Festival is a word that can be abused but with Great Music in Irish Houses I think it can be applied without hesitation. This annual event began in 1970 when it was then, and for many years afterwards, known as the Music in Great Irish Houses Festival.
In its initial year it embraced two venues – Castletown House in Celbridge and Carton close to Maynooth. Gradually it spread its wings to other stately edifices with Killruddery House, outside Bray in Co Wicklow, joining the list in the early 1980s. Home of Lord and Lady Ardee, Killruddery’s orangery continues to offer a welcoming festival platform.
Under artistic director Ciara Higgins, this year’s event, running from the June 11-16 and opens at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin’s Dawson Street with a recital by eminent US pianist Richard Goode. His programme combines the classicism of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven with Chopin’s romanticism and Debussy’s impressionism.
Wednesday (June 12) sees a switch to the National Botanic Gardens and has the return of the particularly fine Pavel Haas Quartet. The Czech musicians bring two substantial works – Dvorák’s 14th Quartet and Beethoven’s 3rd Razumovsky. Described as ‘probably the world’s most exciting string quartet’, the Pavel Haas first appeared at the festival in 2007 and has since gone on to cement its place in the upper echelons of quartet players.
Killruddery is the venue on Thursday (June 13) for French cellist Marc Coppey who is also making a welcome return visit. Accompanied by the ubiquitous Finghin Collins, Coppey’s programme has sonatas by Beethoven, Debussy and Brahms separated by the music of Nadia Boulanger and Bohuslav Martinu.
Friday (June 14) finds the festival at a new venue, Belvedere House on the shores of Lough Ennell, near Mulingar. With good weather a picnic in Belvedere’s gardens might be a gastronomic preface to the concert. This finds soprano Ailish Tynan, almost on home ground and in her festival debut, joining France’s Van Kuijk Quartet and Finghin Collins in quite an unusual musical mélange.
Songs by Grieg and Fauré as well as the almost forgotten English composer Muriel Herbert, who died in 1984, intermingle with music for voice, quartet and piano by Chausson and Guillaume Lekeu. Separately the Van Kuijk offers Mozart and Poulenc.
Following this Westmeath foray, the festival returns to Dublin for two Saturday (June 15) events – Chamber Choir Ireland, with mostly Bach, in St Ann’s Church, Dawson Street at 7pm and the Colin Currie Quartet at the Printworks in Dublin Castle at 9pm. Do not be put off by Xenakis, Stockhausen or Steve Reich as this percussive bash will be exhilarating and athletically dazzling.
With noon and evening concerts in Dublin Castle and an afternoon excursion to Farmleigh House, the festival’s final day celebrates John O’Conor.
He is being honoured as exceptional teacher through former and current students while his unique contribution to Dublin’s International Piano Competition is hailed through music written for, or played during, the competition over the years.
O’Conor as performer extraordinaire comes with Schumann’s Piano Quintet when esteemed RIAM colleagues join him for the festival’s concluding event.