As part of the Music Network tour, the Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny has a special night of traditional Irish and Basque music. A wonderful blend of Basque instruments, like an Alboka, a Txistu and the loud Gaita, played by Basque teacher and musician who experiments in instrument design. Niamh Ni Charra, the Kerry fiddle and concertina player, has a great interpretive style that added to Ibon Koteron’s Euskadi tradition. The guitarist/accompanist, Gavin Ralston, added another ingredient to the mix of tone, loudness and rhythm.
Basque music is usually loud and passionate, much more dance and march-like than the sometimes sadder Irish tunes and measured dances, but Koteron and Ni Charra blended in an amazingly rich way.
Initially, I felt a 300 seat theatre might not have been intimate enough, but in the darkness, it was special as musicians played in soft pools of light. The strange horn sound of the Alboka gave a lullaby a strong sound and it was strange to start with a lullaby anyway but it helped to underline how the instruments pitch conditions to the listener. An Irish jig sounded like a Basque march and Basque waltzes were passionate like I Like To Be In America from Bernstein. Polkas took on different tones as emotional responses and it was the need to dance that emerged time and again.
The Txistu is a three hole whistle played with one hand and sounding like a piccillo. This blended with concertina to give a strange blas or flavour to O’Carolan’s Lord Inchiquin.
Koteron woke up the neighbourhood to start the second half with the Gaita, an oboe style horn or trumpet, like the Breton bombarde. He also sang traditional Basque songs and I particularly liked one about – If you were a tree, I would build a nest in your branches.
The energy of barn dances surprised and Mary Ellen’s Waltz became a wild Basque fandango. But it was the wild Kerry slides that swept me away with extracts from O’Neill’s Chicago melodies, especially the noted McFadden’s Reel.
The only downside of my trip to Kilkenny was the toilets in Kytler’s where you had to ask behind the bar for a code to go to the toilet. Failte Ireland begorrah!