Chairperson’s Report to Music for Galway
The principal activity of Music for Galway is the presentation of orchestral concerts, chamber music recitals, solo recitals, masterclasses and workshops, as well as general promotion and development of music through their practitioners and through advocating for infrastructure.
2022 thankfully saw a return to normality after the extended trauma of Covid. One positive effect of the constraints that Covid imposed was that Music for Galway developed new skills in online presentation of our programmes, which will serve us well in the future. Above all the resilience of the organisation was tested and we are proud to say that we have come through the experience stronger and with greater ambition than ever.
Our Midwinter Festival celebrated the work of Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford, along with composers with links to him, including Frank Bridge and Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Over a full weekend in the Town Hall Theatre and at St Nicholas Collegiate church, we heard a programme of chamber music, song recital and choral music. The performance included well-established friends of Music for Galway like the Contempo Quartet, but also those making their first appearance in Galway, including a quartet from the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Musicologist Jeremy Dibble presented context for the entire programme.
Our 2021/22 concert season continued with the NCO performing works by John Williams, including themes from Star Wars, ET and Superman. The people of Galway always appreciate the visits of our national orchestras, and demonstrate this with large enthusiastic audiences.
In February we returned to the familiar intimacy of the Emily Anderson Concert Hall for a beautiful performance by rising star Mishka Momen Rushdie who bookended her programme with Fantasias by Byred and Schubert.
The exciting Sitkovestky Trio came to Galway in March to perform trios by Beethoven and Ravel, also a “Freakshow” by Cork composer Sam Perkin. Music for Galway continues to champion the work of contemporary Irish composers.
Indeed, later in March, we presented an “all-contemporary” progamme at An Taibhdhearc. Nathan Sherman (viola) and Alex Petcu (percussion) performed works based on Luciano Berio’s Naturale. They included a premiere of Kate Moore’s Iarann (inspired by St Brigid).
Our Good Friday concert at St Nicholas is now an important element of Galway’s Easter celebrations. This year, we heard Resurgam, supported by four players and a five-part viol consort, perform Buxtehude’s extraordinary “Membra Jesu Nostri”. This was a unique opportunity for our audience to connect with the burghers of Lubeck sitting in the Mariankirche over three hundred years ago.
April at long last saw the staging of the community opera Paper Boat. This was possibly one of the largest projects Music for Galway undertook. It had to be postponed numerous times but it was worth the wait and the effort. Celebrating 700 years of St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, this, the brainchild of Mark Duley focussed in particular on the sanctuary this space provided down through the years. As the war in Ukraine had begun just two months previously and first refugees had started to arrive, this turned into a most poignant event.
We continued to prepare for our second Cellissimo festival (planned for April 2024). The Cellissimo Concerto Gala was the only event from the first edition that was made possible with live audiences. It featured Naomi Berrill performing the solo piece for the Galway Cello penned by Bill Whelan and the RTE Concert Orchestra and no less than three cellists - Adrian Mantu , Jakob Koranyi and Laura van der Heijden . The programme included two works that were co-commissioned with our partners, the Amsterdam Cello Biennale – Julia Wolfe’s “Wind in my Hair” and a world premiere of Gerald Barry’s cello concerto. The concert closed with that most familiar and beloved of works, Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Sunday May 22 was an important milestone for Music for Galway. It marked the final performance of our planned Galway 2020 program, demonstrating our determination to complete that programme in spite of all that conspired against us. It was our final Abendmusik concert, with Resurgam and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble performing Rosenmuller’s Vespers and the world premiere of Sean Doherty’s “Hail Gladdening Light”. We acknowledge in particular Resurgam’s director, Mark Duley, for his great partnership with Music for Galway on this Abendmusik programme, and for all the other choral performances he has presented on our behalf.
In 2022, we also reinstated our lunchtime series of concerts, in partnership with the University of Galway’s Arts in Action program. The first concert featured mezzo soprano, Julie Comparini with pianist Yonit Kosovske, performing Ailis Ni Riain’s “Watershed Song Cycle”. The second marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Finghin Collins (piano) and Christopher Bowen (tenor) were joined by the Contempo Quartet to perform works by Vaughan Williams and a world premiere of Ina Boyle’s “Song for Bion”.
After the summer recess, we launched our 2022/ 23 programme at the Dean Hotel in early September, We were honoured by the presence of Mayor of Galway, Cllr Clodagh Higgins. In her address, the Mayor was strong in her praise of the contribution Music for Galway makes to the cultural life of Galway.
The launch also marked the official retirement of Anne O’Maille as chair of Music for Galway. Incoming chair, Mark Gantly, recognised Anne’s outstanding stewardship of the organisation through challenging times, leaving Music for Galway stronger than ever as she stood down. Anne continues to serve as board member, with her experience and judgement of great value to the new chair.
The 2022/ 2023 programme features the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, and our first concert featured a piece now well known to Music for Galway audiences, having been the theme of our 2021 Midwinter Festival, the remarkable Goldberg Variations. Alex Sitkovetsky (violin), Sergei Malov (viola) and Natalie Clein performed a dazzling version of the piece for string ensemble, transcribed by Dimitri Sitkovetsky, Alex’s uncle.
This concert was repeated in Portumna, part of a new strategy to bring our programme into county Galway. Subsequent concerts were repeated in Inverin and Oughterard.
There was one final element to this concert. Sergei Malov took the opportunity of his visit to present two violin workshops in Tuam, reaching over 400 primary school children.
The National Symphony orchestra came to Galway in October. This has turned out to be a particularly significant occasion as it marked one of the final performances of conductor Kenneth Montgomery, who sadly passed away in March 2023. The concert included the unveiling of a new work by Jane O’Leary, “unfolding soundscapes”, performed by our own artistic director Finghin Collins. The programme was completed with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.
Each year, Music for Galway celebrates the work of University of Galway scholar, Emily Anderson, translator of the letters of Mozart and Beethoven. In late October, Roseanne Philippens (violin) and Zolan Ferjevari (piano) performed three of Beethoven’s violin sonatas. Their program also included three pieces composed by B Mus students at University of Galway, a rare opportunity for young composers to have their work played as part of a mainstream concert by professional musicians.
We presented two concerts in November – the first at An Taibhdhearc by the Liverpool Quartet with works by Zemlinksy, Shostakovich and Irish composer Deirdre Gribben, and the second by frequent visitors to Galway, Malcolm Proud and Moya Humberger. In the beautiful acoustic of St Joseph’s Church, they presented baroque works by Schmelzer, Biber, Ignaz and, of course, JS Bach.
With the challenges of Covid behind us, Music for Galway finally managed to resume the work we had started in early 2020 on the preparation of a strategic plan for the organisation. With the support of the Arts Council, a consultant with experience in the arts sector was appointed to work with us. The project commenced in the final quarter of 2022 with an extensive stakeholder review, a series of conversations with audience members, partners, sponsors and members of the broader arts community. The output of those conversations informed the creation of a three-year strategic plan to be completed in early 2023.
We were greatly heartened by the response of our audiences in 2022. The size of those audiences, the unique atmosphere they created, and the positive feedback we received from them provides the encouragement we need to move forward.
Thank you to all the artists and technicians and arts workers as well as to the executive for their dedication, generosity of time and flexibility. Finally, we thank all the funding bodies, donors and sponsors who support our work, enabling us to bring music of the highest quality to the people of Galway.
Mark Gantly, Chair