A YEAR OF CHANGE AND CHAL­LENGE

Key di­rec­tors stepped down, while per­form­ers stepped into the spot­light

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - YEAR IN REVIEW | MUSIC - MICHAEL DERVAN

It has been a year rich in turn­ing points. There was the launch of Ir­ish Na­tional Opera in Jan­uary. March brought the news that David Agler, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Wex­ford Fes­ti­val Opera, would step down after the 2019 fes­ti­val – and also the an­nounce­ment of the Na­tional Con­cert Hall and Sound­ing the Fem­i­nists’ joint project to fo­cus on work by fe­male com­posers.

The an­nounce­ment of the ¤78 mil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion of the Na­tional Con­cert Hall and the pub­li­ca­tion of the Boaden re­view on RTÉ’s orches­tras both came in April.

News that Eu­gene Downes would step down as di­rec­tor of Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val after the 2018 fes­ti­val emerged in May, and Olga Barry was an­nounced as his suc­ces­sor in July. The Royal Ir­ish Acad­emy of Mu­sic’s ¤20 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment project was awarded ¤9 mil­lion in pub­lic fund­ing in Oc­to­ber.

The out­go­ing chair of the Arts Coun­cil, Sheila Pratschke, spoke at the re­cent launch of Ir­ish Na­tional Opera’s up­com­ing six-month sea­son of “a re­nais­sance of opera in Ire­land in 2019 and in the years to come”.

The for­ma­tion of INO through the merger of Opera Theatre Com­pany and Wide Open Opera has in­te­grated the artis­tic plan­ning of full-scale and tour­ing opera in Ire­land for the first time, and cre­ated Ire­land’s busiest opera com­pany – 39 per­for­mances of eight pro­duc­tions in 2018, with 32 per­for­mances of five pro­duc­tions planned for the first half of 2019. It also cre­ated a com­pany which, un­der artis­tic di­rec­tor Fer­gus Sheil, has com­mit­ted it­self to us­ing every op­por­tu­nity to em­ploy Ir­ish tal­ent.

Wex­ford Fes­ti­val Opera did not have such a good year. The clos­ing date for ap­pli­ca­tions for the artis­tic di­rec­tor job was July 20th, and no ap­point­ment has yet been an­nounced. The 2019 dates (Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 22nd to Sun­day, Novem­ber 3rd) and reper­toire (We­ber’s Der Freis­chütz, Massenet’s Don Qui­chotte and a dou­ble bill of Rossini’s Ad­ina and the first per­for­mance of An­drew Syn­nott’s La Cucina, and a sin­gle con­cert per­for­mance of Stan­ford’s The Veiled Prophet) was not an­nounced un­til last Wed­nes­day. After the ex­pan­sion of re­cent years the 2019 fes­ti­val will con­tract to 13 days “in re­sponse to cus­tomer feed­back”.

Fi­nal round in­ter­views for the artis­tic di­rec­tor job fin­ished weeks ago, and the best bet about the de­lay in an­nounc­ing reper­toire and dates is that the fes­ti­val held back un­til after news of its 2019 Arts Coun­cil grant be­fore com­mit­ting to the scale and na­ture of next year’s of­fer­ing.

2018 was a chal­leng­ing year for Wex­ford at the box of­fice. The fes­ti­val , which used to sell out months in ad­vance, had €25,000of un­sold seats just hours be­fore the clos­ing per­for­mance of Wil­liam Bol­com’s Din­ner at Eight.

The best bet on the de­lay af­fect­ing the an­nounce­ment of reper­toire and dates is that the fes­ti­val is await­ing news of its 2019 Arts Coun­cil grant be­fore it fi­nally com­mits it­self to the scale and na­ture of next year’s of­fer­ings.

Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val chose what would ap­pear to be a safe op­tion in ap­point­ing Olga Barry to suc­ceed Eu­gene Downes. Barry has been fes­ti­val pro­ducer since Downes’s first fes­ti­val in 2014, and there­fore has in­ti­mate knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the new style of clas­si­cal mu­sic-heavy pro­gram­ming Downes in­tro­duced from his very first fes­ti­val.

Barry’s pre­vi­ous work in­cludes stints with Crash En­sem­ble and the RTÉ Con­cert Or­ches­tra, though she did not have artis­tic pro­gram­ming re­spon­si­bil­ity in ei­ther role. It’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing to see if she ad­heres to Downes’s much-praised fo­cus on great male masters and re­tains his in­ter­est in bring­ing opera to Kilkenny or chooses to strike out in new di­rec­tions.

Re­de­vel­op­ment

The re­de­vel­op­ment of the Royal Ir­ish Acad­emy of Mu­sic will be the last link in a de­vel­op­ment which will, in not much over a decade, de­liver new, up-to-date premises for the CIT Cork School of Mu­sic (which opened in 2007), and the DIT Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and Drama, which is due to move to DIT’s new Grange­gor­man cam­pus in 2020, a year be­fore the RIAM’s new build is sched­uled to open in 2021.

The RIAM project will re­quire tem­po­rary re­lo­ca­tion, and the ex­pan­sion of the Na­tional Con­cert Hall will bring not only dis­rup­tion but also clo­sure for a pro­tracted pe­riod.

No body of per­form­ers will be more af­fected than the RTÉ Na­tional Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, which is ac­tu­ally based in the hall. The NSO, of course, is due to be placed un­der the re­mit of the NCH, though de­tails of ex­actly what that will en­tail are still pretty skimpy.

Dáil ques­tions brought the rev­e­la­tion that “2020 would be the ear­li­est date for the com­ple­tion of the pro­posed trans­fer”. CEO Si­mon Tay­lor’s best guess for the clo­sure of the NCH is from May 2021 to Septem­ber 2023. So find­ing venues for NSO per­for­mances dur­ing the NCH’s clo­sure is go­ing to be an NCH headache rather than an is­sue for RTÉ.

High­lights of the RTÉ NSO’s 2018 con­certs in­cluded Alexan­der To­radze in rev­e­la­tory form in Shostakovich’s Pi­ano Con­certo No 2 un­der Daniele Rus­tioni, a pro­gramme of Mozart and Rameau with so­prano Anna Devin un­der Harry Bicket and Brit­ten’s War Re­quiem un­der David Bro­phy; Nathalie Stutz­mann had an­other high-achiev­ing year as the or­ches­tra’s prin­ci­pal guest con­duc­tor.

It was a good year, too, for French baroque com­posers, above and be­yond the NSO. Mez­zoso­prano Mag­dalena Kozená was in fine form in Rameau and Marc-An­toine Char­p­en­tier with Le Con­cert d’Astrée un­der Em­manuelle Haïm, and harp­si­chordist Mal­colm Proud cu­rated a fine NCH series cel­e­brat­ing François Couperin.

Fes­ti­val high­lights in­cluded the pow­er­ful Rus­sian mezzo-so­prano Lyud­mila Shkir­til with pi­anist Yuri Serov in Sviri­dov’s song-cy­cle

Peters­burg at the West Cork Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, Carolin Wid­mann’s to­tally re­fresh­ing ac­count of Beethoven’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo with the Ir­ish Cham­ber Or­ches­tra un­der Jörg Wid­mann at Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val, and Robin Tritschler in French songs with Diane Ketler and Schu­mann’s

Dichter­liebe with Michael McHale at the West­port Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val.

Cham­ber Choir Ire­land and the Ir­ish Cham­ber Or­ches­tra stole the show at New Mu­sic Dublin De­frosted in James MacMil­lan’s Sta­bat

Mater, with the com­poser con­duct­ing, and two months later the choir was con­ducted by Paul Hil­lier in David Fen­nessy’s riv­et­ting choral tril­ogy Let­ter to Michael, Ne rem­i­nis­caris and Hashima Re­frain.

The op­er­atic highlight of the year was Ir­ish Na­tional Opera’s Ir­ish stage premiere of Bartók’s

Blue­beard’s Cas­tle. Joshua Bloom and Paula Mur­rihy starred with the RTÉ Con­cert Or­ches­tra un­der An­dré de Rid­der in Enda Walsh’s mov­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing pro­duc­tion.

Above: Mezzo-so­prano Mag­dalena Kozená. Left: Com­poser James MacMil­lan.

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