Classical music in performance

 

Highlights:

Lyric FM's Gerald Barry Festival in June was one of the year's major revelations. This wide-ranging five-day survey was a popular and critical success which also managed to highlight how poorly Dublin audiences have been served by major national institutions in keeping abreast of the work of this country's leading composer. No similar festival is planned for 2001, but RTE's celebrations of 75 years of broadcasting in Ireland may well yield some special music events.

The RTE music managers with responsibility for the NSO have, of course, long shown a derisory interest in the scheduling of non-premiere performances of works by Irish composers. And their interest in new music in general has been slight.

The free Explorer series which began early in 1999 seemed set to remedy this. Eleven of its 13 works were Irish premieres, and all but two were by living composers. This year, however, in an unexpected turnaround, just two out of 12 were Irish premieres of works by living composers, and a full third dated from the first half of the century. Need anything more be said, save that in the absence of the policy statement, overdue by 15 months, from music director Niall Doyle, it's only what you would expect.

The National Concert Hall's Composers' Choice series in April - seven concerts with composer-devised programmes - was a welcome initiative from an institution which has long made a habit of marginalising native composers. The good news is that the NCH is planning to retain the series next year. There were international competitive successes for two Irish composers in their 20s, Judith Ring taking one of the top prizes at the Luigi Russolo Competition and Jennifer Walshe winning a Kranichsteiner Musikpreis in Darmstadt. As to performers, pianist Finghin Collins took first prize at the Clara Haskil Competition in Switzerland.

In May, the AXA Dublin International Piano Competition, having despatched some of the most interesting players before the finals - Roberto Poli, Roger Wright and Ashley Wass - managed for the first time since 1991 to come up with a worthy winner in Alexei Nabioulin.

Another major artistic success was the Borodin String Quartet's Shostakovich cycle at Bantry House at Easter - playing that's simply in a league of its own.

Lowlight:

The event I'd most like to forget is Philip Glass's feeble and intrusive music for Tod Browning's 1931 film of Dracula heard during the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Michael Dervan