Cork comes alive to the sound of festival music

FOR five days Cork has been alive to the sound of music as more than 4,000 choristers took to the stage, pew, platform and even the streets to bring the beauty of choral singing to the city.

This was the 54th Cork International Choral Festival and, according to director John Fitzpatrick, was one of the best.

“It was a really special festival with one of the highest standards of performances we have ever had,” he said yesterday, already in the throes of organising next year’s event.

“We also had very good audiences and there was a great buzz around the city,” he said.

It could hardly have been more varied, from galas in Cork City Hall, to performances in schools, libraries, shopping centres and even at the top of Shandon Steeple.

Fifteen international choirs made the trip to Cork this year, representing Canada, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the US.

It wasn’t all gala concerts and competition either. Dozens of free public performances took place, with international choirs giving informal performances across the city in venues such as Paul Street shopping centre, Mahon Point, the city library and the Cork Vision Centre.

Early risers enjoyed the sounds of Cathal O’Baoill and Stockholm’s Musikgymnasium in Shandon Sunrise, as they performed a dawn chorus from the bell tower of St Anne’s Shandon.

There was more music on offer at the Festival Food Fair outside the Clarion Hotel, where people nibbled on culinary treats while feasting on the choral delights to be heard all along the boardwalk of Lapps Quay.

“What was most successful was not just the range of concerts but also the quality and diversity of them,” said the festival director.

“For example, Touché, a Danish jazz ensemble, gave an absolute superb performance of vocal skills at the gala opening concert. Then, from Vancouver, came musica intima who gave a wonderfully engaging performance on Thursday night.

The National Chamber Choir in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral premiered two works commissioned for the festival, pieces by composers Tarik O’Regan and Rhona Clarke. It was an absolutely wonderful concert.

“A Russian choir from Moscow gave a rousing public performance in Mahon Point, and for the half hour they sang, shopping stopped and people sat around, spellbound.”

“Our audiences also represented a cross-section of nationalities, many of them from central Europe where there is a great tradition of choral music. Sweden, for instance, has a population of seven million people and five million sing in choirs. When I mentioned this to a Finish visitor he said that Finland has a population of five million and nine million sing in choirs!”

The highlight for Mr Fitzpatrick, though was the late night concert in the North Cathedral. “A vocal quintet from Leipzig in Germany gave a concert devised for this festival and it was one of the most stunning and touching concerts I have been at in a very long time.”

His enthusiasm for this year’s festival was echoed by festival manager Lucy Healy-Kelly. “We got really fantastic audiences for all the performances, from gala concerts to public singing. It was absolutely fantastic.”


John’s chairs will last a lifetime, but he is also passing on his knowledge to a new generation, writes Ellie O’Byrne.Made in Munster: The ancient art of súgán-making is woven into Irish family history

More From The Irish Examiner