Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Waterford-Music’s concerts returned to their spiritual home at the Large Room in December with a first-class performance from the Navarra String Quartet.

 

THE determination of musical groups to keep the show on the road never ceases to amaze me. Musical performances don’t come cheap. They’re big-budget productions with bums-on-seats a must to pay the bills. Choirs have faced particular challenges because of Covid as members were forced online for practices and parts were learned from chorus master/ mistress prepared tapes with singers pounding out the lines in isolation. Little wonder then that choral performances were very limited with choirs forced to sing behind masks and at a distance from each other.

Waterford-Music never fails us and produced four top-drawer concerts during the year. An online cello quartet kicked off the year for them. Now a Cello Quartet is definitely a rare bird. Four rare birds, in fact, because they don’t nest together very often. One of the features of the programme was that the quartet members were interviewed between performances. And Waterford Music audiences always enjoy the performer behind the instrument. October saw a live first-class concert from Mairéad Hickey on violin and Agnes Clément on piano, produced by Music Network and hosted by Waterford-Music at Garter Lane.

 

‘It’s good to get reminders of just how strong musical talent still is in Waterford. And young’

 

Waterford-Music President Elizabeth Twohig received a heroine’s welcome when she came onstage to announce the concert and her invitation to “let the music begin” brought immediate and sustained applause. In fact, the pair received rock-star welcomes before even a note was played. Another first-class concert from Waterford-Music in November featured Tamsin Waley-Cohen on violin and George Fu on piano and sent us all happy out down the Garter Lane Arch. The concerts  returned to their spiritual home at the Large Room in December with a first-class concert from the Navarra String Quartet.

It was ‘lights, camera, action’ and Zoom to the world for the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras Online with their Celebration of Youth Orchestras back in May. The young performers of the Budding Bows section of the WIT Junior Orchestra just threw themselves into the virtual challenge on Zoom that attracted relatives of the young players from all over the world for a concert that definitely had the ‘ahhhhh’ factor.

 

The Lions Club Christmas Concert at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity

 

The Lions Club Christmas Concert was big and brash and back live in the Cathedral. Despite all of the problems, this was the best Lions Club Concert for years despite the need for scaling back on players and audience. It’s been running for 32 years now and the quality of the performance always attracts a massive audience – in the nave, the aisles, and the galleries and even on the streets where big screens run the performance. This year’s Covid Christmas Concert is beyond daunting. Lots of Zoom practices for choirs – that sing with masks from the upper-left gallery – and orchestral players that have been practicing on their own for several weeks and, also, for four hours prior to performance in the Cathedral on the day. “Isn’t it just wonderful,” beams Tops and Panto legend Patsy Sheridan in his Santa-red Lions Club sweatshirt, “to see all those young and old players playing together? It’s just what Christmas is all about.”

It’s good to get reminders of just how strong musical talent still is in Waterford. And young. Jack Cunningham, current Green Room Award Winner as choreographer for Chicago, has just graduated from studying professional dance at the College of Dance in Dublin and is currently dance teacher / choreographer at Soul Dance Arts – Waterford’s newest stage school—that had its first outing with a sell out concert at Christ Church in October.

 

Jack Cunningham

 

Jack’s February production of ‘Broadway Bites Back’ showcased on YouTube and Facebook was professional, snappy-happy and had something for everyone in the big audience that tuned in for free. Jack also made a superb online programme with colourful graphics and interesting cast bios to anyone who tuned in. And he also added the ingredients for a half-a-dozen cocktails – only one I’d actually heard of btw – to keep the atmosphere going. Now there’s a first. And Jack was back on the stage of the Theatre Royal in November with another Broadway tribute in ‘A Night to Remember’.

Richie Hayes’ Patrick’s Night Online concert was a first-class night’s entertainment. His Patrick’s Night variety show from the stage of the Theatre Royal was slick, professional and polished with an intimacy that seasoned television presenters would die for.

David Hennessy Musical & Dramatic Society Waterford made a welcome return to Waterford’s Theatre Royal stage on Easter Sunday with their streamed production of Princess Classics that was aimed squarely at a family audience that the Hennessy Stage School never fails to attract. With David sitting in the stalls, surrounded by teddy bears and cuddly toys of well-known characters, the 90 minute show fairly zipped along and I could just imagine the sing-alongs – especially in the family homes of David’s school of young stars.

Late November also gave us a memorial concert to composer, musician and mentor Eric Sweeney at Christ Church where Eric was organist for almost 30 years. Eric Sweeney – composer, performer, teacher and friend – was a modest man of immense musical talent whose contribution to the arts in Waterford was truly outstanding. Sadly Eric passed away on a beautiful July day in 2020 at the height of the pandemic leaving a large gathering of friends and colleagues to mourn his passing by simply applauding his cortege as it passed up Church Road. Eric supported virtually every classical music event in Waterford and joined up the dots for me – when there were many dots – on challenging scores and composers. His knowledge of classical music was as big as Tramore Bay – as was his willingness to share it and answer the many questions that came his way.

 

The late Eric Sweeney

 

Once upon a time… and a long time it was… 1985 to be precise… the current Waterford Pantomime Society came into being and has kept the show on the road ever since. It’s a proud boast because – as any seasoned producer will tell you – keeping the production going is the hardest task of all. Things happen… life intervenes… cast members face family crises and have to drop out. All in all, however, a mere blip when compared to the current pandemic that has disrupted all our lives. Big time.

So… when Waterford Pantomime Society decided to be the first musical company to bring back major live musical theatre to Waterford with its excellent 2021 production of Sleeping Beauty… we all stared back in wonder because this was always a journey into the unknown with a virus that doesn’t follow the rules. Panto costs are massive. Booking the Theatre Royal for a three-week run doesn’t come cheap and when you throw in all the other costs, this was a brave, boundary-breaking decision for people who are there for the love of theatre. And Waterford. And kids and families.

The dedication of all these companies fills me with wonder and I am in awe of those decision-makers that took such courageous decisions to keep the show on the road.

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By Pat McEvoy, Arts Correspondent
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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