West Cork Chamber Music Festival good for audience, composers, and business

The sonorous sounds of a string sextet playing Dvorak in the elegant 19th century library in Bantry House drew the 22nd West Cork Chamber Music Festival to a close.

Over nine days, 104 artists of nine nationalities, drawn from the cream of the profession, performed in the market town. All day and into the night, concert- goers binged on performances by ensembles of every conceivable combination.

Some 70 concerts were programmed in Bantry House and St Brendan’s Church, an extraordinary feat of logistics by the festival team, led by founder Francis Humphreys, with 31 local volunteers.

Marketing officer Sara O’Donovan reported that audience numbers were on a par with recent years, with many concerts sold out. This year, a fringe festival was launched, with more than 20 free events extending the reach of the festival into the wider community.

“The fringe was a huge success,” she said.“It attracted many who would not have attended a festival concert in the past. A number of these went on to book tickets following their fringe experience.”

This was the first festival without The Vanbrugh Quartet, who gave their final concert earlier this year.

Cellist Christopher Marwood was on hand to marshal the masterclasses in which five young ensembles participated. There was some debate about the proportion of new music programmed, versus more established repertoire.

The event is an important platform for contemporary composers. Doyen of Irish new music, Donnacha Dennehy was in town on Saturday to engage with the four composition prize winners in a public seminar.

Sam Perkins’ ‘Language for Solo Violin’ was a festival commission.

American violinist Miranda Cuckson premiered the work dedicated to her by the Cork composer at the opening concert.

A lift in business was evident in the town last week. A 2016 economic impact report from UCC found the trio of festivals under the West Cork Music umbrella had an economic impact of over €2.8m in the area, and that for every euro invested through state funding, there was a return of €8.40.

As West Cork Music settles into a third decade plans to secure a permanent new home and programming for 2018 is already advanced. All looks set for this small town on the fringe of Europe to continue as an international standard bearer of exceptional quality in a glorious setting.

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