THIS YEAR'S Galway Early Music Festival, which runs from Friday May 25 to Sunday 27, is filled with gods and faeries, heroes, and heroines, and a feast of magical Mediaeval, Renaissance and Baroque music. With Myths and Legends as the theme, it explores the musical inspiration of classical mythology, Celtic myth, and medieval legend.
The festival includes concerts, workshops, talks, demonstrations, music on the streets and family events, filling the city and its streets with music and colour throughout the weekend Featured artists include Galway’s Aisling Kenny (soprano ) with Israeli lutenist Ziv Braha; Baroque Ensemble Camerata Kilkenny with uilleann piper David Power, Simone Sorini (Italy; voice and lute ), Alla Francesca (France ) with Brigitte Lesne (voice; harp ), The Gregory Walkers (Ireland ) with The Galway Adult Strings, St Nicholas Choristers, Athenry School of Music and the Red Earls Consort.
Speaking to me ahead of the Festival, artistic director Maura Ó Cróinín, reflected on its development over the years. “It started in 1996 so this year is our 23rd festival,” she notes. “We started out as a music festival, but we also had a lot of medieval heritage and costume events. We developed more in the direction of the music. The programme became much more international and in the years since we started the development of early music performance in Ireland has done amazing things. We like to think we are part of that as we encourage and promote Irish performers. As well as the concerts we have workshops, talks, family events and exhibitions, many of which are free. This is an exciting treasure trove of vocal and instrumental music from Ireland and the rest of Europe, which has something for everyone to enjoy.”
Maura reveals how this year’s theme of Myths and Legends came about. "It started off with a request from Simone Sorini and Claudia Viviani to come with their programme Beasts and Gods which features mythology in 14th century Italian song. Simone was here last year with another group and was fantastic. We realised that mythology and legend is so rich in medieval music we decided to go with that for the overall theme. We’d already arranged with Music For Galway and Camerata Kilkenny to present ‘The Piper and the Faerie Queen’ which includes music inspired by fantastic literature and that fit in perfectly. The rest of the programme followed from there.”
The Piper and the Faerie Queen is in NUIG’s O’Donoghe Centre on Friday 25 at 8pm, and will be performed by Camerata Kilkenny - Maya Homburger and Claire Duff (violin ), Marja Gaynor (viola ), Sarah McMahon (cello ), Malcolm Proud (harpsichord ), Barry Guy (bass ) - joined by David Power, for a programme of 17th and 18th century composers such as Telemann, Purcell, Marini, Biber, Handel, as well as Irish traditional music. Early booking is advisable via www.musicforgalway.ie
‘Beasts and Gods’ is in Nun’s Island Theatre on Saturday 26 at 4pm. Maura is also greatly looking forward to seeing Alla Francesca at St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church on Saturday 26 at 8pm.
“Alla Francesca are famous worldwide for their interpretations of medieval music,” she tells me. “They have revived an old programme of theirs called ‘Tristan and Yseut’ which is quite beautiful. It’s like the French version of the story of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinnevere. The story has an Irish connection in that Yseut is brought from Ireland to marry King Mark of Cornwall and then she falls in love with Tristan which leads to tragic consequences. Alla Francesca have not performed this in years so we were thrilled when they said they would love to revive it for Galway. Their programme is not a narrative of the story; the music comprises a number of sung poems, or ‘lais’, each of which relates the perspective of a particular character who is commenting on the other characters. It offers interesting viewpoints of how the various protagonists see what happens in the story.”
There are also events that the whole family can enjoy such as Walk In The Dark Woods with the Gregory Walkers and others (Meyrick Hotel, Sunday, 5pm ), a musical storytelling adventure featuring princesses, sorcerers, fairies and trolls, and ‘Smoke Wing, Paw Sing’ where The Spontaneous Theatre People (Saturday, 1pm, Kings Head Ruby Room ) which also fuses storytelling and music to delight young and old alike.
Exhibitions, workshops and illuminating talks further enhance the festival’s menu. “The Instrument Makers Exhibition is in the City Museum from 11 am to 3pm on Saturday,” Maura reveals. “The makers will be there to talk about their instruments. We have harps, stringed instruments like early guitars, lutes and symphoniums. Vlad Smishkewych from Lyric FM’s Vox Nostra is there; he is also an early music specialist and a tenor who sings with some of the best groups in the world and he makes hurdy gurdies and ‘potative’ - small organs that can be carried around. He’ll be showing some of his instruments and they are absolutely lovely.”
Details of all the above and the many other delights on offer over the weekend can be found by checking the website www.galwayearlymusic for the full programme and tickets, and have a look out for programmes around Galway.