Intimate Voices

Music For Galway’s midwinter festival takes place next weekend

NEXT WEEKEND sees the latest instalment of Music For Galway’s annual midwinter festival. This year’s offering is entitled Intimate Voices and offers a varied musical programme, ranging from the 17th to the 21st century, as well as a unique combination of artistry involving voice, dance, literature, drama, and visual art, as well as two internationally renowned quartets.

The music

The festival takes place in the Town Hall Theatre from Friday January 20 to Sunday 22 and features two of today’s most outstanding contemporary quartets - Galway’s own ConTempo Quartet and Amsterdam’s world-renowned saxophone ensemble, the Amstel Quartet.

Audiences will have a chance to hear fascinating interpretations of familiar works in unfamiliar settings, such as Barber’s Adagio for Strings performed on saxophones (Saturday 21, 8pm ); arrangements of Bach fugues by Mozart (Sunday 22, 3pm ); a version of Wagner’s operatic Ring Cycle for saxophones in 21 minutes (Sunday 22, 3pm ); and more surprises.

Popular works such as Barber’s Adagio, Philip Glass’s string quartet ‘Company’ (Sunday 22, 3pm ), and Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres’ (Sunday 22, 3pm ), will also be performed, while two incredible works for string quartet have inspired the title of the festival - Sibelius’s 1910 composition ‘Intimate Voices’ (Friday 20, 8pm ) and Leos Janácek’s final composition ‘Intimate Letters’ (Saturday 21, 8pm ).

Janácek wrote more than 700 letters to his inspiration and muse, a women nearly 40 years younger than himself, describing his passion. Galway-based actor Rod Goodall will read extracts from the letters prior to the performance of Janácek’s 1928 quartet.

Mozart’s beautiful Adagio and Fugue, written at the instigation of his wife Constanza, will be heard in two versions; audiences will be able to compare performances by strings and by saxophones. It is fitting that the saxophone quartet has been called ‘the string quartet of the 21st century’.

A visual arts angle

A number of guests will join the festival, contributing to its multi-disciplinary character this year. Among these is video artist Mihai Cucu, from Bucharest, who is creating three specially commissioned video pieces to accompany the music each night.

Cucu has a degree in art restoration and conservation from the University of Fine Arts “George Enescu”, Iasi, Romania, and he has worked on the restoration of frescoes and iconostases in several monasteries in Romania.

In 2006 he was artist in residence on the Aran Islands, sponsored by Inisheer’s Arts and Heritage Centre, and then at Hilltown Studio Theatre sponsored by Westmeath County Council. He currently divides his time between Ireland and Romania, teaching, working on commissions, doing photography, and creating visuals for different music composers and artists.

Ahead of Intimate Voices, Mihai talked about his involvement with the festival, beginning with an account of how he first got into film.

“Film and photography are two great passions of mine,” he declares. “I started cinematography classes while I was a student at the University of Fine Arts in Romania. I had to abandon them due to financial reasons and only after nearly 10 years it came back to me, when the chance presented itself in the form of a residency at Hilltown Theatre, Co Westmeath, where I’ve done a short film among a few other projects.

“Since then, camera became my best friend so I started dedicating all my spare time learning editing and special effects. In May 2010 I joined the Romanian syncretic group called SeduCânt as video artist and after that, different other projects with other composers occurred. I’ve worked in Ireland with classical guitarist John Feeley in producing a series of videos of his own arrangements of JS Bach.”

Does Cucu have any particular guiding principles that inform his approach to devising film to accompany music?

“I think the most important principle I follow is the one that allows me to visualise the music - my imagination,” he replies. “But before starting anything, I love to know the story behind the piece which helps to capture its mood much better.”

How did he come to be involved with Intimate Voices? “I’ve known Jane O’Leary for a few years,” he explains. “She had the idea to introduce some pieces with visuals in the festival and she pointed out a few ones that would work well with video. In the end we’ve agreed on three pieces.”

Cucu goes on to discuss the three pieces for which he has devised film accompaniments and how he has approached each one.

“The first piece is ‘Lamentatio’ by Erkki-Sven Tüür [Friday 20, 8pm] which will be performed by Amstel Quartet,” he says. “It is a very powerful piece, filled in with a lot of emotional content: The loss of the ferry Estonia in 1994, when nearly 900 people lost their lives. The visuals try to capture the intense atmosphere through the flowing watery elements brought in an abstracted manner.

“The second piece is Samuel Barber’s Adagio performed again by Amstel Quartet. The video is fluid and dynamic, it brings tension as well as tranquillity, meandering between crescendos and decrescendos. Different fluid shapes give birth to other abstract shapes, everything is moving towards the final climax, like a small stream that grows into a big river as Kimberly Keir stated about Barber’s Adagio.

“The last piece is ‘Company’ by Philip Glass performed by Contempo Quartet. The images are building themselves out of nothing and disappearing again, there is a great sense of loneliness and solitude, a world where nostalgia and melancholia reign. Everything is cold and serene and seems to emerge out of repetitive dynamics.”

And featuring...

Besides Mihai Cucu, other festival guests include Judith Sibley, choreographer and director of Chrysalis Dance and Youth Ballet West, who will be creating dance movement for five Bach fugues. The Galway Music Residency Apprentice Ensemble; the Chatham Saxophone Quartet, who will join with the Amstel Quartet to perform ‘Psalm 23’, a work for eight saxophones by the famous Dutch 17th century composer Jan Sweelinck who lived at the same time as Rembrandt (Saturday 20, 8pm ). Baritone Gavan Ring, winner of the first Bernadette Greevy Bursary at the National Concert Hall, will join ConTempo for a performance of Samuel Barber’s romantic ‘Dover Beach’ (Saturday 20, 8pm ).

There will also be an opportunity on Saturday 20 at 2pm to ‘meet the musicians’ in the company of the Chatham Saxophone Quartet.

Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore will be based in the Town Hall for the weekend, offering a selection of books with a musical theme, and a workshop involving young musicians from Galway will take place in the Town Hall Studio on Saturday afternoon.

The festival is again sponsored by DERI and Music for Galway acknowledges the support of the Arts Council. For visitors from outside Galway, there are hotel/concert packages on offer with Park House Hotel and The Ardilaun.

Tickets for individual shows during Intimate Voices are €20/16/6 while a festival tickets €55/45.

Booking is through the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie, while festival vouchers re available from Music for Galway through 091 - 705962.

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