The 9th Waterford New Music Festival in celebrating the work of French composer Olivier Messiaen, an important 20th century figure, took on a difficult task and presented a mix of workshops, lunchtime, teatime and evening concerts to attract more of an audience. The work was presented at Christ Church, Garter Lane and W.I.T. and had some fine innovative touches. The Jazz work of Philip Collins came to the fore, with fine original work, the Barrack Street Concert Band were a revelation and the collaborative project with eight post-graduate WIT composers was excellent and a boost for the Acting Head of Dept. of Creative and performing Arts, Dr. Rachel Finnegan who introduced such schemes.
Advertising was patchy and the weather didn’t help but the post graduate concert was an amazing evening where quality musicians show-cased new composers work in a top-class fashion.
Liam Rellis’ lighting of the WIT Chapel gave the venue a cosy feel that helped the enjoyment of the work.
For the first event of Waterford new Music Week the venue was Christ Church Cathedral with the Assistant Organist of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, David Leigh, playing a wide selection of Messiaen’s works. For a Coffee Concert at midday and despite available tea and coffee, the Cathedral was cold and seemed empty. David Leigh is a very accomplished organist but the mix of serial, atonal and birdsong explorations was too rarified and specialist to warm my heart or feet. Music from times of war and human despair influenced by theory and nihilism out of the shadow of the concentration camp was dislocating and cold cold comfort and the Cathedral got colder and colder. Even the dramatic keyboard and footwork of Leigh in an excerpt from the huge Livre du Saint Sancement could not warm me. The lack of rhythm or tune just froze me out and the impressive surges at the end did not revive me. It was just cold puddles of loneliness and old piping sounds a bit creepy at best and at worst alienating.
Barrack Street Band
A Sunday night concert at the same venue was a treat with the Barrack Street Concert Band, under the inspired direction of Mark Fitzgerald. While it was annoying to find the performed programme deviated from the advertised brochure of new Irish work, I really enjoyed the introduction of several new American pieces especially Stephen Bulla’s Rhapsody For Flute, played with confidence by Aine McCarthy-Kent. The saxophone work of Michael Rowe was impressive on Boris Goes To Dublin. Orla Quinlan played clarinet and Mark Carleton played trombone and a Scarborough Fair Variations was a lovely treat. This was a quality band who added much to the enjoyment and entertainment of the week. Irish treats were A. J. Potter’s Finnegan’s Wake – lots of fun at Finnegan’s Wake or heave ho and up she rises and A Wexford Rhapsody by T. C. Kelly, was excellent but I missed the advertised but excluded Eibhlis Farrell, Soundshock.
The various talents of Jazz lecturer Phil Collins added a new dimension to the week with a fine new composition for two pianos African Suite. This Milford Haven-born musician showed his skill with a jazz trio at Garter Lane and his African Suite – for two pianos was a standout at a teatime concet. The excellent Una Connery shared performance roles with Collins and she brought confidence and brio to the playing. At twenty minutes it was probably a little too self-indulgent and it lacked any noticeable African themes or motifs.
A No Messin’ pastiche as part of the post graduate exploration of Messiaen’s Quartet For The End of Time, had lovely Japanese touches and showed another facet of Colllins’ work.
It was heartening to see young performers given a frontline position and tadhg Brennan, Anne O’Riordan, Eamonn Beardsley, Treasa Murphy, Emma Dunne and Sarah Keating shone in the spotlight.
Eric Sweeney updated the arrangement of his Duo to a Trio for a wonderful lunchtime concert by the Fidelio Trio who also featured work by Michael Nyman, Led Zeppelin and Kevin Volan’s.
The post-graduate concert where eight composers explored themes from Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time, was an amazing collaboration between composers and top class musicians. The promenade setting down the side sections of the WIT Chapel, with the audience in the centre aisle, was atmospheric and effective. Ronan Guilfoyle showed his jazzy skills in a riveting O. M. with Izum Kimura (piano) and Patrick Fitzgerald (violin) in glorious form.
Soprano Stephanie Foley was in splendid voice in Aidan Duggan’s Bird Movement to Kenneally poems and Greg Scanlon’s And On The Seventh, was full of technical tricks and a sonority and solemnity of clarinet (Stephen Mackey) and viola (Maeve McEvoy).
Ben Hanlon for his When, based on a Mark Granier poem, brought a large De La Salle Boys Choir and a small orchestra under the baton of Niall Crowley. To a steady drum-beat, the large choir, all dressed in black, filed into the chapel and the music grew in dramatic momentum with tuba and trombones before the choir sang and whispered in powerful fashion. This was an inspirational and powerful piece with additional organ work also.
The quality work of young performers at this Festival is in part testament to the excellent work still being done by the WIT Music School. Since its threatened closure some years ago it has blossomed and it is disquieting to still hear rumblings that it could face the axe this year. Now that would be cultural vandalism.