“THE CELLO can be bass, soprano or alto. Its endpin strikes the ground and it seems as if its power and deep sound are coming up from the earth. When played it lies between the musicians legs and they have to embrace it. It’s a very physical thing, it almost becomes part of their body.”
This is how one of Ireland’s foremost classical musicians, Finghin Collins, describes what makes the cello such an special, extraordinary, instrument, one as likely to be found performing the works of The Beatles and Kurt Cobain as it is by Handel and Bach.
Finghin is not a cellist, he is a pianist, and like any of the aforementioned, has found the allure of the instrument irresistible. In his role as artistic director of Music for Galway, it has led him to create the Cellissimo festival.
Music for Galway and Galway 2020 present Cellissimo from Thursday March 25 to Wednesday March 31. It is the only cello festival in Ireland, and one of the very few such festivals in the world.
“It is unusual for a pianist to organise a cello festival, but I love the cello’s versatility and range of sound,” Finghin tells me during our Tuesday morning conversation. “In 2014-15 Music for Galway had a Cellissimo season, it was the first time I’d really programmed for MfG, and it had a great response. It was then I thought about creating a cello festival.”
Cellissimo will be a triennial festival, and was due to have debuted last year. The arrival of Covid-19 last March put paid to that. However, the delay provided MfG with invaluable time to learn, adapt, and switch to hosting online concerts, starting last October, and moving to the successfully streamed mid-winter festival in January.
“We’ve had to pivot from being a concert promoter to an online producer,” says Finghin. We’re working with Unbound Media in Galway, and we’ve had to learn, move, and adapt. The model is quite different. It’s not the same as being at a venue, and never will be, but we aim to make it as close to that as we can. Online concerts also have the advantage that we can reach people outside Galway, we can take MfG to a wider audience.”
A festival for the senses
That experience has given MfG a bedrock on which to construct what is set to be an innovative online festival, one which promotes music, supports local businesses, and seeks to encompass all five of the senses.
As well as online concerts from cellists Mischa Maisky [pictured above], Marc Coppey, Adrian Brendel, Tatjana Vassiljeva, and Galway’s own Naomi Berrill, Cellissimo has also teamed with Adare Beverages, Connemara Lager and Ale, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Thalli Foods, and the O'Máille drapery and wool shop, to offer tastings, craft classes, and talks, in addition to the concerts.
'The Galway Cello will live on after all of us. Concerts are not physical things, but a cello is, and this is something we can show'
The idea to make a festival for the senses came from MfG executive director, Anna Lardi. If people could not come to Galway, a little bit of Galway could come to the viewers, and encourage support for local businesses at the same time.
“I think this is quite innovative and will make the festival special,” says Finghin. “You can watch the concert, have a beer or some cheese, and feel connected and together with people who are doing the same at the same time. Any partnerships with local businesses are good. Everyone gains with collaboration.”
Kylemore Abbey in Connemara will host the opening concert on Thursday March 25, with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, directed by French cellist Marc Coppey. Also performing will be Dublin cellist Christopher Ellis. The programme will feature Vivaldi, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Barber, and Bartók.
“Marc Coppey is a fantastic cellist, but there is an incredible humility about his playing,” says Finghin. “His performances are always about serving the music, he always puts the composer first, and yet his performances are very passionate and communicative.”
The opening concert will feature two significant firsts - the world premiere of ‘Fragments’, a newly-commissioned work by Bill Whelan, performed by Galway cellist Naomi Berrill [pictured below] on the Galway Cello – the first time this instrument will be played in public.
“The piece is inspired by fragments of Irish poems, and for Namoi to be performing on the new Galway Cello is very exciting for us,” says Finghin.
The Galway Cello comes from an idea by musician Philip Fogarty in response to one of the Galway 2020 themes - landscape. The cello was made by luthier Kuros Torkzadeh from timbers grown in the Athenry area and it was cast from a mould of the 1710 Stradivarius cello which once belonged to the Gore-Booth family of Sligo.
“It will live on after all of us,” says Finghin. “Concerts are not physical things, but a cello is, and this is something we can show. It also has a Claddagh Ring as part of its design, which makes it even more Galway.”
'Mischa Maisky is a huge name in classical music, so it is great for us to have him'
The opening concert will also feature a pre-concert cheese-tasting with Kevin Sheridan from Sheridans Cheesemongers.
Tigh Neachtain's will be the venue for Naomi Berrill's solo livestream concert on Friday 26, with pre-concert tasting of Connemara Lager and Ale. That same day, Kuros Torkzadeh will give a talk on the making of the Galway Cello.
Bach’s Six Solo Cello Suites will be performed between March 26 and March 31, with introductions by musicologist Richard Wigmore. The concerts will take place at lunchtime with Jakob Koranyi [pictured above], Tatjana Vassiljeva, Adrian Brendel and Hannah Roberts, and Marc Coppey and Christopher Ellis, along with an early evening concert (Friday 26 ) with Lucy Railton.
Beethoven's five sonatas for cello and piano will be performed and broadcast from Claregalway Castle on Saturday 27, interspersed with short talks by Richard Wigmore. The performers are Christopher Ellis, Marc Coppey, Christopher Marwood, William Butt, and Adrian Mantu.
Portumna Castle will be the setting for the ConTempo Quartet and Christopher Marwood to perform Mozart's Quartet K.575 and the Schubert Quintet. There will also be a virtual tour of the castle.
The closing concert
Cellismo closes with a series of events on March 31. Ludmila Snigireva will give a talk on cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and there will be a screening of The Cellist, directed by Murray Grigor, about American cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Viewers can also opt to purchase the CELLISSIMO Scent Kit from Thalli Foods.
The closing concert features Israeli cellist Mischa Maisky and his daughter, pianist Lily Maisky, perform works by Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Britten, and conclude with Le Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla.
“Mischa is a huge name in classical music, so it is great for us to have him,” says Finghin. “He is another who is very humble and always serves the composer. He has six children. His eldest Lily will be joining us, a fantastic pianist. It will be a great way to close the festival.”
For tickets and booking see musicforgalway.ie/cellissimo-events