Bantry becomes a mecca for music lovers from Friday as a legion of musicians prepare to descend for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, now entering its 24th year.
Masters, apprentices, luthiers and archetiers, rising stars and those already lodged in the firmament will mingle during the ten-day programme.
It’s a triumph of logistics masterminded by director Francis Humphreys that presents up to six concerts and four masterclasses each day as well as a burgeoning fringe.
This year’s festival is highly strung with string quartets and solo virtuosos dominating the schedule.
Headlining the stellar line up is German violinist, Viviane Hagner.
Since her debut at the age of 13, in the legendary joint concert of the Israel and Berlin Philharmonics conducted by Zubin Mehta, Hagner has enjoyed a busy career playing with the world’s leading orchestras and more recently has spearheaded a new chamber music project at Kreisau in Poland.
It is two decades since Hagner first came to Bantry early in her professional career. When I spoke to her at her home in Berlin, she reminisced on her first visit.
“Francis had asked me play quite specific works. It was my first time to play the Bartok Sonata for Solo Violin. Performing a piece for the first time is quite memorable.
“I met Sigmund Nissel, violinist of the Amadeus Quartet there. It was very special. As a young violinist to have someone that you looked up to, a player from one of the most prestigious quartets hear you play.
"He was such a kind man and we had good conversations.”
The festival gets ahead of the Beethoven 250th celebrations with the programming of the last three Piano Trios.
Hagner joins pianist Barry Douglas and cellist Johannes Moser to complete the series of Beethoven trios they began in 2017.
The set includes ‘the Ghost’ and ‘the Archduke’ trios, two of the best-known works for this combination.
What next? When the musicians include, Barry Douglas, a Tchaikovsky Piano Competition Gold Medallist, the Russian master’s elegiac Piano Trio (A minor) seems an obvious choice.
“It is a very expansive piece commemorating the death of a friend. It expresses his grief and nostalgia very poetically.
"He may have been hesitant to write for this combination but he came up with something quite grand that fully exploits the expressive range of the ensemble.
"He manages to make the piano trio sound almost orchestral and then so intimate, almost fragile.”
The luxury of having more than a hundred musicians stationed in the seaside town for a stretch provides the perfect incubator for new musical alliances to coalesce.
While Hagner is looking forward to reuniting with her trio colleagues of 2017, she enthuses about forming an ensemble to play a Brahms quartet with musicians she will play with for the first time.
Her new colleagues include the young British cellist Laura van der Heijden, (BBC Young Musician winner in 2012 at age 14) and Hungarian pianist, Dénes Varjon.
The programme at West Cork is so diverse and well thought out and the audiences are open and appreciative. Francis has created something very special in Bantry.
But it won’t be music all the way for Hagner. There will be time too for sandcastles on the beach with her four-year-old daughter who will travel to Bantry with her.
Asked to nominate her favourite spot in Bantry she muses: “I am always impressed with the whole gardens but there is one part that is so romantic.
"There is a little bridge like you would see in a painting. When you cross it and keep walking, I have the feeling that I am lost in nature.”
Other String players at WCM include Henning Kraggerud, Marc Daniel, Emmanuelle Bertrand, Mairéad Hickey, Ellen Nisbeth and four international quartets; Zaide, Chiaroscura, Borusan, Dahlkvist