Gig of the week – The Spike Cello Festival

The second edition of Dublin’s genre-blind alternative festival is back next week to once again challenge cello orthodoxy

The cello makes a bid for artistic freedom next weekend with the second edition of Spike – Dublin’s alternative cello festival. Time was, to hear this beautiful instrument you had to brush your hair, put on clean clothes and sit faced forward in a concert hall, but increasingly the violoncello – to give it its full title - is finding its way into other musical spaces and about time too.

This year, the genre-blind Spike festival is occupying the rock'n'roll bastion of the Workman's Club for the weekend, with outlying skirmishes taking place at the Hugh Lane gallery and elsewhere.

"It's a more relaxed, interactive environment", says cellist Lioba Petrie of the festival atmosphere. "People are surprised if they haven't experienced that before. You can sit there listening to someone play the cello with a pint in your hand!"

Petrie, a respected freelance cellist who performs with Dublin post-rockers 3epkano, programmes the festival with fellow cellist, songwriter Mary Barnecutt of Mary & the Pigeons.


“What we really like,” says Petrie, “is that this kind of environment brings the audience physically closer to the performers, so you’re breaking down that audience to performer barrier”.

As well as a raft of concerts that will challenge cello orthodoxy, the festival includes a workshop for young cellists, a concert for children and even a yoga session.

The weekend opens on Friday evening with UK-based cellist Laura Moody who conjures music of startling originality and drama with just an acoustic instrument and her voice, with an opening performance from Petrie herself presenting a new live film score.

Improvisation workshop

Nashville-born cellist Zan Berry, who has worked with the New York avant-gardists Bang on a Can, leads an improvisation workshop for young musicians at the Workman's on Saturday lunchtime. Berry uses Creative Ability Development, a teaching system that helps classically trained musicians overcome their fear of open spaces – that is, the space that opens up when there are no sheets of music in front of them – and participants will get a chance to perform some of the music developed during the workshop.

Berry is then joined by Galway-born, Florence-based cellist and songwriter Naomi Berrill – who has just released her excellent second album To the Sky – for an 'all ages' show on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday night's headliner is acclaimed US/Albanian cellist Rubin Kodheli, a musical iconoclast who has collaborated with everyone from Norah Jones to Wadada Leo Smith: with drummer Garrett Brown, Kodheli will lead Blues in Space into avant rock territory, playing his stand-up electric cello; then he takes up the acoustic version to be joined by fellow cellists (fellists?) Kate Ellis, Laura Moody and Ben Cashell in a performance of Kodheli's own cello quartet music.

Sunday's lunchtime concert at the Hugh Lane gallery features Royal Academy cello professor William Butt performing contemporary works for cello and electronics by Roger Smalley and Linda Buckley, followed by Cellinstallation, eight cellists improvising in the gallery foyer throughout the afternoon. Also on Sunday is Yocella, a yoga session with live cello accompaniment which was one of the unexpected highlights of last year's festival, at St. Kevin's Community Centre, Portobello.

Sunday night's finale at the Workman's is Cello Voce, a collaboration between the Cello Ireland quartet, five Irish cello-songwriters - Vyvienne Long, Mary Barnecutt, Aleka Potenga, Kevin Murphy and Anna-Mieke Bishop - and singer Liam Ó Maonlaí, which draws on many sources, including the Irish tradition.

In a music scene where many, not least those in the so-called ‘classical’ world, still man the genre barricades, Spike is an act of open rebellion and a perfect way to dip your toes in the cleansing waters of the avant garde.

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