Cohen, Waterloo, Ilic

 

Summer Music in Rural Ireland – 1

George Fleeton

Between your love and mine is a Requiem by Leonard Cohen as shaped from his words and music - with his express approval - by his long-time friend John MacKenna from Co. Carlow.

Comprising five voices and five instruments, it was staged on June 24th in the Mermaid Arts Centre Bray, as une pièce de théâtre in which a mother, father and a celebrant return from a wet funeral to a parlour where they begin to reflect variously and often contrapuntally on young death and grief: all inspired by Cohen’s lyrics, poetry and prose writing spanning 60 years and  sifted and collated for purposes of an eclectic melodramatic arrangement of voices and instruments.

There was barely a trace of Cohen as a Jewish Buddhist in a Requiem which more or less followed the liturgy of a Christian mass for the dead; on reflection it was more wake than requiem, in which the connective tissue of Cohen’s words and music neither pervaded nor persuaded notwithstanding the effort and skill of all involved in the production.

Did they take it too seriously perhaps and get caught in their own headlights? Was it less than the sum of its very good parts (and was that why it reminded me of Frankenstein)? Where were the yeast and the verve that initially drew me (in 1968, in France) to Cohen, to Susanne but particularly to So long, Marianne?

This MacKenna Requiem offered a lot of unleavened Cohen and it seemed to convey only unrelieved melancholia (even Mozart’s unfinished Requiem has lighter, stirring passages among the dark).

Eric Butler who sang the celebrant’s role nearly saved the show with a thrusting, gravelly reading of key texts, indeed recalling that line in Frankenstein so applicable two hundred years later to Cohen: a voice whose varied intonations are soul-infusing music.

The focus of this production may in deed and in fact have been too narrow, and therefore ‘essence of Cohen’ failed to stir the senses, but it was brim full of potential with an excellent music ensemble, each player decked out in a signature Cohen fedora; it may have lacked Cohen’s innate humility and it will need loosening not tightening up; then it deserves to be seen and heard everywhere, and I would certainly go back.

Leonard Cohen, troubadour, 1934-2016

www.mermaidartscentre.ie

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By coincidence The Waterloo Concert the following night (June 25th) was a similar and very eclectic piece comprising three voices and four instruments, and it was given at Music in Calary in the Wicklow Uplands.

Summer music has been quietly winning hearts and minds since 1999 in this relatively isolated outpost of the Church of Ireland’s Diocese of Glendalough, yet it is only thirty-five kilometres south of O’Connell Bridge; Calary Church is over 180 years old and has an acoustically excellent, dressed stone performance space.

That battle of June 1815  involving Wellington’s defeat of Bonaparte  was marked in poetry, prose, music and song and was presented by Antelope Productions and the Delmaine String Quartet.

It was all nicely paced, indeed pithy in parts - thanks to Susannah De Wrixon’s little snare drum and her informal  take on songs such as  Lillibulero and The girl I left behind me.

This was in welcome contrast to quite sonorous readings, from Byron, Hardy, Scott and Kipling, by actors Michael James Ford and Gary Jermyn (squeezed somewhat uncomfortably together behind the same lectern).

But all that left the musical excerpts - in some very neat arrangements by Vanessa Sweeney of Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn, inter alia -  out on a limb not of their choosing and this disconnect between words and music conspired to considerably lessen the impact of the narrative.

Each element of the concert was excellent in itself, but as with the Leonard Cohen Requiem, referred to earlier, the integration of the elements that should have persuaded us that this was all worthwhile, urgent and indispensable for our consumption failed to convince.

I believe that if the focus had been on the Somme, for instance, rather than Waterloo this would have been an altogether different and more appealing creature and perhaps Antelope might consider that road not yet taken, given their self-evident talent and commitment to such enterprises.

Facebook: @musicincalarychurch

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Earlier this summer Ivan Ilić and his incomparable pianism came - at the end of his most recent recital tour of rural Ireland - to Anaverna House in Co. Louth on May 28th.

Anaverna which, like Calary Church, hosts a short annual season of musical performances is the most relaxed and unpretentious setting for Sunday afternoon light classical music in my experience of many Irish country houses.

I’ve been attending Ilić’s  piano recitals in Ireland, north and south, for eight years, and his  self-assured readings always evoke images of delicately spun silk or translucent marble - each a material  which lets the light pass through – and at Anaverna this was still indisputably the case.

That self-belief, so relaxed and undemonstrative, helps us to believe in his music-making, in interpretations (of contemporaries Beethoven, Haydn and Antoine Reicha) which invite us to think about what we are listening to.

Music is our most refined language: we are totally at liberty to absorb it through our primary senses and to let it drizzle down to our unsleeping imaginations wherefrom, if we so wish, it can inspire our lives, our actions and our relationships.

This was even apparent in the lighter pieces Ilić played, by Satie and Chopin, and in the recital's coda Gas Station Canon Song written for him by Scott Wollschleger in March of this year.

Born in Belgrade, Ivan Ilić was raised in Palo Alto California but his classical pianism took him to Paris nearly sixteen years ago; he visits Ireland regularly and travels to play in beautiful if unusual venues such as Anaverna House.

www.anaverna.weebly.com

www.ivancdg.com

 

Postscript

George Fleeton’s forthcoming promotions include:

July 20: Songs of Life, Light and Liberty: Calary Church;

Sept 29: Maria Callas 40th Anniversary: Mermaid Bray, with Mairead Buicke and Owen Gilhooly;

Nov 4/5/7: La Traviata: with Lyric Opera/NCH Dublin;

Dec 07: Pigalle!/Édith Piaf: Mermaid , with Derby Browne.

Details soon here on

www.georgefleeton.com