Built between 1741 and 1755, Russborough House near Blessington is a fine example of Palladian architecture. The renowned Richard Cassels designed it for the brewer and property developer Joseph Leeson, who was created Earl of Milltown in 1763. Dublin’s Leeson Street is named after him.
In 1952 Russborough became the home of philanthropist Sir Alfred Beit and his wife Lady Clementine. Russborough also housed their remarkable art collection including paintings by Gainsborough, Goya, Rubens and Vermeer, many of which were bequeathed to the State.
However, the National Gallery decided to return most of them, as well as some of the earlier Leeson bequest, to Russborough where they are now on display.
But how does Russborough fit in to a music column? Well, from May 15-19, under the guidance of founder and artistic director Fiachra Garvey, it will be the main focus of events in the third West Wicklow Festival.
Brilliant pianist Garvey is an interesting young man, whose family home and farm at Ballyknockan overlooks, like Russborough, the Blessington Lakes. He likes to get back there as often as his busy international performing career allows.
Fiachra Garvey began his formal piano lessons at Leeson Park School of Music in Dublin when he was five. Later he moved to the RIAM where his teachers were Thérèse Fahy and John O’Conor and, following a period in Paris, he studied at London’s Royal Academy, receiving a number of prestigious first prizes.
Since then Garvey’s profession has taken him throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia. He has recently returned from a highly successful tour of China.
Among other things, this year’s festival commemorates the bicentenary of Clara Schumann’s birth. A composer and a remarkable pianist, Clara Wieck married Robert Schumann in 1840 and bore him seven children.
The marriage was not without its vicissitudes as Robert suffered serious bouts of depression. He died in an asylum in July 1856. Two months earlier, keeping the family’s body and soul together, Clara had given a recital in Dublin’s Antient Concert Rooms.
Fiachra Garvey includes her Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann in his opening recital on Wednesday, May 15 while Clara’s Violin and Piano Romances will be played by the visiting Elena Urioste and Tom Poster on Thursday, May 16. Some of her songs find their way into Australian soprano Lauren Fagan’s recital in St Mary’s Church, Blessington on Sunday afternoon (May 19), with the ubiquitous Garvey as her accompanist.
Other musicians from abroad include Quatour Voce whose programme on Friday, May 17 brings quartets by Beethoven and Rhona Clarke as well as Dvorák’s Second Piano Quintet with Maestro Garvey at the keyboard. Trio Atanassov feature Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Trio on Irish Folk Tunes and Ravel’s enchanting Piano Trio in their recital on Saturday, May 18.
The concluding event on Sunday evening, May 19, at St Mary’s Church of Ireland has Duo Játákok in Joan Trimble’s Sonatina, Dave Brubeck’s Points on Jazz and Liszt’s B minor Sonata in an arrangement for two pianos by Saint-Saëns. A Bizet Carmen extravaganza brings the festival to its close.
Booking at the NCH in person or by phone 01 417 0000 or on line at westwicklowfestival.com