Cathy Desmond's arts highlights of 2016

Our regular arts/ents writers select their personal highlights of the year
Cathy Desmond's arts highlights of 2016

Centenary Gala at Wigmore Hall:

All on an extraordinary April evening, the Tricolour and the Union Jack and the decked either side of Wigmore Hall and both anthems were sung. The Centenary Gala had everything; an eloquent address dwelling on 100 years of Irish culture by ambassador Daniel Mulhall; and a programme of music combining Irish and other European elements from a roster of distinguished Irish performers. It was a night of words and music to remember and to be proud of.

Opera Matters:

While there was discussion about the lack of mainstream opera in Dublin there were interesting projects. James Joyce’s oeuvre proved good source material for Ellen Cranitch’s and Tom Swift’s witty operatic take on The Dead at Project Arts Theatre. Eric Sweeney’s ‘Scenes from Ulysses’ took opera into a Martello Tower and a maternity hospital.

James Joyce
James Joyce

Opera Theatre Company marked 30 years of touring with a classy La Boheme.

Kilkenny Arts Festival gave us a rare opportunity to hear Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo Lismore’ and was unusually blessed with balmy weather for their horsey Mozart opera in a stable. Traviata pared down to the essentials kept opera on the burner at Cork Opera House. At Wexford Festival, a handsome and engaging production of Vanessa by Samuel Barber, evoked the glamour of 1950s.

Biggest disappointment:

Despite a run of innovative, critically acclaimed productions there wasn’t enough in the Arts Council opera pot to fund a locally produced, staged production in Cork, home of one of the few purpose-built opera houses in the country.

On Song:

The Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle was a spectacular space in which to hear tenor Robin Tritschler and Graham Johnson in a Shakespeare- themed programme as a finale to the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival.

Sarah Jane Brandon with excellent support from Gary Matthewman demonstrated the style and artistry that won her a Kathleen Ferrier Awards at a recital to close the Waterford Music series.

Alan Cumming was the hit of Edinburgh Festival in his evening of ‘Sappy Songs’ at The Hub.

Powerful pianists:

I was startled at the passionate percussive power of 21-year-old French virtuoso Nathalia Milstein. There were fireworks at UCH Limerick when Igor Levit joined Jorg Widmann. A lifetime in chamber music was celebrated with suitable ceremony when the Vanbrugh Quartet gathered some friends for a celebration at the NCH.

Favourite interview:

I enjoyed meeting master bow maker Noel Burke in his workshop in the garden of his suburban home as he prepared for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. In a world of constant innovation, I found it thrilling and reassuring to see first hand a superb master craftsman using age-old skills.

In praise of amateurs:

Beyond the inner sphere of professional ensembles is a broader circle of enterprise drawing on amateurs that fill the ranks of choirs and orchestras to create a panoply of events that illuminate the Irish classical scene.

These groups tend not to feature in national press reports but their efforts are no less noteworthy.

For instance, in Waterford on Saturday, a thousand people gathered in a cathedral to hear a conglomerate of local choristers and musicians under conductor Kevin O-Carroll in the WLRFM/ Lions Club annual carol concert.

It was more poignant than ever with the loss of broadcaster Billy McCarthy who compered the event for many years.

READ MORE: Colette Sheridan’s arts highlights of 2016

READ MORE: Ed Power’s arts highlights of 2016

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