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

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.