Now in its 35th year, Kilkenny Arts Festival has lost none of its style, quirkiness or its magical power to wow and surprise. The first weekend shrugged off gloom and heavy rain and showed audiences and visitors the wonderful mix of arts and visual treats up most streets and around many corners. Exhibitions of art, craft and imagination are in every imaginable space – a feast for the eyes, the spirit and the senses.

The first event was a Literature one, curated by Colm Toibin and featuring Sebastian Barry who read dramatically from his new novel, The Secret Scripture. He showed why he is such a wonderful playwright and shared the Parade Tower with American author Francisco Goldman who seemed to disappoint an audience expecting a more political reading. Instead he read a passage of Irish interest from his 2004 novel The Divine Husband.

The first of the renowned classical programme at St. Canice’s Cathedral was a treat with world famous countertenor Andreas Scholl and Lute player Cranford Young. They provided music going back to the 15th century and Scholl, singing in English, caught the saucy humour and wry wisdom of Downland and Campion. Young delighted the audience with a tune about Kilkenny’s Countess Of Ormond, Elizabeth Sheffield. In the second half Scholl seemed to strain his voice but his work on familiar folksongs was a joy and if it was a different venue I feel the audience might have sung along. I loved the Wayfaring Stranger in a Texan version that reminded me of hearing it as a Gospel song some years ago. The Sally Gardens endeared Scholl to the audience and his version of She Moved Through The Fair was beautiful.

Continuing the classical theme on the Saturday night Camerata Kilkenny impressed with an all – J.S. Bach programme that gave me a renewed zest for his work. As soprano Claire Booth began with the opening lines of The Wedding Cantata – Gloomy Shadows, be gone the rain pattered and pounded on the Cathedral roof. The cello of Sarah McMahon and oboe of Hannah McLoughlin delighted. A haste-to-the-wedding violin passage from Nadja Zwiener and you could tap your feet to a fine gavotte and imagine the happy couple dancing into the sunset or nuptial bed.

David Staff on trumpet was a little insecure at the opening fanfare of the Second Brandenburg Concerto but he soon made-up for that in Jauchzet Gott. Malcolm Proud on harpsichord impressed in the difficult Violin Concerto where Zwiener’s word was very measured and if playing can be considered prim, rather than bland, this was it. The cello work on the Allegro was spirited.

Claire Booth impressed in the Alleluia section of Jauchzet Gott – a joyful solo cantata in praise of God.

Modern Dance

The stunning surprise and rapturous wow of Entanglement Witness, a light and sound dance video, that is much more than just video images, of a fine dancer Cindy Cummings and music and video genius Todd Winkler. This is a free event, running at The Maltings from 2 to 6pm each day, with a 30 minute loop of an interactive installation. I sat and watched the work projected on 3 room size screens set in a triangle and it has stunning visual effect and moods. You can also stand inside the triangle of screens and that was amazing. Bill Viola eat your heart out. This is modern, visual, interactive and stunning, a surprise up a side street.

Visual Art

The Butler Gallery, once again, catches the talking point, the possible controversy, the in-your-face piss-take or creative statement with the work of Japanese artist Atsushi Kaga, who lives and works in Ireland. With just four small rooms, this venue is always a treat and perhaps a threat to opinions about art and society. Some of the work is bright, quirky, hippy-ditzy – I want to give love to the socially neglected parts of you – at times it is childlike but not childish. The display of work on cardboard You Are Full of Shit Dude with its fart images might shock and at least mildly offend, especially the card showing the many different types of shit having a dump too. A caption encourages you to Eat Yourself. Don’t miss it.

Golden Wall

The Craft Gallery exhibition is a gem and many pleasured joy for the eye and spirit and a trio of Laura O’Hagan’s Golden Walls will wow you and then Adelle Hickey will bring you down to earth with a sobering In Memory about his father’s death from kidney failure.

In the old Dunne’s shop opposite Winstons, there is a trio of artists – Brock Butler, Laurence O’Toole and Brian O’Loughlin, to show you the quality of work Kilkenny features.

Tony Oakey

At the Club House Hotel, Tony Oakey again impresses with SOLAR T and his vital, vibrant sense of pulsating colour. His BLESS YOU MY SUN will do your heart good with its dramatic dynamic circle of yellow/orange light. His small LIQUID GOLD about a fisherman against an orange sky is a gem. Tony Oakey is also selling prints of photographs and they are impressive and are a hint as to the inner eye he uses in his paintings.

Dylan Vaughan

Do not miss the Dylan Vaughan photography on show at Grennan Mill, Thomastown. His study of New York skyscrapers is wonderful, like a building of colour contact prints and boxes of yellow light against a dark brooding sky. His images of texture, rust and decay are excellent.

There is just too much to see in Kilkenny and it is what an art festival at its best is.