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Creating classical chords


Áine Ryan

TRANSFORMING the mesmeric rhythms of the poems of WB Yeats into a contemporary song-cycle is but one musical note that will be hit during this year’s Westport Festival of Chamber Music. Established in 2013, this classical carnival is now an integral part of the heritage town’s autumnal landscape.       
For festival artistic directors, Catherine Leonard and Hugh Tinney, the development of the weekend programme (Friday, September 7 to 9) each year challenges them to enhance it with innovative additions. In this year’s case, as well as the music of Yeats’s poetry, they have introduced ‘a classic song-cycle from the German repertoire’, as well as ‘seven musicians collaborating onstage, another first’.
Meanwhile, the prestigious line-up of artists includes 30-year-old Venezuelan violinist, Giovanni Guzzo, deemed to be ‘one of the most versatile performers of his generation’. After his solo debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, critics described him as a ‘wonderfully magnetic and commanding’ performer. Indeed, he recently performed for Queen Elizabeth on the famous ‘Viotti ex-Bruce’ Stradivarius violin and was also the youngest musician ever invited to perform a solo recital at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
On the programme also is Irish cellist Brian O’Kane, who is in much demand as both a soloist and chamber musician. Since winning first prize at the Windsor International String Competition in 2008, he has made his debuts with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ashkenazy and in recital at London’s Wigmore Hall. He recently released his debut CD of French sonatas with pianist Michael McHale to critical acclaim. He also enjoys playing chamber music as a member of the award-winning Navarra Quartet.
Dubbed ‘dynamic and charismatic’, the Heath Quartet has earned a reputation as ‘one of the most exciting British chamber ensembles of the moment’. They will join Elvind Holtsmark Ringstad’s viola playing on the opening night at Westport House for Mozart’s Quintet in G minor, K 516.
Historic Westport House, the state-of-the-art Town Hall Theatre and the hallowed altar and aisles of Holy Trinity Church will provide the atmospheric venues for the three-day festival, organised by a dedicated local committee, led by Madeleine Flanagan, the festival’s administrator.
From Beethoven to Debussy, Rachmaninov to Schumann, Bach to Britten, the Westport Festival of Chamber Music is set to create a classical-music haven in the heritage town once again.

The greatest gift
Festival committee member, poet and short-story writer Ger Reidy las week spoke to The Mayo News about what the festival means to him, and to Westport.
“When I was growing up in Westport the local record shop had ten identical Perry Como albums and three James Last LPs in its classical-music section. I was listening to Led Zeppelin and Rory Gallagher like most other teenagers and dismissed classical music as a kind of music a small farmer’s son could not possibly appreciate. However, I heard Chopin on the wireless a few times and began to enquire where I could buy his music; its melancholy appealed to me, maybe to the darkness of rural Mayo as a school student.
“Miss Eaton, my piano teacher, also played some Chopin effortlessly and this converted me to classical music instantly. I was too lazy to learn properly but this was possibly one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.
“When I read six years ago that a classical music festival was being organised in Westport I immediately contacted Madeleine Flanagan, our festival manager, to say I would help in any way possible. The idea of having world-famous musicians being flown in to play in Westport was a fantastic idea, and I believe that this festival will, if properly supported, rival the Bantry festival [the West Cork Chamber Music Festival] and add greatly to the gold standard brand that we must maintain if Westport tourism is to prosper in the future. It is, therefore, imperative that the town takes ownership of this festival if it is to survive and grow.
“We have been subjected this year to a funding shortfall and I am hopeful – as are other members of the committee – that this will be resolved by generous support from the businesses and the public. In the meantime I’m looking forward to excellent performances over the weekend of September 7 to 9.”

For more on the full Westport Festival of Chamber Music programme, and to buy tickets to any of the concerts, visit