Tinkle of history at New Ross Piano Festival

Finghin Collins and a garda stopping traffic in New Ross, during a previous festival.

THE history of the Norman conquest is threaded through the forthcoming New Ross Piano Festival. The Ros Tapestry shows how the Normans were invited by Dermot MacMurrough, whose daughter Aoife married Strongbow.

“She bore a daughter, Isabel,” says festival administrator Connie Tantrum, “who married William Marshal, who built New Ross and, indeed, St Mary’s Church, where most of our recitals take place. We are delighted to have Andrew Kavanagh, a direct descendent of Dermot McMurrough, as our guest speaker to highlight the part the tapestry plays in the festival.”

One of the panels on the tapestry, ‘The Marriage of William and Isabel’, is the inspiration for a new composition for solo piano by young Cork composer Sam Perkin, which will be premiered during the festival. The piece is just one of a suite of new compositions based on the Ros tapestry panels, by five Irish composers and commissioned by the festival.

“Although the piano repertoire is vast, we believe that it is important to commission new work and give a platform to Irish composers,” says artistic director, Finghin Collins. “Next year, we plan to complete the suite, with all panels represented by 15 Irish composers.”

The New Ross Piano Festival was founded by Finghin Collins and Connie Tantrum, in 2006. Running over three days, the format is similar to previous years.

There are concerts and masterclasses, with a clutch of dazzling international soloists. This year’s platform includes two pianists making Irish debuts. Grammy award-winning Olga Sheps from Germany, and Handel enthusiast Daria van den Bercken, perform at daytime recitals. French pianist, Cédric Tiberghien, and Ukrainian Alexei Grynyuk complete the international line-up. Each of the main concerts features three of the soloists in a single evening, which makes for a sense of collegiality in what is more usually a solitary endeavour.

The RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Fidelio Piano Trio will add an ensemble element. There will be student concerts and outreach initiatives in the local schools, but also fringe activities that will bring the festival into the heart of the day-to-day life in the town.

Four ‘Play Me’ pianos, with stacks of sheet music, will be embedded in locations around the town to encourage amateurs to have a go. There will be pianos in the supermarkets, the town library and aboard the Dunbrody Famine Ship, moored in the town centre.

“Play Me pianos have been a feature of the festival, but we are thrilled, this year, to have Ireland’s leading ragtime pianist, Colm Stride O’Brien, and one of Ireland’s most distinguished jazz pianists, Jim Doherty, to perform a series of mini-recitals at the four locations,” said Tantrum.

If you need some respite from the keys, there is plenty to divert you. Picturesque villages, like Inistioge and St Mullins, dot the banks of the Barrow and the Nore, while the JFK Homestead will interest modern history buffs.

The New Ross Piano Festival runs Thursday to Sunday


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