival. This year, the Arts Council withdrew it's meagre funding (€11,000 in 2014) for the Waterford's  Imagine Festival.  The fesyival  held on the cusp of Winter with a mix of all sorts of events draws in at least as many local punters as Kilkenny does.. As a regular attender of ImagineFest, I find such striking inequity in funding hard to fathom. Read what chairman, Nick Bankes had to say in this piece from the Irish Times here

Councillor Mary Roche also voices some concern. The Waterford independent councillor carried out an exercise on Arts council  funding streams comparing funding for arts in Waterford with Wexford , Galway and Limerick. Again, the inequity striking and a cause for ennui for anyone involved in the arts in Waterford..

Press Notes :The Irish Times coverage included no  less than three whimsical pieces by Arminta Wallace in the Irish Times over the course of the 10 days in addition to Michael Dervan's reviews.

Next year's festival is due to focus on the work of Mozart.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Hapusrwydd at Fishguard: Pianos, Pasties and Tapestries

I am just off the boat after a 24 hour trip to Fishguard. Following years of travelling through the Pembrokeshire ferry port en-route to London, I decided to make the Welsh coastal town my end destination rather than merely a pit stop. I was encouraged by an extremely  attractive programme at the 10 day annual classical music festival and the prospect of  discovering new territory practically on my doorstep,.  But  the excursion hit the rocks early  on Tuesday when the meaning of the term 'missing the boat' was  fully impressed on me. I found myself on the wrong side of the rising gangway contemplating an Indiana Jones style leap onto the soon-to-depart ferry. I made a second attempt on Thursday and at 9.00am I was afloat and on my way to catch the last day of the Fishguard Music Festival. I was glad that I did.  I had a terrific day. There was sunshine and  exhiliarating performances. I met interesting people,  discovered some extraordinary venues and upstairs in the Town Hall, I found a local treasure that  would have  merited the trip alone.

Pianos: In the afternoon, Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe shared  the second and third of Beethoven's opus 31 sonatas as a prelude to an evening of piano duos. The magnificent oak timbered concert hall in the rural retreat, Rhosygilwen was a stunning, light filled venue. There was a pause for supper in the orangery  and picnics in the courtyard before the evening programme of piano duos performed on two pianos. We heard SaintSaens Variations on a Theme of Beethoven's Sonata no 3 picking up a thread in the afternoon programme. As the evening wore on, Mozart  and Brahms gave way  to the impressionist, Debussy, In the fading evening light of the fine Summer evening,  Prelude de'lapres midi d'un faune' shimmered with the luxury of two sets of piano strings before all hell broke loose in a visceral performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.. Peter Donohoe's evocative context setting introductions conjured up images of Debussy and Stravinsky playing through the work in Paris salon. Debussy's nocturne Fetes, was an  exuberant celebration rather rather than a shadowy affair heard at a  adistance.

I was thrilled to meet performer and joint artistic director,  Peter Donohoe who  generously gave me a post-show  interview. Do listen to Donohoe talking about the importance of Spring to the Russin psyche and about the recent stepping up of  his involvement  in becoming joint Artistic Director of  the Fishguard Festival. Hear his  eloquent insights into the bond between Stravinsky and Debussy and his changing view of the groundbreaking 'Rite of Spring'.

'Build it and they will come' At the interval, a gentleman was delivering fliers on forthcoming events at the venue. I discovered later that he was in fact  our host, Glen Peters, MD of Western Solar who built the  striking concert venue on the grounds of his home. He spoke to me about how the decision to build came about and the inspiration for the design. Listen to Glen Peters on the architectural design of the concert hall.

The venue was full with 300 or so patrons for the closing recital.   I enjoyed talking to composer Geraint Lewis about the arts in Wales. It was good to meet  Gaye Williams, the face behind the  digital marketing platforms at the 2015 festival. The bus to the concert was full but this was Pembrokeshire and I was not left on the side of the road. I am grateful to Boyd Williams for getting me there and back.

Have a listen to Festival team member Boyd Williams summing up of the event at

Tapestries: The Last Invasion Tapestry:  Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, the tapestry tells the story of the last invasion by the French forces and the formidable  Jemima Nicholas who captured a battalian with her pitch fork (that may be overstating slightly but you get the picture) This woman should have her own opera written about her. We don't know who stitched the Bayeux tapestry but you can watch the video and hear many of the seventy ladies involved in this marvellous community project.I was struck by the parallels with  another community tapestry unveiled about the same time. The port side town New Ross is home to the Ros Tapestry.and also host of a  music festival shaped by a pianist. The New Ross Piano Festival takes place on 24th-27th September under director Finghin Colllins

Pasties: I spnt a happy hour in  Ffwrn Meaning oven, an amazing bakery, cum bar, cum bistrot. Pianos  in various states of repair are arrayed around. The central piece is the oven out of which emerge pasties of Finn McCool proportions. Listen the Rod Smith about the Ffwrn and the  forthcoming bagpipe festival at the venue. Coming back for the crab hammer plank.

What else is on? The event schedule for Rhosgilwen Retreat  includes a literary weekend in September and a weekend Schubertiade in October. Check it out here  Fishguard is home to the weekend  Aber Jazz Festival in August  and a Folk festival  in May. FFwrn hosts a Bagpipe Festival in October

Fishguard International Music Festival is a ten day festival that runs at the end of July. Events were very keenly priced there was a good spread of events to suit a range of tastes. Tickets for final day concerts -£18 combined price for two recitals, remarkable value.

How to get there:  Boat is best. Some of the venues are walking distance from the ferry. Stena Line operate twice daily sailings to Fishguard from Rosslare. (9.00am  and 9pm returning at 2.30am and 2.30pm )  There are great value short hops with or without car. A return 24 hour ticket costs €42 booked online with a €5 supplement booked as a roll up at the terminal

Getting around: The festival runs a bus to some of the larger events in the festival but for a longer stay, I would recommend taking your car.

Where to Stay: There are lots of attractive options.  For a high end B&;B experience try Cefny dre . Cefn-y-Dre Country House, who offer evening meals with a Ballymaloe trained owner.