Archive for National Concert Hall

Wagner & Bruckner at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2020 by telescoper

I had to brave some very inclement weather on the way to last night’s performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mihhail Gerts (deputising for Natalie Stutzmann who had to withdraw “due to unforeseen circumstances”). The concert consisted of the Prelude to Act I and the Good Friday Music from the Opera Parsifal by Richard Wagner followed by Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner. To my surprise these pieces were performed without a wine break interval.

As was the case a couple of weeks ago for Bruckner 8, a big orchestra was required, including a quartet of Wagnertuben.

While not everyone likes Wagnerian Opera performed in entirety there must be very few people who don’t enjoy the overtures. A programme consisting entirely of Richard Wagner’s Preludes would make for a wonderful concert, and the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal, although very familiar, is so beautiful that it bears repeated listening. Whenever I hear it I can’t help thinking of the poignant last scene of the very last episode of Inspector Morse: `Goodbye Sir’, says Lewis and kisses the dead Morse on the forehead to the accompaniment of this music from Parsifal.

The Good Friday Music occurs at the start of the Third Act of Parsifal so is in a sense also a Prelude. Even out of the context of the Opera, it provides a wonderful opportunity for reflection and contemplation because it is so subtle and understated, somewhat uncharacteristically for Wagner.

These two pieces last about half an hour, and normally one would expect an interval after them, especially since the Symphony is over an hour in duration. I’m not sure what the reason was for playing the Bruckner straight after the Wagner, but it seems to have been a last minute decision. The printed programme contains the usual `INTERVAL_ 20 minutes’ so I had ordered a drink for the interval; nobody had told the bar staff there wouldn’t be one. I got my money back, though.

One positive aspect of the lack of a pause was that it made the connection between Bruckner’s composition and Wagner even more obvious. The radiant first movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, with its noble melody soaring over shimmering violin tremolos is very reminiscent of Wagner, as is much of the rest of the Symphony (including the orchestration). Bruckner famously idolized Wagner and this composition is at least partly a tribute to his musical hero. It is said that Bruckner had a premonition of Wagner’s death in 1883 and the cymbal crash during the second (slow) movement symbolizes the moment that he found out that his premonition had come true. That whole movement (marked Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam; very solemn and very slow) is very moving: sombre though not excessively mournful. The third movement Scherzo is marked Sehr Schnell (very fast) but I found the tempo last night rather restrained. I was expecting something a bit wilder. The last movement actually sounded to me more like Mahler than Wagner.

The Seventh is probably Bruckner’s best known and most performed Symphony. It was certainly a big hit for him when it was first performed in 1884. I enjoyed last night’s performance. Usually videos of these concerts are put on the Lyric FM Youtube channel shortly after the performance, but when I looked just now last night’s wasn’t there yet. I’ll put a link up as soon as it appears.

UPDATE: Here, as promised, is the recording:

 

The picture above was taken a while before the performance and, although quite a few more people came in before it started, there were still quite a few empty seats. The National Concert Hall posted a (small) financial loss last year. I do the best I can to support it by attending as frequently as I can, but I am always saddened a bit to see so many empty seats. Anyway, I shall be back there this evening for a special event which is part of the Beethoven 250 celebrations, so watch this space!

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by telescoper

Last night I once again found myself settling into a seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, this time under the direction of Mihhail Gerts. There was only one item on the menu – the Symphony No. 8 by Anton Bruckner – but what a feast it turned out to be!

Bruckner had a habit of making multiple revisions to his scores, and the Eighth Symphony is no exception to this. There are two major versions (usually referred to as the 1887 and 1890 versions) but also numerous edited variations of these two. For the record last night we heard the edition made by Robert Haas, based mainly on the 1890 version, but replacing some pieces which had been edited out of the 1887, perhaps most notably a quiet passage in the Third (Adagio) Movement.

This is a colossal work, lasting about 90 minutes in performance and requiring a huge orchestra so the stage was very crowded when the concert got under way.

As well as larger than usual string sections, the brass section comprises no less than eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba as well as a quartet of Wagnertuben which you don’t often see in a symphony orchestra. These instruments have a sound somewhere between that of the horns and the trombones and they add an immense solidity to the section that produces a wall of sound that has an extraordinary effect when heard live, especially during the fortissimo passages (of which there are several in this work).

Woodwinds include a bass clarinet and a contrabassoon alongside the more usual clarinets and flutes, and there are three harps and percussion. A special mention must be made of the timpanist (Grahame King) who was given a huge amount to do, and did it all exceptionally well.

The work is structured in four movements, each of which involves a shift from minor to major (the piece opens in C minor) but each covers a very varied musical landscape. The overall atmosphere of the work varies too. At times it is tranquil (or perhaps merely resigned) but it often evokes a sense of conflict and sometimes even terror. It does, however, end in a glorious crescendo that gives a sense of triumph. Along the way there is some truly memorable passages: a gorgeous dialogue between flutes and clarinets in the 2nd Movement (Scherzo) comes to mind, and the Adagio as a whole is just magnificent.

I have never heard this work performed live, and have to admit I got completely lost in the performance. Despite the length of the concert, I never looked at my watch once during the whole thing. Congratulations to Mihhail Gerts and the entire orchestra for taking us on such an epic journey. I enjoyed every second of it, and so I think did the rest of the audience, because the end was greeted with a standing ovation.

But you don’t need to rely on my opinion. You can’t beat live music, but the entire concert is here for you to enjoy as live on the Lyric FM stream. Enjoy!

The Dvořák Requiem at the National Concert Hall in Dublin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by telescoper

Following my decision to see more live music in 2020, last night found me taking my seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance of the Requiem in Bminor by Antonín Dvořák (Op. 89) featuring the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Philharmonia Choir conducted by Patrik Ringborg with solo vocalists Adrienn Miksch (soprano), Patricia Bardon (alto-, Julian Hubbard (tenor) and William Thomas (bass). The members of the choir were just taking their places as I sat down (as were other members of the audience).

I hadn’t heard Dvořák’s Requiem before last night’s concert. Indeed before I saw the advert for the concert I didn’t even know it existed. It just doesn’t seem to be performed vary often. Heaven knows why, because it’s actually rather wonderful. It does involve large orchestral forces, a full choir and a concert organ, but then so do many other works that are performed very frequently in concert halls around the world.

The Dvořák Requiem consists of thirteen sections divided into two Parts (with an interval between them) and is based on settings of the traditional Latin mass for the dead. The music lasts about 95 minutes altogether. The prevailing mood for Part 1 is at times mysterious, restless, questioning and reflective while Part 2 is much more affirmative, even at times joyous, with some uplifting (and wonderfully loud) tutti passages. Although ostensibly in a minor key, there’s much more of the feeling of a major key tonality during the later stages. Overall the piece ends up seeming more of a celebration of life rather than a lament for the dead. Throughout the piece there’s interesting interplay between choir, orchestra and soloists and it’s also very tuneful, as you would probably expect from Dvořák.

After a slightly hesitant start, both choir and orchestra soon got into the swing of things and produced a superb concert that ended up drawing a standing ovation from the audience in the National Concert Hall. Last night’s concert was, I’m glad to say, sold out.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it: the whole concert is on Youtube (it starts about 3 minutes in).

P.S. You will soon see that the presenter last night was not the usual Paul Herriott, but Aedín Gormley.

Between your love and mine

Posted in Music with tags , , on September 22, 2019 by telescoper

Yesterday, 21st September 2019, would have been Leonard Cohen‘s 85th birthday, which made last night’s performance of Between your love and mine at the National Concert Hall in Dublin an especially moving occasion.

The piece – a Requiem by Leonard Cohen, rather than a Requiem for Leonard Cohen – was created by John MacKenna who, in the summer of 2016 approached Leonard Cohen with the idea of creating a requiem in memory of young people who had died tragically, and for those grieving for them. It roughly follows the liturgical form of the Requiem mass but with text and music provided entirely by Cohen. Leonard Cohen – a Jew who had embraced Buddhism – often referred to Catholic themes and imagery in his songs and poems so the work is in no way a contrivance but has a compelling unity and honesty about it.

The first `hymn’ Come Healing sets the tone:

And let the heavens hear it,
the penitential hymn,
come healing of the spirit,
come healing of the limb.
Behold the gates of mercy
in arbitrary space
and none of us deserving
the cruelty or the grace.

Some of the songs were unfamiliar to me, but there are some of Leonard Cohen’s famous songs in Between love and mine, including Anthem and If it be your will. There are three principal vocalists: Katie Jacques, Shane Sullivan and Eric Butler. The latter in particular gave a superb performance demonstrating wonderful versatility in his voice, including a passable reference Cohen’s own deep tone (that someone once described as `like a boulder rolling down a granite tunnel’) but also deploying his own natural register to powerful effect, especially in Anthem where he summoned up his thundercloud in fiery tenor tones. Three backing singers, two readers (including John MacKenna) and a small band of strings, keyboard and drums make up the cast of this intriguing and emotionally powerful work.

Naturally, given the theme, it was a sombre performance but at the same time very uplifting. Leonard Cohen may not have been there in the flesh, but he was certainly present in spirit. In more ways than one it felt like he was the host.

And those who dance, begin to dance,
those who weep begin
and “Welcome, welcome” cries a voice
“Let all my guests come in.”

 

Culture Night (and Afternoon)

Posted in Art, Biographical, History, Maynooth, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2019 by telescoper

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of my little trip around cultural and historic Dublin yesterday after being stood down from duty at the Higher Options fair at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). I have to say it was wonderful to see so many people out and about in the City’s beautiful parks and public spaces enjoying the September sunshine as I walked around.

The RDS is in the Ballsbridge area in of Dublin, to the East of the City. My route into town from there took me along Northumberland Road, where I took this picture outside Number 25:

A little further along I went across Mount Street Bridge, passing this memorial.

If you want to know more about the significance of these memorials to the events of the Easter Rising in 1916, see my post here.

My main intention during my afternoon off was to visit the National Gallery of Ireland which is situated on one side of Merrion Square. I have to say that this was even better than I’d expected, and I’m sure to visit again many times in the future. The ground floor is dominated by the work of Irish artists from about 1660 to 1965, together with European Art from 1835 to 1965. You will find works by Monet and Picasso in this section, which has much to savour. Among the Irish artists represented in this show is Jack B. Yeats (brother of poet W.B. Yeats), an extremely interesting artist in his own right.

The highlights for me, however, were found on the 3rd floor which displays examples of European Art from the early Renaissance (c. 1300) to the Enlightenment. One of the interesting things about this collection is that it is arranged thematically rather than by artist (or nationality thereof). There is, for example, an entire room of paintings inspired and influenced by Caravaggio, all of them with an intensely dramatic use of light and shadow. The gallery is worth it just for that room, but there are also fascinating juxtapositions of religious paintings from the renaissance with icons and altarpieces from the Byzantine and Russian orthodox traditions from the same period.

Elsewhere in the collection there are notable works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Perugino as well as a number of British works by, for example, Gainsborough and Reynolds.

The work that really stopped me in my tracks, however, was this:

This is St Francis Receiving The Stigmata by El Greco. I knew about this painting but had no idea it was in Dublin. Seeing it close up is a revelation: the swirling brushstrokes give it an extraordinary texture that makes it hard to bring the image completely into focus. The hypnotic feel that results is a brilliant depiction of a man undergoing a kind of ecstatic vision. This work has an unbelievably powerful effect on the viewer (or at least on this one).

After a break for a sit down and a cup of coffee I visited the Natural History Museum (which is practically next door to the National Gallery). This is a surprisingly old-fashioned affair, with hundreds of stuffed animals and birds crammed into two large rooms:

It reminded me a lot of visits to the Hancock Museum in Newcastle when I was a kid. It’s interesting, but more than a little creepy and would make an excellent setting for a horror story!

After adjourning to a pub for a pint of Guinness the final stop of the day was the National Concert Hall for yesterday’s Culture Night concert. On the way there I saw a big queue of people trying to get into one of the many free events around Dublin. It turns out this Culture Night was the grand opening of the Museum of Literature Ireland, which is situated in Newman House on the South Side of St Stephen’s Green. There’s another one to put on my list of places to visit.

The Culture Night concert was by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The opening piece, Kinah, was a composition by the conductor himself and is a sort of memorial to his parents, both of whom were classical musicians, one a violinist and the other a cellist, and together they formed half of the famous Hollywood String Quartet. It was a new piece for me, and I found it very moving indeed. After that there was a bit of reorganization on stage to make way for the Steinway on which the brilliant Xiayin Wang played the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber, which consists of two fast and furious movements either side of a beautifully lyrical slower movement. This must be a ferociously difficult piece to play – especially the last movement which is at a breakneck pace in 5/8 time – requiring not only dexterity but physical strength. It was a wonderful performance by Xiayin Wang, who rounded off the first half with an encore in the form of a transcription of George Gershwin’s song The Man I Love.

After the wine break interval came the main course in the form of the Symphony No. 4 in E Minor by Johannes Brahms. This is of course a much more familiar work than the previous two, but I really like concerts that mix unfamiliar material with the standard concert repertoire. It also gave me the chance to persevere with Brahms as my friends keep telling me to. It’s not that I don’t like Brahms, it’s just that I don’t find that he moves me as much as many other composers and so many people rave about him that I think I must be missing something. The 4th Symphony is a very fine work, and was performed beautifully last night under the direction of Leonard Slatkin (conducting, incidentally, without a score), but I couldn’t stop myself thinking how much like Beethoven it sounds. That’s not meant to be derogatory, by the way.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. You can listen to (and watch) the whole concert here:

Anyway, after the applause had died down I headed out towards Pearse Station for the train back to Maynooth. I was a bit tired after a very full day and wanted to get the 10.08 train so I didn’t stop to watch any of the numerous musical and artistic events I passed on the way, including an intriguing installation involving images projected onto one of the buildings to the side of St Stephen’s Green. I made it to the station with 5 minutes to spare and discovered that, because it was Culture Night, the train home was free!

The Goethe-Institut Choir Christmas Concert

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on December 18, 2018 by telescoper


Last night I found myself yet again at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, this time for a Christmas Concert by the Goethe-Institut Choir and the Goethe Ensemble, directed by John Dexter, together with a fine set of principals Katy Kelly (soprano), Christina Whyte (alto), Dustin Drosdziok (tenor) and Eoghan Desmond (bass).

The main items on the menu were three Parts of the Christmas Oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach. Before the interval wine break we heard Parts I and IV, the former opening with the famous Jauchzet, frohlocket!, followed in the second half by Part III. The whole Oratorio is in six parts, which I think would make it too long for an evening concert, which explains why only three pieces were performed. I’m not sure why the particular ordering was chosen for the selected parts but it worked rather well. The various Parts are basically separate cantatas anyway, so performing them individually like this is perfectly sensible.

Before Part III of the Oratorio, which came in Part II of the Concert, after Part IV, which came in Part I,  the Choir performed some shorter pieces without the orchestra: a mediaeval carol called Angelus ad Virginem, a piece from the magnificent All-Night Vigil by Sergei Rachmaninov, БОГОРОДИЦЕ ДЈЕВО, and a much jauntier version of the same text (closely related to Ave Maria) by Arvo Pärt.  Then there was an audience singalong to Stille Nacht, with verses in English, Irish and German.

In case you’re interested, the opening verse of Silent Night in Irish reads

Oíche chiúin, oíche Mhic Dé,
Cách ‘na suan, dís araon,
Dís is dílse ag faire le spéis,
Naí beag gnaoi-gheal ceanán tais caomh
Críost ina chodladh go séimh,
Críost ina chodladh go séimh.

The choir was really excellent in these pieces, as it was throughout the concert.

The second piece in the concert  (Part IV) was marred by poor pitching of the two French horns, but there was compensation in the form of lovely playing by the interweaving violins behind the tenor aria, and an echo effect achieved by placing an oboe and vocalist (soprano Eilis Dexter) in the choir balcony (the main choir being on stage with the Orchestra).

The concert got off to an inauspicious (but rather amusing) start when the power supply failed for the chamber organ played by Niall Kinsella just as the concert was about to begin. I didn’t realise those instruments needed to be plugged in. Obviously batteries are not included. A stage hand had to dash on and fiddle about to find another socket behind the drapes surrounding the stage and then bring on an extension cable. Fortunately the delay wasn’t long.

Overall this was a very enjoyable concert, with Choir and Orchestra on good form. The principal vocalists were good too. I particularly liked Katy Kelly. It didn’t surprise me when I read in the programme that she has recently performed two great roles in Mozart operas: Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), La Contessa (Le Nozze di Figaro) and performed the Die Königin der Nacht coloratura arias from the Magic Flute on television. I think she has a great voice for Mozart, agile and graceful.

I should also mention that the Concert was pretty much sold out, which was good to see. No doubt the absence of a harpsichord contributed to its success.

Anyway, that concludes my concert-going for 2018. Hopefully there will be a few more to report on in 2019!

 

Messiah in Dublin

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Music with tags , , , , on December 14, 2018 by telescoper

On 10th December last year I posted a review of a performance of Handel’s Messiah in Cardiff. At the end of that item I wondered where I would be listening to Messiah in 2018. Well, the answer to that question turned out to be at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, the city where Messiah received its premiere way back in 1742.

Messiah was initially performed at Easter (on 13th April 1742) and it’s by no means clear (to me) why it ended up almost universally regarded as a Christmas piece. The work actually spans the entire biblical story of the Messiah, from Old Testament prophecy to the Nativity (Part 1), the Passion of Christ (Part II), culminating in the Hallelujah Chorus, and the Resurrection of the Dead (Part III). The Nativity only features (briefly) in Part I, which is why it’s a little curious that Messiah is so strongly associated with Christmas.

The printed programme for last night (cover shown above) included the first advertisement for the first performance of Messiah:

For the relief of the prisoners in the several Gaols and for the Support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen’s Street and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay, on Monday 12th April will be performed at the Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, Mr Handel’s new Grand Oratorio MESSIAH…

The venue was designed to hold 600 people (less than half the capacity of the National Concert Hall) but 700 people crammed in. Ladies had been asked not to wear hoops in their dresses and gentlemen were asked not to bring their swords to help squeeze in the extra hundred. The concert raised the huge sum of £400 and Messiah was an immediate hit in Ireland.

It wasn’t the same story when Messiah was first performed in England the following year. It failed again in England when performed in 1745 but after some rewriting Handel put it on again in 1749 and it proved an enormous success. It has remained popular ever since. But it is still exceptionally popular in Dublin. There are umpteen performances of Messiah at this time of year, and the one I attended last night was one of three in the same week at the same venue, all more-or-less sold out. The Dubliners I chatted to in the bar before the concert were extremely proud that their city is so strongly associated with this remarkable work.

I don’t mind admitting that Messiah is a piece that’s redolent with nostalgia for me. Some of the texts remind me a lot of Sunday School and singing in a church choir when I was little and then, a bit later, listening to the whole thing at Christmas time at the City Hall in Newcastle. I loved it then, and still do now, well over 40 years later. I know it’s possible to take nostalgia too far – nobody can afford to spend too much time living in the past – but I think it’s good to stay in contact with your memories and the things that shaped you when you were young.

Last night’s performance was by Our Lady’s Choral Society with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Soloists were Sarah Brady (soprano), Patricia Bardon (mezzo), Andrew Gavin (tenor) and Padraic Rowan (bass), the latter really coming into his own in the second half with a wonderfully woody sonority to his voice, especially in No. 40:

Why do the nations so furiously rage together, and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

Topical, or what?

Our Lady’s Choral Society is an amateur outfit and, while it might not sound as slick and polished as some professional choirs, there was an honesty about its performance last night that I found very engaging. It actually sounded like people singing, which professional choirs sometimes do not. The orchestra played very well too, and weren’t forced to use the dreaded `period instruments’. There was a harpsichord, but fortunately it was barely audible. Anyway, I enjoyed the concert very much and so did the packed house. I couldn’t stay for all the applause as I had dash off to get the last train back to Maynooth, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the music.

Incidentally, among the bass section of Our Lady’s Choral Society last night was my colleague Brian Dolan. On Monday next I’m going to another Concert at the National Concert Hall, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Among the choir for that performance is another of my colleagues, Jonivar Skullerud. Obviously, choral singing is the in-thing for theoretical physicists in this part of the world!