Lights and wonderful music at Claregalway Castle

There was an air of abandonment and fun in Claregalway last Saturday evening as the International Summer Music School and Festival came to a glorious end.

To hear ‘The Fields of Athenry’ played by a full orchestra, and sung at full pitch by the audience and participants, lifted the spirits. It had all the energy of the famous Last Night at the Proms, only it was not in the Royal Albert Hall, London, but within the grandeur of Claregalway Castle.

Although in its 20th year, this is only its second year in Galway. The Summer School/Festival is the brainchild of Canadian life long musician and teacher Bob Creech. A famous horn player since he was a child, and associated with all the leading orchestras in Canada, and later Liverpool, Bob has a passionate belief that the best method to teach music is to set aside an intensive period where professionals and amateurs, even learners of all ages, mix and play together.

It is clearly a hugely rewarding experience for all concerned. The International Music School/Festival has attracted musicians from some of the top orchestras in the world, including Berlin, Oslo, Chicago and Montreal, and this year students from Madrid and the Netherlands as well as Ireland. The event is shared by Limerick, Ennis, and now Galway, and an ambitious 10-day programme is achieved.

There are few prisoners taken when it comes to the popular selection of music played, and performed. Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, Sibelius’ Finlandia, Hayden’s Toy Symphony, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and Vaughn Williams The Lark Ascending are just some of the choices in a very busy few days, which was clearly enjoyed by everyone, and everyone fully participated.

On Saturday evening, Keith Pascoe, renowned violinist with the RTÉ Vanbrugh String Quartet, thrilled the audience with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; the full orchestra took us through the overture to the Marriage of Figaro, and a spectacular presentation of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, including a choral rendition of some of Shakespeare’s text.

You can keep your CDs. There is nothing to beat the sound of a full orchestra at full steam!

Claregalway Castle was the perfect venue for this event. Its owner Eamonn O’Donoghue is very conscious of the role the castle can play in the promotion of music, and the arts in general. The 12th century castle, superbly restored, with great knowledge and sensitivity, stands proudly on the medieval road to Galway, beside a Franciscan abbey built at the same time.

It was a powerful Norman statement, overlooking to the east, the ancient Clare Barony, which once contained no fewer than 33 other castles. All of which have been surveyed and photographed by Dr O’Donoghue.

This land, much of it including pre historic ring-forts and monuments, celebrated music for centuries, and the life of its chieftains and the old order. It is good to see the lights blaze there again.

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