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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Behind Closed Doors: Recitals in a Time of Coronavirus

Behind closed doors  in Drogheda (via Susan on twitter)
In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic shutdown, major cultural centres responded  by opening up their digital archives. I had hours of  free entertainment sifting through performances from around the world.  It wasn't unusual to find myself scrambling to catch the end of a Wagnerian epic at breakfast time before it disappeared to make way for another must-see production. While it was a thrill to watch big lavish productions from the Met and Glyndebourne,  more intimate smaller scale events proved an even more effective antidote to the self-isolation blues. Even better if they were filmed in a beautiful historic location like this one from Caramoor, a historic house in Westchester County, USA. Still available to watch here

In the UK, the Wigmore Hall has been doing a fabulous job in extending the walls of the chamber music venue in London's city centre to audiences around the globe. On 26th June, director John Gilhooly broadcast a thoughtful address on the WH digital platform. What a star this man is! Watch it here. At the conclusion, Gilhooly credits the 'exceptional digital production abilities' of Darius Weinberg at WH. After an initial period that saw artists reaching out to their base with home produced videos that helped to keep us connected but suffered from poor sound quality, recent weeks have seen some exciting new ventures with the experience transformed by professional sound reproduction and camera work.

There is a realisation too among the public that there is no such thing as a free event and that it is time to pay the pipers for the tunes. This article by Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times is timely and insightful.

Here are some of the events, I 'attended' this week.

Piano and Wind Quintets in Drogheda: Drogheda Classical Music launched a new initiative spearheaded by director Pauline Ashwood.  A concert filmed at St Peter Church in Drogheda was broadcast live and available to watch on demand for a stated fee on vimeo for three days. On their website, you were directed to buy a ticket for €10 and you could access the performance via the society's web page. Drogheda is a bit far from my base at the best of times and I had never visited this venue, a 19th century Gothic Revival Church. Pianist Finghin Collins was flanked on either side by a quartet of first rank Irish wind players in an hour long programme of sparkling quintets by Mozart and Beethoven. If you want catch that, you'll have to be quick as it is available for just one more day. Details here

Song Recital at Russborough House: 
Fiachra Garvey and Gavan Ring in Russborough House 

The Music Room in the historic house that is home to the Beit Art Collection made an attractive  venue for a recital of popular arias performed by tenor Gavan Ring and pianist Fiachra Garvey with introductions by Liz Nolan of RTE. Again I enjoyed the virtual visit to an unfamiliar venue as much as the musical offering. In a engaging introduction, Garvey informed us that the piano was in fact Alfred Beit's own instrument and being heard for the first time at a West Wicklow Festival event and very fine it sounded too.

With both recitals, the opportunity to nosey around an unique venue was a big part of the attraction. I would have  like the camera to pan around a little more to have a look at the immediate surroundings and maybe to linger a little on some of the pictures in the famous collection that was stolen no less than four times. Here patrons were invited by the host to make a donation to the West Wicklow Festival. That is available to watch indefinitely here

West Cork Chamber Music Festival: This time last year, like  many music fans, I was heading to Bantry. This year 'to soften the blow of losing the 2020 festival' the West Cork Chamber Music Festival has a series of recitals filmed in various European and one American location and is releasing one each evening until July 5th. Looking forward to catching some of the events.
See our Music Archive releases here
See our latest COVID-19 updates here
Yike's: Is this an oboe reed I see before me!

TV Philharmonia: I watched all six episodes of the French TV drama available on Channel 4. A corny whodunnit set in a Parisian Symphony Orchestra with a liberal chunks of classical music woven in to the mix. One reviewer described it as 'hilariously OTT- Acorn Antiques with subtitles'. D'accord! In the later episodes, French horn player Agathe announces her pregnancy to her rival by blasting Helene with a few bars of  her lover's new piece and the appearance of a spurious oboe reed in the main protagonist's dressing room is a portent of murder. 'An ill wind indeed!.  Stuart Jeffries entertaining Guardian review here

I caught the second of Cristín Leach's 4 part programme on the exploration on Ireland and  Irish identity in visual  art  during the last three hundred years. The second episode covering the  representation of famine and the land wars in 19th century was good listening even if it was crying out for the visual dimension of television. Listen here John Bowman delved into the archives to recall Dickens' visits to Ireland

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lockdown Review

Lockdown Beach Patrol in Ballymacaw

Is it really more than three months already since the sudden shutting down of life as we knew it back in March 12th? That Thursday was a busy day as I shuttled from teaching assignments in a rural primary school and after school commitments at WAMA in Waterford. I had been due to visit Paris at the weekend but the announcement on March 9th that theatre gatherings of more than 1000 were banned had rendered the purpose of the trip invalid and I was already resigned to a weekend at home and even if I am honest, relieved not to have to endure the tribulations of airports and planes. So with the normal routines suspended, I settled into a month of tackling long put off housekeeping tasks and watching an endless round of news briefings to keep up with the progress. Finally after 5 years in my current  address, I had tidy hot press, a clean oven and had even managed to turn out a batch of scones. Now three months later that domestic goddess badge has tarnished and shock horror, all those jobs need doing again already and an unopened carton of buttermilk loiters forlornly in my fridge now well past its sell by date.

Social Distance Recital  with neighbours 2020

                                  It helped that in March and April, we enjoyed clement weather with balmy evenings, so I was in my garden when I heard an unfamiliar sound. What was it, I wondered when as the volume increased, It was birdsong. Quite a trill so to speak. Fortunate to live in a coastal town, the limitations of a 2km walk was no hardship and I walked down lanes and visited spots, I hadn't noticed before despite them being on my doorstep. Chance meetings with friends and acquaintances had a different unhurried pace. Nobody was too busy to stop and chat. In the conversations, a sense of guilt seemed common as voices were dropped to admit that they were enjoying lockdown, the slower pace, car free roads, birdsong all of it.  With the house busy as adult children returned to the nest to work from home, escaping to the garden shed to read became an afternoon ritual for a while. . Three months on, the self imposed routines are sliding and I feel a sense of trepidation as we prepare for a return to some sort of normal routines although still sadly devoid of live music and theatre. I am sore hearted for all the management and artists who have put so much work into planning events and festivals all now for naught. Months and years of hard work with no reward and an uncertain future.

Here are some of my lockdown highlights.
Elaine Power of East Pier with Nevin Maguire

 Food.  First things first. After a month of home cooking, the longing for something I hadn't prepared myself was acute. While I could live quite happily without ever visiting a fine dining restaurant, I prefer not to even contemplate a life without a bag of chips  doused in salt and vinegar, ideally eaten on the prom. There was great excitement in our house when the first of our local chippies opened their doors after more than a month. Best fish and chips so far came from, Elaine Power's East Pier van in Dunmore East. Excellent birthday treat food came from our local Indian restaurant Voujon in Tramore.

With  shops closed and preferring to support my local bookshop than some international behemoth I was thrilled to receive a parcel of books from The Book Centre Waterford all wrapped up in their signature maroon paper. The books I have enjoyed reading so far are Gail Honeyman's debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Rose Tremain's Music and Silence, a languid yarn set in the 17th century Danish court and featuring an English lutenist as the main protagonist. Fran O Brien based in Tipperary sent me a couple of her books which she produces as fundraisers for the Laura Lynn Foundation. I enjoyed Ballystrand, a family saga of dark secrets and redemption. My favourite pandemic read was Max Jaffa's autobiography, A Life on the Fiddle, a fascinating memoir on the life of the celebrated English violinist who made a career in light music. I also loved the Ladybird Tales of Superheroes, six traditional stories from around the world with lovely illustrations.

Teaching/ Work.
My experiences with Zoom weren't good and I hesitated to embark on teaching on this or a similar platform. I did however set about making some video tutorials covering some easy Irish tunes

Lockdown Ukuleles: With the prospect of gatherings seeming a long way off and inspired by pop star Bressie I released my classroom set of ukuleles free to anyone willing in my area and posted some video tutorials on the Tramore Ukulele Group fb page. On Friday, I made a tentative return to group activity with a small gathering in my garden. Looking forward to getting together again and thinking about how best to facilitate the group in the weeks and months ahead. Check out the TRUGs activity here It was a pleasure to talk to Damien Tiernan on his morning show on WLR about the initiative. Check out one of the videos here

Online Opera and Music. 
I sifted through some of the myriad of options of cultural events available to watch online for an article in the Irish Examiner Check it out here Opera and Music Events to Enjoy Live at Home The volume and quality of what is available is amazing. Most recently, I tuned in to watch Handel's Rinaldo from Glyndebourne. I wasn't impressed by the mish mash of school blazers and knights in chain mail but the performers were fantastic and it is well worth a listen.

Roberts 3 band radio Great value at €25 at Sound Store
Forced to choose between my TV or my radio, I would be sad to jettison the former but I wouldn't part with the latter. It never ceases to amaze me how accurately the technology reproduces the timbre of individual instruments and voices even on a cheap transistor. Opera Night on Saturdays RTE Lyric is a favourite and weather permitting I like to listen outdoors with the birds swooping and adding an extra dynamic to the score. Highlights have been Siobhan Cleary's Vampirella, Vivaldi's Griselda and Andrew Synnott's Dubliners.
I have been disappointed with the selection of highlights on RTE's  Playback recently, the presenters rarely seem to venture beyond the realm of talk radio heard 9 to 5 on the main station often returning for a second bite of a dull segment. Amongst the most banal clips are usually those from Ray Darcy's afternoon show which we are never spared it seems. I was amused at Ellen Cranitch promising 'no sourdough' in her trailer for Purple Vespertine I assume in response to the tedium of Darcy's coverage of the topic. I am rarely tempted to listen back to programmes. In contrast BBC radio tends to throw its net wider. This week's selection by Julie Hesmondhalgh had me delving into the schedule. It is good to hear regional accents on a country's major broadcast station. The programme opened with a clip of Mullingar lass and soprano extraordinaire Ailish Tynan from her Wigmore Hall lunchtime broadcast on BBC Radio3
Also heard on Radio 3 as well as available to watch online was a fabulous recital by 'two talented Michaels. Michael McHale and Michael Collins have played in Waterford. I loved their programme of 20th century French repertoire with a dazzling interlude by Carl Maria von Weber. I liked Georgia Mann's easy presenting style. Details here

Some of my favourite clips on RTE  radio have been heard on Countrywide presented by Damien O'Reilly. This week we heard the wonderful Seamus O Rourke's piece 'The Drawer' ahead of Father's Day Maithiú Séamus. I had to pinch myself on hearing aging Rolling Stone giving parenting tips on Newstalk with Pat Kenny on how to keep small small children entertained during lockdown. Rock and Roll just ain't what it used to be!

Such are the vagaries of Irish weather, that while a clement April and May saw us outdoors basking in the sun, summer soltice had us retreating indoors and lighting the fire not for any ritualistic purpose but to keep warm. Oh well- there were consolations. On the longest night, I watched another episode of Giovane Montalbana which is my current favourite viewing at least until season 3 of Sucession comes along. It is a bit like Midsummer Murders but in a more exotic location. I had grown a bit weary of the main programme with a surly detective. This prequel showing on BBC 4 is an improvement on the original with a more appealing inspector and it is lovely  viewing at a time when a trip to an Italian seaside is off the agenda.

Muinteoir Ray with Muinteoirí John and Cliodhna
RTE Home School Hub. TV
There was a time when there seemed to be a lot of educational stuff on telly. Insomniacs could brush up on assorted Open University programmes. I remember watching programmes about obscure hsitorical figures, poets and mathematicians late in the night. Draw with Don with Don Conroy was a staple of childrens' TV on RTE but that strand of educational programming disappeared to obscure realms of the internet. What a pity. . I was excited about RTE's in initiative to fill the void left by school closures with a daytime educational programme. It was remarkable how quickly Macalla Teoranta, a media production company manage to get their homeschool programme on air, a mere two weeks I think after the shutdown.  I tuned in initially to gather some tips on good practice and quickly became hooked.  Over 60 or so hour long programmes, the team delivered consistently good programmes covering a wide range of topics. I liked everything about it. I loved that was so many elments but the teachers relied less on high tech teaching resources and more on their excellent communication skills. Special guests added interest along the way but the core team were the stars. So many highlights but off then top of my head, these stick in my mind, astronomer Niamh producing her school science notebooks, M Ray's lesson on how to write a review (I could have done with that when I was starting my jounalistic activity), Muinteoir John's (Sharpson) singing In San Fhásach and M Cliodhna's lesson on silhouette animator, Lotte Reiniger   Hearing an cheerful looking Ray Cuddihy spring onto the set with a cheerful greeting as gaeilge every morning was reassuring. Muinteoir John was occasionally joined by Dolores (his guitar) for some brilliant music lessons and Muintoeir Cliodhna closed out with some very messy art work that I was glad I wouldn't be required to reproduce. It was  a pitch perfect production for the time in which it was broadcast and probably won't have a long shelf life which makes it all the more special . Comhgairdeachas!  Maith sibh go léir to all involved It was fantastic I confess I wept on the last day, my tears wiped away by my grown up child who had taken a coffee break to watch with  mother. Truly it is a strange time!

I had some lovely engagements during lockdown. I was chuffed to be invited by neighbours to play outside my gate. on a a couple of balmy Summer evening . (Image above)

It was an honour to be invited by St Joseph's Retirement Home in Ferrybank to be the first guest entertainer on their new home channel. I played in the  studio set up in the hall and the performance was broadcast to all the residents rooms.

Thank you Tracy at Waterford Libraries for commissioning me to record some musical snippets around Tramore  here is one of them. Four clips appeared on the Waterford Libraries facebook page as part of their Bealtaine initiative. The Japanese gardens looked stunning on the morning I visited