2009 'The Irish Times' Critics' Choice

Sat, Jan 3, 2009, 00:00

A look at some of the pending highlights in the arts this year...

Murray Perahia

It could be one of those unaccountable changes in fashion, but whatever the reason, performances of Brahms's grandly imposing Handel Variations have become very thin on the ground in the Ireland of the 21st century. Performances here by members of the top echelon of pianists have always been rare. This makes the work's inclusion in Murray Perahia's January recital at the National Concert Hall all the more cherishable a prospect. Perahia will also play Bach's Partita in B flat, and Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata. National Concert Hall, Dublin, Jan 21, 01-4170000, www.nch.ie ... MDe

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Just when you thought Bruce Springsteen might take a break following his superlative live shows earlier this year, along comes a brand new record, Working on a Dream. Featuring a dozen new compositions - recorded on the hoof with the E Street Band during breaks on various tours - the album promises to consolidate Springsteen's thrilling pop touches that were received so well on 2007's Magic. "All the songs were written quickly," notes Springsteen on the launch press release. "We usually used one of our first takes, and we all had a blast making this one from beginning to end."

Working on a Dream is released Jan 23. www.brucespringsteen.net ... TCL

Great Irish writers at the Abbey Theatre

For anyone critical of the lack of new Irish writing on the National Theatre's stage, the Abbey's 2009 season features a glut of work by some of Ireland's major playwrights. Marina Carr's new play, Marble, which kicks off the year on the Abbey main stage, is a visceral dissection of marriage and friendship, desire and fidelity. Meanwhile Selina Cartmell directs Tom McIntyre's new play, Only an Apple - a provocative tale of a playboy Taoiseach who finds himself guided through a leadership crisis by Grace O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth I - at the Peacock in April.

And there's more. Tom Murphy's latest play, The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant, a visceral drama of King Lear proportions, will open at the Abbey in June, reuniting Murphy with Conall Morrison, while Sebastian Barry's Tales from Ballycumber, starring Stephen Rea, will usher in the autumn schedule. New work centre stage at the National Theatre Abbey: as it should be. Marble, Abbey Theatre, Feb 17 to March 18; Only an Apple, Peacock Theatre, April 28 to May 30 ... SK

U2

Love 'em or loathe 'em, U2's first album since 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is, mostly, eagerly awaited.

Co-producer of No Line on the Horizon, Daniel Lanois claimed recently in the Boston Herald that "rock'n'roll has been reinvented one more time", while Bono informed the Guardian that the music is "of the same order as the transition that took us from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby". The Edge, meanwhile, told Mojo magazine "it sounds like a U2 album but it doesn't sound like anything we've done before or like anything happening at the moment." Scheduled for release on March 2. www.u2.com ... TCL

Opera Ireland

Opera Ireland is planning to continue its broadening of repertoire during 2009. The company's spring season is to feature the Irish premiere of Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa (sharing the season with Mozart's Don Giovanni); and the winter season is currently scheduled to include Wagner's Rheingold (which is new to the company's repertoire) and Puccini's Manon Lescaut. There will also be a workshop performance of Fergus Johnston's new opera, The Earl of Kildare, at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray on February 6th. Opera Ireland. Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, Feb 28 to March 8; Nov 14-22, www.operaireland.com ... MDe

Hughie O'Donoghue

A major exhibition marking the donation of some 39 works by O'Donoghue to the IMMA collection by Craig Baker, who commissioned the painter to complete a major series of paintings on the theme of The Passion. A significant part of O'Donoghue's project has been to place the authentic experience of the human subject at the heart of contemporary painting, an aim he has pursued through the careful elucidation of individual histories, including family histories, and an exploration of the experience of embodiment. The exhibition will also incorporate pieces from his own collection and other public and private collections.

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, March 4 to May 17 ... AD

Rough Magic is 25

A birthday weekend of play readings from the company's extensive repertoire and workshops of forthcoming projects are scheduled for later in the year, but the company will kick off 2009 with the Irish premiere of Michel Tremblay's compelling ritual play, Solemn Mass for a Full Moon in Summer. The play, translated from French by Bryan Delaney, is a composite of different voices, reflecting on the multiplicity of lives lived under a full-moon summer sky. Drawing on the structure of a choral mass, the drama is a spiritual meditation on life, love, loneliness, guilt and grief. Delaney's translation is suffused with a distinctive Irish cadence, and under Tom Creed's delicate direction Tremblay's atmospheric ceremonial of celebration and confession promises a beautiful start to Rough Magic's anniversary festivities. Solemn Mass for a Full Moon in Summer, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, March 5-28 ... SK

James Coleman

The largest staging in Ireland to date of the work of the internationally renowned, Co Roscommon-born artist James Coleman occupies three venues and features six major pieces spanning his career from the late 1970s to 2002. Three of the pieces - Charon (MIT Project), Seeing for Oneself and Untitled - make their Irish debuts. But be warned: Coleman's elaborately staged, technically exacting works don't make things easy for the viewer, preferring to make problematic the processes of seeing and understanding, so the shows come accompanied by a battery of theoretical texts. Irish Museum of Modern Arts, Royal Hibernian Academy and Project Arts Centre (all Dublin), March 7 to April 26 ... AD

Thomas Roberts (1748-78)

Coinciding with a new book on Roberts by Brendan Rooney and William Laffan (published by Churchill Press for the National Gallery of Ireland), the gallery presents a survey of his work with more than 50 pieces on view in Rooms 7-10 of the Beit Wing. Born in Waterford, Roberts received his artistic training at the Dublin Society's School. Rather than moving abroad he remained in Ireland, and he is generally regarded as the best Irish landscape painter of the 18th century, even though he died relatively young. Apart from many idealised landscapes, he made topographical studies of recognisable locations and views some of Ireland's finest demesnes. National Gallery of Ireland, March 14 to June 14 ... AD

Cirque du Soleil: Quidam

Quebecois circus troupe Cirque du Soleil are pioneers of storytelling circus, renowned for combining awesome acrobatic and aerial feats with traditional dramatic narratives. In their international extravaganza, Quidam, contortionists, clowns and actors conspire to tell the Alice in Wonderland-like tale of a young girl's surreal journey to an alternate universe, where anything - including the death-defying tricks of the performers - is possible. As the strange world opens up around her, Zoe encounters all sorts of crazy characters - an undead strongman, Boum Boum, a flightless Aviator and a fickle fairy-like creature called The Target - characters who may or may not be her saviours in the frightening city that she finds herself lost in. For their Dublin performance, Cirque du Soleil will recreate the atmosphere of their classic chapiteau tent within the O2 arena, hoping that Quidam will capture the imagination of children and adults alike.

The O2, Dublin, March 31 to April 5, www.the02.ie ... SK

Elizabeth Peyton

Peyton is one of a new wave of American figurative painters who emerged in the 1990s. Her wistful, new-romantic studies of friends and celebrities embodied a dreamy teenage sensibility. Stylistically, her simplified images, often sourced from photographs, recall aspects of the work of David Hockney and Alex Katz, and Andy Warhol is also often mentioned. Technically, she has grown more confident, though she has tended to go awry when she ups the usually small scale of her work. Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, April 1 to June 21, www.imma.ie AD

Handel's Crossing

Fishamble will be providing a theatrical element to this year's celebration of the 250th anniversary of Handel's death with its stage production of Joseph O'Connor's radio play, Handel's Crossing, produced on Lyric FM in 2003. The play looks at the great composer at the lowest point in his career, just before Messiah was first produced. Set in 1742, O'Connor puts Handel on a boat en route to Dublin, where he is trapped below deck with a choir of mutinous singers and servants as they prepare for the premiere at Dublin's Fishamble Street playhouse. O'Connor's Handel is a hilarious creation: a churlish, cranky, drunken genius, "who thinks he's Jesus himself this weather. Freddy fat rump Handel, the playhouse king." Full of bawdy humour, bad weather, seasickness and, eventually, a choral symphony, this is a comic commemoration of Handel's landmark composition, fittingly performed in its stage incarnation on the historic Jeanie Johnston ship. Jeanie Johnston, April 13-19 ... SK

Martha Argerich

Argerich is one of the world's most sought-after pianists, in spite of the fact that she shuns the publicity of interviews and abandoned solo recitals years ago. She now only performs concertos and plays chamber music. This most mercurial of pianists played in Dublin twice in the 1960s, and returns for the first time since to make her National Concert Hall debut in Beethoven's Third Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in April. The programme, under Charles Dutoit, also includes Berlioz's overture, Le Corsaire and music from Prokofiev's delightful ballet, Romeo and Juliet. ... NCH, Dublin, April 26, €45-€90, 01-4170000, www.nch.ie ... MDe

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan's Neverending Tour continues into 2009 with a date announced for Dublin's O2 on May 5th, his debut at the new venue. Dylan remains a touchstone, and despite his advancing years continues to buck the trend of artists delivering their best work in their 20s and 30s. With the recent release of a quite superb rarities album, Tell Tale Signs, the man's creative potency seems stronger than ever. The O2, Dublin, May 5 ... TCL

One Shot

It's not the gala event at this year's Dublin Dance Festival, but Ronald K Brown's One Shot will be a dance highlight of the year. He might have earned the accolade "one of the most profound choreographers of his generation" from the New York Times, but Brown just continues what he's always done brilliantly: creating beautifully eloquent movement that constantly investigates spirituality, community and redemption in the African-American experience. In One Shot, he turns to one of his African-American heroes, photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris, whose portraits of everyday people offer backdrop and touchstone for Brown's unique blend of street and theatre. Dublin Dance Festival, May 12-13, www.dublindancefestival.ie ... MS

West Cork Chamber Music Festival

Mozart's wind serenades, Bach cello suites (Anne Gastinel), and concerts by the beautifully pure voices of Norway's Trio Mediaeval are at one end of the repertoire for this year's chamber music festival in Bantry. At the other end there's the usual concentration on work from eastern Europe and beyond (Shostakovich, Weinberg, Giya Kancheli, Peteris Vasks, Sofia Gubaidulina, Anatolijus enderovas), and this year's new commissions come from the rapidly-rising, Russian-born, Juilliard-trained Lera Auerbach (who also appears as a pianist), and Irish composer John Kinsella.

Bantry, Co Cork, June 27 to July 6, 1850-788789, www.westcorkmusic.ie ... MDe

The War of the Worlds

In 1978 musician Jeff Wayne released his long-laboured musical interpretation of HG Wells's science-fiction novel. The concept album was an instant prog rock classic, featuring the voice of Richard Burton as the journalist narrator and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott and Justin Hayward as just some of the numerous singing stars, with memorable musical numbers including Thunder Child and Forever Autumn. Thirty years later and Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds has spawned a computer game and an animated film, as well as a live musical extravaganza. The musical features a 48-piece string orchestra, live action and CGI animation. Throw in a Richard Burton hologram and a 35ft Martian Fighting Machine and you have a subversive cult hit on your hands. Hilarious.

The 02, Dublin, June 7, www.theo2.ie ... SK

Terry Winters

An extensive survey exhibition of the last 10 years of the work of one of the foremost American painters of the late 20th century and early 21st. Born in New York in 1949, Winters came to prominence with the renewed emphasis on painting in the 1980s. His forcefully made paintings and drawings evoke networks, systems and kinds of modular forms and structures in an instinctive, unruly symbolic language that ambitiously sets out to encapsulate entire worlds. His recent work sees him at a career high point.

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, June 12 to Sep 27, www.imma.ie ... AD

Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Opera House wowed old-timers and neophytes alike at this year's Wexford Festival Opera. The new venue can be expected to cast an attractive halo for the next few years, and artistic director David Agler seems to be counting on that factor by including two operas written in the second half of the 20th century, Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze by Nino Rota (best known for his film scores for Fellini as well as the Godfather trilogy), and The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano (commissioned by New York's Metropolitan Opera, and premiered in 1991). The third opera, Donizetti's Maria Padilla, is classic Wexford fare. Wexford Festival Opera, Oct 15 to Nov 1, www.wexfordopera.com ... MDe

Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning

A pairing of two painterly heavyweights of the 20th century. Each radically reinvented the painting of the human figure in relation to their historical and art-historical contexts. Bacon's bleak, lapsarian view sees man as meat, a tortured and anxious presence in a cage of habit and convention. De Kooning controversially reintroduced the figure, and specifically a flamboyant, omnivorous female figure, into the discourse of abstract painting. "Flesh," he famously wrote, "was the reason oil paint was invented." The Hugh Lane Gallery, from Oct 28 ... AD

Ondine

Neil Jordan's 10th feature film as director is based on his intriguing-sounding original screenplay, in which a west Cork fisherman (played by Colin Farrell) hauls up a young woman (Mexican-born, Polish-raised actress Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. She is a mythological sea nymph, and theories about her origins spread as she transforms the lives of the fisherman and his neighbours. The cast includes Jordan favourite Stephen Rea.

Autumn release ... MD

Nine

Adventurous as ever, two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis makes his musical debut in Nine, the film of the Broadway show inspired by the late Federico Fellini's 1963 classic 8½. He stars as a famous film director experiencing personal and creative crises as he tries to deal with all the women in his life: his mother (Sophia Loren), wife (Marion Cotillard), lover (Nicole Kidman), protege (Penélope Cruz) and agent (Judi Dench). The director is Rob Marshall, who made the Oscar-winning musical Chicago.

Autumn release ... MD

Literary Birthday Celebrations

It's a year of big literary birthdays, with poets Seamus Heaney  and Michael Longley both turning seventy in 2009, while fellow poet John Montague and playwright Brian Friel both celebrate their eightieth birthdays in the same year.

With plenty of festivities and events planned to celebrate these personal milestones, one to watch out for is the launch of a 15 CD box-set of Seamus Heaney's Collected Poems, with the entire works read by the Nobel laureate himself.

The CDs, which were recorded by RTÉ Radio, with the assistance of the Lannan Foundation, at a Dublin location earlier this year, are accompanied by an analysis of Heaney's work by fellow poet Peter Sirr.

The collected works will also be broadcast on Radio 1 as part of the April 13th birthday celebrations, with a television documentary about the poet also set to air on RTÉ television to mark the date. Directed by Charlie McCarthy, the 75-minute piece will feature exclusive interviews with Derek Wallcott and Paul Muldoon among others, while new works have been commissioned from Rachel Holstead, Kevin O'Connell and Ian Wilson for the RTÉ Van Brugh Quartet to add to the celebrations.

The birthday bonanza kicks off on RTÉ in January, however, with RTÉ broadcasting Friel's Philadelphia Here I Come, Translations and Dancing at Lughnasa in their entirety leading up to the playwright's birthday on January 9th, with birthday greetings from his friends and colleagues also hitting the airwaves over the day.

There are also plans afoot to mark John Montague's February birthday, while Michael Longley's work will be celebrated to coincide with his seventieth in July.