West Cork Chamber Music Festival: big ideas, big subjects, big music

Deirdre Gribbin’s Kindersang addresses the plight of 10,000 Jewish brought to Britain and Northern Ireland the outbreak of the second World War

Belfast-born composer Deirdre Gribbin’s new piece   Kindersang addresses the   movement that brought 10,000 Jewish children to safety in Britain and Northern Ireland in the months before the outbreak of the second World War

Belfast-born composer Deirdre Gribbin’s new piece Kindersang addresses the movement that brought 10,000 Jewish children to safety in Britain and Northern Ireland in the months before the outbreak of the second World War

 

Francis Humphrys, director of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival – which runs in Bantry until Sunday July 8th – is by nature a protester. Give him a persecuted or oppressed composer, or a creative voice that speaks out against man’s inhumanity to man, and he has found a cause.

Belfast-born Deirdre Gribbin, who has never been shy of taking on big subjects, is a case in point. Her new Kindersang addresses the Kindertransport movement that brought 10,000 Jewish children to safety in Britain and Northern Ireland in the months before the outbreak of the second World War. Gribbin sets poems by Lotte Kramer, now in her 90s, who was settled in the English countryside in the home of an Irishwoman, Margaret Fyleman.

“My husband is Jewish,” says the composer. “I often think about what would have happened to my son Ethan, who has Down syndrome, had he lived in German occupied Europe.” The premiere of the specially commissioned work, by Caroline Melzer (soprano) and Nurit Stark (violin), is in St Brendan’s Church at 8pm on Tuesday.

A more contemporary humanitarian struggle is reflected in Jonathan Dove’s In Damascus of 2016, a setting for tenor (Mark Padmore) and string quartet (the Elias Quartet) of texts by Ali Safar, in translations by Anne-Marie McManus. This work, which had its Irish premiere at the recent Great Music in Irish Houses Festival, has been described in The Guardian as “an unforgettable example of the power of art to convey something terrible through an expression that is paradoxically in itself beautiful”.

Shostakovich, who famously tangled with Stalin, is a favourite in Bantry. This year he is featured in six concerts and provides the companion pieces in the In Damascus programme on Wednesday evening.

His Spanish Songs came from an idea presented to him by the great mezzo soprano Zara Dolukhanova. She had come across songs sung by people who had arrived in the Soviet Union as orphans rescued from the Spanish Civil War. She presented the composer with the raw material in the form of recordings and apparently hoped for a show-stopping song cycle.

She was disappointed when Shostakovich’s approach was to make his settings simple rather than complex. Shostakovich’s Tenth String Quartet is heard in Rudolf Barshai’s composer-approved arrangement for string orchestra. Yuri Serov conducts the Festival Strings and mezzo-soprano Lyudmila Shkirtil is the soloist in the Spanish Songs.

Baroque music in the morning has become a tradition in Bantry. Camerata øresund, named after the strait which separates Sweden from Denmark, make an all-Vivaldi offering on Sunday, following up with Bach on Tuesday, and Handel on Thursday. And on Tuesday, soprano Ruby Hughes and lutenist Jonas Norberg present Heroines of Love and Loss, with a concentration on female composers of the 17th century.

With an extra day added, this year’s tally of events runs to 76. That provides such a choice that you could safely paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “When a man is tired of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, he is tired of music.”

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