First of many for Beckett's 'most favourite music'
THE NEW music festival in Enniskillen offered 10 concerts over five days – except, of course, that there is no new music festival in Enniskillen. What’s there is the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival, which included music in its celebration of the great writer’s work and life.
It includes it in a quirkily Beckettian way, with repetitive events (concerts that featured an unusual selection played twice, the opening movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the slow movement of his Ghost Piano Trio), the much more extended repetitions of Gavin Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic, and what was promised to be the first of many repetitions of Schubert’s Winterreise. This was Beckett’s “most favourite piece”, says festival artistic director Seán Doran, who plans to programme it every year.
Other quirks in the musical area included some strange starting times (a Titanic-related 7.12pm for the Bryars, and 6.27pm for the Schubert – in the 24-hour clock that’s 18.27, the year of Schubert’s death).
The musical highlight of the two full days I sampled (Saturday and Sunday) was the performance of Winterreise, with tenor Ian Bostridge sounding like a man completely, hopelessly possessed by the music, uttering it in modes that ranged from the expression of almost embarrassingly intimate confidences to moments of raw, almost demented wildness. It made a fascinating contrast to Lisa Dwan in Not I and Robert Wilson in Krapp’s Last Tape, both also virtuoso performances, but ones in which aspects of the technical spectacle came to function as a kind of barrier.
If you thrill to the thought of an annual Winterreise you may be even more delighted at news from Belgium-resident Irish bass Conor Biggs’s Schubertreise. Last year Biggs embarked on a one-man, 10-year journey to perform all of Schubert’s songs over 35 recitals. The sixth instalment takes place on September 9th, and the project, which has been taking place in Bever in Flanders, is planned to extend to December 2020. It now looks as if the ultimate completion date will be a bit later than that. Biggs has announced the start of a second Schubertreise, this time at the National Concert Hall, beginning next February.
* The unexpected departure of Declan McGovern as the Ulster Orchestra’s chief executive last February left the orchestra with a leadership deficit, which chairman George Bain bridged by temporarily taking over the responsibilities of the chief executive. The orchestra has now appointed Ed Smith as part-time interim chief executive, while the search for a permanent appointee is undertaken.
The orchestra has not had a happy time recruiting chief executives since the departure of David Fisk more than 10 years ago. A number of recruitment drives drew a blank, and neither of the two men who held the post in the intervening years, David Byers and McGovern, came from the world of orchestra management, although both had close ties with the orchestra, and had served on the board in their role as music producers with BBC Northern Ireland.
Smith is one of those people whose achievements you probably know about, even if you don’t know his name. He was, essentially, the other half of Simon Rattle’s successful tenure with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – it’s rare to find successful conductor appointments in the absence of successful chief executives. After leaving Birmingham, Smith served time as executive director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and as managing and artistic director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, where he was quick to snap up a young Gustavo Dudamel as music director, in 2006.