Kilkenny Arts Festival programme offers the perfect blend

The discerning readers of Condé Nast Traveller magazine voted Kilkenny one of its top 10 of world’s friendliest cities recently, and if you visit during its festival period, you might even consider a mere top 10 is a bit unfair to the place.

Kilkenny Arts Festival programme offers the perfect blend

Kilkenny during its arts festival is a perfect mix of conviviality and culture, its size allowing the event to dominate the city, without sacrificing artistic integrity.

Celebrating 40 years this year, the festival has always managed to maintain a high profile, even as the summer calendar has, over those four decades, become ever more packed with festivals of one kind or another. Innovations like that of 2005, when the various stands of the festival — musical, literary, theatrical and so on — were curated by experts in each field, have helped it keep an edge in programming terms.

That format is still in place this year, with Rosemary Collier overseeing the panel of curators as well as programming the theatre, dance and classical music strands.

Classical is arguably where the festival’s reputation is most staked, and headlining is Dawn Upshaw, the soprano whose well-stocked back catalogue includes an appearance on Henryk Górecki’s million-selling Symphony No 3. Upshaw will give two performances, one with the Crash Ensemble, of Donncha Dennehy’s song cycle based on Yeats poems, ‘That the Night Come’. Camerata Ireland join a strong domestic field with a Benjamin Britten centenary concert.

On the popular music front, the programme ranges from underground gems like the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Margie Lewis, who supports Neil Hannon; to established acts like David Kitt and Fight Like Apes; to legends like The Fall.

The irrepressible Gerry Godley has lined up an eclectic mix under his world music and jazz brief. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba will remind audiences that there’s a lot more to Mali than its current headline-grabbing turmoil. Also appearing are Phisqa, possibly Dublin’s most cosmopolitan jazz group, with members hailing from Italy, South Africa, Venezuela, Ireland and, with a telling influence on the group’s sound, Peru.

After proving the popular hit of last year’s festival with As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Company return for another outdoor run in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle. This year’s show is The Taming of the Shrew, one of Shakespeare’s most piquant comedies. By way of revenge upon the play’s outmoded gender politics, the performance features an all-female cast.

Continuing the Shakespearean theme, James Shapiro and Fintan O’Toole discuss the ways in which Ireland appears in the plays. There will be readings by IMPAC winner Kevin Barry, Rachel Kushner and Elizabeth Day, an evening of poetry, music and song hosted by Colm Toibín, Paula Meehan, Niamh Parsons and Scullion. And, if you doubted for a moment that all this literature was good for you, the philosopher AC Grayling will be on hand arguing that it is through poetry, novels and plays that we can best explore our own nature, and reflect on the central question of how to live a good life.

Bob and Roberta Smith (the dual pseudonym of one artist, Patrick Brill) arrives at the Butler Gallery, which becomes the Bob Centre for the course of the festival. Smith’s polemical works include a letter to British education secretary Michael Gove, an invitation to “be” Hannah Arendt, and a temporary art school for all ages.

Kilkenny offers plenty of other children’s workshops and events, while the streets will teem with strange beasts and masked performers for Chaosmos, a new show by Macnas.

- Kilkenny Arts Festival runs from Aug 9-18. See [url=http://www.kilkennyarts.ie/]www.kilkennyarts.ie[/url

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