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.

Related post

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Accidental Opera Singer : Kelley Lonergan Ciao Italia!

I caught up  with rising opera star  Kelley Lonergan in between shows at Wexford Opera Festival last October where she was busy as a member  of the Festival Chorus. You can read my roundup for the Irish Examiner here. She filled me in on me how she had come to the  world of opera singing via a circuitous route.
Although her family were musical theatre stalwarts in her home town, Clonmel, it was to study piano with Jan Cap that she first came to Cork School of Music. She went on to do Masters in piano accompaniment there.  An opportunity to do an Erasmus year in the Italian opera centre, Verona gave her a chance to develop her singing . As a guest at  the home of the Arena repetiteur, she saw every aspect of the opera production process and she hasn’t looked back since.  ‘It was always a dream at the back of my head to go for the singing but I didn't think then that it was a realistic option but  here I am and I am loving it’.

Lonergan was a member  of the show stealing Milliner’s Chorus in Il Capello di Paglia di Firneze and also in  Christina, Queen of Sweden.  Her chance to  shine in a solo role came as part of the line up in Una Hunt’s Irish Connections concerts that have been a big hit at Wexford 'Audiences have been very moved by the nostalgic  parlour songs from the early part of the century. We have seen people moved to tears as the songs bring back memories of byegone days. It is such a privilege to be part of that. It is about the music but it is also about engaging your audience'. Does she have a preference for the either the stage work or song recital. 'No not really When I'm singing I'm happy . I love the chorus work but I love also  reaching out and touching a listener with just your voice alone'.  Lonergan has had a very successful year on the competition front collecting bursaries from the RDS and Feis Ceoil. The bursaries have allowed her to concentrate on studying and to improve her technique

Kelley Lonergan is currently a member of the Young Associate Artists of Opera Theatre Co.  She is currently studying with Sinead Campbell Wallace and Aoife O Sullivan. She  will be singing at the RTE NSO Summer Lunchtime series on Tuesday 1st July when she will perform arias by Puccini, Leoncavello and Cilea. Watch the video clip for  little foretaste of what is in store on Tuesday.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Soaking up the Bachmosphare in Leipzig

Bachmosphare. Markt during BachFest Leipzig 
I am in a  spartan  Lutheran  pew at 9.30 in the morning in a swish Saxon suburb  with the whole works - a four part choir in concert dress with  soloists and orchestra. working our way through some solid choral fare as part of the festival  Matins service. Yes indeed,  the Leipzig Bach Festival  held annually in  honour of their famous resident, one Johann Sebastian Bach  is a earnest, solid sort of festival, not for the faint hearted. German audiences it seems are accustomed to long sits. Intervals if they happen at all tend to be brief and when it comes to a spot of congregational singing, they sing all the verses.
  Over the ten days or so more than a hundred concerts are scheduled in venues around the city. The festival overlaps with the Handel Festival in nearby Halle.  You can read my experience of a day at the Handel FestSpiele here
 This year's title is 'Die Wahre Art', the True Art and there is an emphasis on the work of  best known of the Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emmanuel in the 300th anniversary of his birth. The title is taken from one of his essays on how to play the keyboard. There are  lectures, seminars, excursions and a children's programme .  A less solemn face of the festival is offered by the Bachmosphare, a weekend of free live music and  screenings when the central market square is converted to an outdoor cabaret venue. When I arrive on Sunday, a jazz group are mixing  strains of Led Zeppelin Stairway to  Heaven with Bach's famous Air in G.  But the real jollity factor is injected via the proliferation of open air tv screens in  pavement cafe's where punters discuss performance aesthethics  of football and crumhorms  as this year's festival coincides with the FIFA World Cup. Excellent programme  notes gave English translations of all the texts and  overview comment.

Although tickets for the headline  events are pricey, day tickets were available at €10,  15 minutes before start time of the evening concerts in the church venues.

Chorwerke at St Thomas' Church   photo Gert Mothe  Bach-Archiv facebook

BachFest105  Friedensgebet   at Nicholaikirche. The weekly 5pm  Monday gathering at this church is  credited with playing a pivotal role in the peaceful political revolution against Communist rule in East Germany . Although it no longer draws the crowds it did in the 90's, the weekly vigil goes on.  This is the first year that this event has been incorporated into the Bach Fest. It included a contemporary work for saxophone organ and drums. It  opened with the choral work Allegri Miserere and a there was rather long  sermon.

 BachFest 36: Style Galante Violin Virtuoso Concertos Midori Seiler with Tafelmusik Baroque
The Canadian period instrument ensemble was the resident ensemble of the ensemble.  Best view was in the upper gallery and the programme presented a selection of solo concerto and the related concerto grosso in a lively performance  

Concertprobe Academy of Ancient Instruments:   Richard Eggar and Malcolm Bilson were the twin  harpsichords . The church was open for onlookers to the morning rehearsal.

Midori Seiler Tafelmusik Baroque   photo Gert Mothes via facebook 
Matins at Peterskirche 
BachFest 47: WW1 Compositions  Grassi Museum  After the muted timbres of the period instrument bands, the modern instruments sounded rich and sonorous.  This was the second musical evening devoted to music composed in WW1 that I have attended recently  I was struck by the divergence between the popular music of the time and the programme of avant garde work by Schoenberg and his contempories. You can read my report on Oh What a Lovely War a programme of popular music of from the Great War here

BachFest 49 Matins at Peterskirche inc BMVIn allen mein taten. Presented as part of a series of daily Matins services, the performers from Die Evangelische Hochschule for church music in Halle. 
Chamber Music at  Grassi Museum
Bachfest 54: Chorwerke at Thomaskirche: This in the very solemn space of the church most associated with Bach. The programme  included Bach Cantata  Weinen, Klagen Sorgen Zagen, and a  Donner (Thunder)  Ode , a work in memory of a catastrophe when in 1755, an earthquake off the coast of Portugal destroyed the city of Lisbon. Hamberg had strong trading links with Portugal and the City Council commissioned the work from the City Music Director, Telemann. It went down so well that he wrote a second part the following year. We heard both parts which had parts for not one but two basses which together with timpani rolls created the thunder rolls of the title. Even though this was a performance and not a constituent of a religious service, it had a devotional atmosphere with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Thomanerchor placed in the Gallery behind the audience. I was reminded of the TV pop singing concert where the judges sit with their backs to the performers and turn when they hear the 'xf actor'. The two thundering basses had many heads turning in the pews for the no 7  duet for two basses  Er donnert, dass er verherrlichet werde.  He thunders that he may be glorified 

Unfortunately my visit didn't coincide with any of the  events at the Gewandhaus Concert Hall so a visit to the home of the oldest European Symphony Orchestra remains on the  bucket list. IThere were some events at the Leipzig Opera House including a German language version of My Fair Lady. I left before a much talked about production of a Strauss Opera opened there. It hit the headlines when a critic referred to to Ms Piggy  in his unflattering critique on the soprano Jennifer Ann Wilson The soprano gave a wonderful response on the Arts Journal Slipped disc .I  quote  it here. Bravo Ms Wilson!
Dear Norman,
I am delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as the magnificently gifted showbiz icon, Miss Piggy! Please send Herr Scholz my most heartfelt thanks.
All best,
Jennifer “Miss Piggy” Wilson
PS – and don’t forget it, Kermie!
- See more at:

Getting There :  From Ireland your options by air are to fly to Stansted and take a Ryanair flight to Leipzig (Flightsare  on alternate days).

You can fly out of Shannon Monday and Friday  and most days from Dublin  to Berlin and get a train or bus to Leipzig. Bus time is 2 hours.  Train is more expensive at €29 Bus is as low as €8 booked online a day in advance
  Having done the journey several ways, I would avoid the spirit sapping Stansted.  You are required to go through the arduous queueing process for security a second time and it is choc a block during the Summer. I fllew back via Berlin Schonefield. . I took a bus from Leipzig to SudKreuz Station , Berlin . An  S 46 SBahn takes you to the to the airport, journey time half an hour. Ticket was €3 or s. Don't forget to validate your ticket before you get on the S Bahn .

Where to stay. It is  hard to pass the Motel One budget chain which is all over Germany .  The one in Leipzig has a great location  directly opposite Nicholaikirche but is frequently fully booked.  There is very handy Ibis on Goethe Street both walking distance from Hauptbahnhof. Both are under a €100. I have also stayed at the Schlafgut Pemsion which which was half the price but tends to book up quickly


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