Olga Barry spotlights Kilkenny with superb programme

Olga Barry spotlights Kilkenny with superb programme Eugene Downes
Pat O’Kelly


Completing his five-year term at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, Eugene Downes steps down as artistic director later this month. His mantle passes to Olga Barry, currently Festival Producer, whom Downes describes as “a gifted and respected arts leader”.

Since his appointment in 2013, Dublin-born Downes has revitalised the festival’s ‘classical’ music element not only with the works on offer but also with the international status of the artists he brings to Kilkenny.

Under his leadership the Irish Chamber Orchestra is now the festival’s resident ensemble while his policy of highlighting a different composer each year continues to be a fascinating experience. Johannes Brahms is the centre of attraction this year.

His music comes in various infusions, mostly in St John’s Priory, with many of the events at 5pm. These begin with Finghin Collins playing some of the late piano pieces on August 10 and then joining ICO artists for selections of the piano trios and piano quartets on August 11 and 12. Collins partners Christian Elliot for the cello sonatas on August 13.


The following day, Russian and English pianists Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy join forces for the Op 39 Waltzes and can be heard separately in Brahms’ massive sets of variations on themes by Handel and Schumann.

Over the second weekend – August 17-19 – France’s Quatuor Voce, with violist Hélène Desaint and clarinettist Florent Héau, spread the string quartets, string quintets and clarinet quintet over the three lunchtimes. But, if you want to catch Brahms’ Four Serious Songs with expressive German baritone Benjamin Appl and Pavel Kolesnikov on August 17, venue and time change to St Canice’s Cathedral at 8pm.

Away from this Brahmsian extravaganza there is still an abundance to whet the musical appetite. The specialist Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin has an Italian Renaissance programme in the Cathedral on August 11 while ICO turns principally to Beethoven on August 10, 14 and 18.

Their first two concerts also have recent works by Cork’s Sam Perkin while the third includes the Violin Concerto and 7th Symphony. The concerto’s German soloist – Carolin Widmann – is conductor Jörg Widmann’s sister.

Previous years have brought concert performances of opera, notably Mozart’s Idomeneo and Handel’s Giulio Cesare, but 2018 offers a fully staged production, in association with Opera Collective, of Monteverdi’s 1640 masterpiece, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The return of Ulysses). Sung in English, the piece is based on part of Homer’s Odyssey.


Strangely the opera, which confirmed Monteverdi as one of the great music dramatists, has never been produced in Ireland and Kilkenny’s performances at the Watergate Theatre on August 9, 10 and 12 have particular musical and historical interest.

The mainly native cast includes tenor Gyula Nagy in the title role with mezzo Raphaela Mangan as Penelope. Christian Curnyn returns to conduct and Patrick Mason directs. The production will be further enhanced by the accompanying Akademie für Alte Musik – one of Europe’s leading interpreters of Renaissance music.

Full details are available on line at www.kilkennyarts.ie or from the box office at 76 John Street, Kilkenny 056 775 2175.