While there is always an air of expectancy about January it can be a time to reminisce about the previous 12 months and recall some of the ‘highs’ as well as the ‘lows’.
Deaths among the country’s musical fraternity included the multi-faceted composer/pianist/professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and friends Máire Larchet and Margaret Quigley. Ever hospitable and from a distinguished Dublin family, viola player Máire Larchet spent most of her long career in RTÉ as well as playing with NICO, the Orchestra of St Cecilia and various chamber ensembles.
A history teacher by profession, Margaret Quigley, formerly Prandy, had an abiding passion for opera. She supported and befriended many young singers through different bursaries and benefices and contributed generously to various institutions particularly Feis Ceoil and the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition.
While on the staff of Mount Temple Comprehensive she adjudicated a school talent competition.
Despite disliking their music intensely, Margaret gave first prize to four young students whom she considered possessed genuine talent and positive potential. Her choice? The incorrigible U2!
May the souls of Margaret, Máire and Mícheál rest in peace.
The year brought a number of celebrations: the RTÉ NSO had its 70th birthday in February; pianist Hugh Tinney had his 60th in November while centenaries included that of composer Archie Potter. Irish National Opera sprang into being and the NCH’s International Series reaped its own harvest of visiting soloists and orchestras.
Numerous provincial events, not least the New Ross Piano Festival and Music for Galway, made their own impact while Cork’s International Choral Festival, Wexford Festival Opera and Kilkenny Arts Festival mingled ancient and modern in interesting programmes.
The RTÉ NSO’s birthday concert had the welcome return of former principal conductor Gerhard Markson. Brian Byrne’s commissioned bright and breezy Seachtó made a sparkling appetizer but a more serious entrée came with the première of Deirdre Gribbin’s Piano Concerto, The Binding of the Years.
Inspired by ancient Aztec rituals, it seemed a ‘sleeping kraken waketh’ through Ms Gribbin’s volcanic score. Yet not without sequences of serenity, her frenetic and explosive piano writing had Finghin Collins as its unflappable and hypnotic exponent.
Spread over several months, Hugh Tinney’s birthday festivities began in Dublin at the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival in June and continued with recitals nationwide.
The dénouement came at the NCH on 30th November with Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and the NSO under visiting German conductor Jonas Alber. Intense yet relaxed, Tinney’s interpretation matched the contrasting bellicose and cajoling natures of the music as well as its majesty and delicacy. The orchestral playing was incisive and equally trenchant in Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.
The NSO also excelled under visiting Russian conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky on October 26 with a scintillating account of Shostakovich’s 7th Leningrad Symphony. But this was only one of the orchestra’s many notable performances during the year.
Among visiting groups, the Czech Philharmonic’s splendid salutes to Dvorák and Smetana at the NCH in February were preceded by French baroque ensemble Le Concert d’Astrée. Under its founder Emmanuelle Haïm and with Czech mezzo Magdalena Kožená, their Rameau and Charpentier cast a spell of ethereal beauty.
Happy new year.