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.

Since leaving Gothenburg, he’s been selling his services as a consultant. The orchestra says his tasks in Belfast will include “overseeing and managing the preparation of the UO’s new business plan, ongoing work on our change management strategy and the process of recruiting a permanent chief executive”.

Speaking about his new role, Smith said, “I have spent my entire professional life working in music and orchestras and look forward to working with the Ulster Orchestra’s musicians, board and staff in a time of quite fundamental change. Orchestras across the world become part of a city’s and region’s cultural fabric establishing themselves as part of the community, attracting visitors and adding to the richness and diversity of life. I believe the same is true of the Ulster Orchestra.”

* Crash Ensemble has announced a new, two-year residency at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre. It seems like a less than welcome development to me, given the dead atmosphere of the venue, which even Crash’s dedicated sound team were rarely able to get the better of in the ensemble’s first residency there.

The first Crash concert under the new arrangement is scheduled for November 2nd (clashing with Alan Smale’s première of Frank Corcoran’s new Violin Concerto with the RTÉ NSO) and will include pieces by Nico Muhly and Donnacha Dennehy as well as new works by Kevin Volans (Looping Point) and Glenn Branca (Thought).

At the beginning of the month Crash launched a campaign on fundit.ieto raise €6,000 towards the Branca commission. Branca encountered Crash for the first time at the group’s gig in New York’s Poisson Rouge, in 2010, and the seeds which led to the new work were sown. The campaign has raised more than €3,000 so far and runs until the end of September.

In mid-November Crash will be taking Branca’s Thought as part of an American Originals programme to the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (November 16th-25th), where they will also present a Donnacha Dennehy Portrait, and a concert of music by Irish composers.

* RTÉ Performing Groups have announced the appointment of Mark Hindley as chorus master of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir for the next three seasons. Hindley, who is also chorus master of the Leeds Philharmonic Society and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, was one of last season’s guest chorus masters, in which capacity he worked on January’s two-night performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Mozart’s Requiem. His first full season will bring performances of Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces (October 19th), Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (January 25th, 2013), and Bach’s St John Passion (March 29th).

Mary Amond O’Brien’s contract as choral director of RTÉ Cór na nÓg has been extended. It will now run until May 2014. And, in a partnership with the Irish Youth Choir, Lynsey Callaghan, who is currently studying music education at TCD and spent a year studying with Katá Kiss at the Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music, in Hungary, will become conductor in training from 2012 to 2014, with both RTÉ and the Irish Youth Choir.

The three-year contract of the RTÉ NSO’s principal conductor, Alan Buribayev, who opens his third season with works by Lehár, Mozart, Strauss and Ravel, on September 14th, has been extended for a further two years.

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