THE GALWAY Music Residency is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary season and is marking the occasion with a special birthday festival of concerts, talks, and workshops from Tuesday February 26 to Thursday 28.
Featured artists include Galway’s ensemble-in-residence, the ConTempo Quartet, internationally feted Irish pianist Isabelle O’Connell, accordionist Dermot Dunne, Argentinean guitarist/composer Ariel Hernandez, and the RTÉ VanBrugh Quartet, all of whom will perform in evening concerts.
Other highlights include the world premiere of a new work, ‘Hearing Leaves’, by Karen Power, Galway Music Residency’s composer-in-residence; an exhibition of archival material at NUI Galway; a piano masterclass from Isabelle O’Connell; and assorted works by Mozart, Shoskatovich, Mendelssohn, and Jane O’Leary.
The festival programme
It was in June 2000, during a trip to the West Cork Chamber Festival, that Music For Galway’s Sally Coyle was first inspired with the idea of establishing a music residency in Galway. In due course, she and her fellow Music For Galway board members devised a residency model which would see an ensemble living and working in the city.
Seed funding was provided by NUIG and the Arts Council and the project came to fruition with the recruitment of the ConTempo String Quartet from Romania as the residential ensemble. The Residency was officially launched in March 2002, and since ConTempo have performed nearly 1,000 concerts and workshops nationwide and played with some of the world’s best known musicians.
Fittingly, ConTempo are very much to the fore during the upcoming programme of events. On Wednesday February 27 at 8pm in NUIG’s Aula Maxima they join Isabelle O’Connell to perform piano quintets by Mozart, Shoskatovich, and Jane O’Leary, as well as the specially-composed new work by Karen Power.
The following evening (same time and venue ) brings a Latin flavour to proceedings as ConTempo joins Dermot Dunne and Ariel Hernandez for a programme of tango, sambas, and more, including original compositions by Hernandez.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, ConTempo are back in action for a lunchtime concert on Friday 28 at the City Library where they are joined by poet Kevin O’Shea for a blend of words and music.
They will then bring the curtain down on the festival on Friday evening, at the Aula Maxima, when they join forces with the VanBrugh Quartet for an evening of octets, sextets, and quartets, including the wonderful Mendelssohn Octet.
If the festival can be seen as a celebration of the repertoire and achievements of ConTempo, it also welcomes outstanding guest performers to the city over the three days, such as Dublin-born, New York, based pianist, Isabelle O’Connell.
An accomplished soloist and chamber musician, Isabelle has performed across four continents, garnering rave reviews for the quality of her playing. She is particularly noted for her dynamic interpretation and advocacy of contemporary composers and her 2010 recording debut, Reservoir, featured solo piano works by nine contemporary Irish composers.
“I first became interested in contemporary music as a teenager and a student,” Isabelle tells me, speaking by phone from New York. “I went through the traditional route of studying at conservatory and the Royal Irish Academy of Music and at the School of Music here in New York. It wasn’t really until I finished those studies and I found my own way that I started playing more and more contemporary music.
“Up until that point I was doing a mixture, I was probably doing more older music at that point. From my mid-twenties onward, contemporary music took over what I was doing. I became involved in the new music scene here in New York. I met a lot of composers and other contemporary performers through the Bang On A Can community. They run a marathon concert here every year in NY and they also have a summer festival. I met a lot of like-minded people through them.”
Isabelle performed the world premiere of Jane O’Leary’s ‘Breathing Spaces’ in New York in 2011, and having devoted her debut album to celebrating the works of contemporary Irish composers she is enthusiastic about the calibre of music which they are producing.
“I think there is a really rich output of composition coming out of Ireland, especially for what is quite a small country. The quality and diversity of the music being written these days is wonderful,” she says.
For the Galway Music Residency festival, Isabelle will perform a mixture of classical and contemporary works.
“I’m doing the Mozart and Shoskatovich quintets and I am also playing in Jane O’Leary’s piano quintet with the Con Tempo which we played in Carnegie Hall in 2008,” she tells me. “The Mozart I’ve previously performed with the NSO in concerto form - it was originally written as a concerto – but there is also an arrangement for piano and string quartet so we’ll be doing that version this time.”
Isabelle’s plans for 2013 entail a concert of contemporary Australian music and further appearances as part of the Grand Band ensemble of six pianists who have been described as “the Travelling Wilbury’s of New York’s new-music piano scene”.
Isabelle chuckles over the description as she relates that “we got together last year to do Steve Reich’s and it was such a success that we have been doing more concerts as a result. We did one here a few weeks ago and we’re doing another in Detroit later this year so that’s exciting.”
While the US looks to be making major demands on Isabelle’s time in the year ahead, Galway audiences should make the most of the opportunity of seeing her perform here for the Galway Music Residency Festival.
In Galway, Isabelle will also provide a piano workshop on Tuesday February 26 at 6pm in the Aula Maxima. Applications are invited from interested musicians from Grade 5 up to pre-professional. Thanks to sponsorship, this event comes free of charge. Applications to take part in the workshop must be received by Monday February 18. For more information contact 091 - 586706 or [email protected].
Full details of the programme can be found on www.thegalwaymusicresidency.ie