“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything” – Plato
It has been my privilege these past years, as music co-ordinator at Castletown, to meet some of the most gifted and talented people. I have been truly humbled in their presence.
I remember how we started, all those years ago, with choirs in the (freezing) Entrance Hall, each weekend of December; how that developed into a Sunday lunchtime recital programme there, where many assembled not only in the Entrance Hall, but on the front steps and beyond, to hear the dulcet sounds emanating from within.
I remember how, through the recession years, we continued with the free recitals, with the blessing of the then manager. We felt we were playing our small part in bringing distraction, comfort and beauty to people. It also supported our artists at that difficult time.
Sadly, in these very different and challenging times, we cannot support those artists; nor can we provide music in our hour of need, but we will, when normality resumes, AND IT WILL RESUME, fill the house and grounds with music, with joy, and with hope.
In the meanwhile, I can reflect on some of the wonderful artists who have graced the environs of Castletown, some of the wonderful concerts and recitals, which always raised the sense of excitement and anticipation, and enhanced the beauty and splendour of this great house.
I remember the wondrous sound of internationally acclaimed Irish composer, Patrick Cassidy’s ‘Children of Lir’, soaring from the Long Gallery, not to mention the logistics of shepherding choir, soloists and musicians back and forth between their Green Room in the Stable Wing and the main house, without losing any of them!
I remember Violinist Sebastien Petiet’s resounding performance of Lallo’s Spanish Symphony, accompanied by the County Kildare Orchestra, when they played like never before. On hearing it now, I’m immediately transported to that time and place, to the energy and excitement of the moment.
I smile when I think of when one of my colleagues, on finding Sebastien in the Stable Wing, warming up, while the orchestra was already playing, was about to physically manhandle him back to the Long Gallery, before realising that he was the soloist!
I recall one of Ireland’s leading violinist, Lynda O’Connor’s passionate performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, accompanied by some of our finest musicians.
The second half was equally thrilling, when she was joined by Mia Cooper, courtesy of the RTE Concert Orchestra, for Bill Whelan’s Inis Lacken; magical!
Of course, more recently we’ve had maestro Niall Kinsella conducting Handel’s masterpiece, Messiah, from the home of one of its first patrons, Katherine Conolly. Indeed, we’re also proud to have a print of the alto, Sarah Cibbers, who was brought over from London, by Handel, for its debut performance in Fishamble Street, in our 18th Century Print Room.
She was more renowned as an actress, but Handel obviously liked her voice!
April 5th was to be the third year of Messiah in Castletown. Sadly, it also has fallen foul of the Corona virus, being one of the many events cancelled. No doubt this magnificent oratorio would be a fitting restart to our music programme, as many of us may feel like proclaiming “Hallelujah” on the conclusion of this challenging period in our lives.
Many other great artists have graced the Long Gallery. Internationally renowned mezzo-soprano, Sharon Carty, a local girl, is the pride and joy of Castletown, in that in a roundabout way, it was after an early performance in the house, that led Sharon to the decision to concentrate fully on her voice (she was teaching at the time) and so she took herself off to Vienna, followed by Frankfurt, for further studies.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Sharon is now one of the most sought-after mezzos on the Baroque platform. It was an honour and a privilege to have her back in Castletown in February 2019, with a concert performance of Irish National Opera’s ‘Orfeo Ed Euredice’.
Sharon will be back home again!
Equally thrilling have been the voices of renowned sopranos, Sandra Oman and Kildare-born, Celine Byrne. I can only describe the atmosphere during these concerts as “magical”!
Moving back to the Entrance Hall, I remember the wonderfully gifted pianist, Fiachra Garvey, who during the early years of his career, when preparing for competition, would email, asking if he could do a pre-concert recital. Of course, we were always happy to oblige and Fiachra, as well as being the founder and director of West Wicklow Music Festival, is now also performing with renowned orchestras at home and abroad.
We were delighted to have Fiachra back in Castletown last year, in concert with one of our favourite cellists, Gerald Peregrine.
Where it’s always an honour to have top class artists, ensembles and orchestras and festivals, such as Vanburgh Quartet, Irish Baroque Orchestra and Great Music in Irish Houses (due to return in June for its fiftieth birthday), it is, however, the young artists from whom I often take most joy. They are the future and I feel it’s imperative to support them in every way we can. We’re doing our bit to support them by offering them performance time in this outstanding Palladian-style house, with its magnificent acoustics.
A talent that jumps to mind immediately is the remarkable young violinist, Patrick Rafter, a student of the Master, world-renowned Maxim Vengerov. Patrick has to be seen to be believed. I heard him a few years ago in the NCH and said to myself, “I want him for Castletown….while we can afford him”!!!
He left a pair of shoes behind him once, which remained in my office for many months. I told him I was going to keep them and sell them on ebay when he was famous! I did, however, return them later when he was back in Dublin, in concert with his mentor and the National Symphony Orchestra.
We look forward to Patrick’s return to Castletown……. while we can afford him!
Speaking of young up-and-coming artists, we were lucky to have the Irish National Opera Studio Artists in concert in The Hunting Room on the 1st March. Little did we know that these amazing young singers – Kelli-Ann Masterson, Brid Ni Ghruagain, Andrew Gavin and Rory Dunne, accompanied by Seho Lee on piano – would be the last concert in Castletown for quite some time.
Rest assured, though, we will be back!
Whereas Castletown’s music programme is primarily classical in nature, we have had, and continue to have, music from the different genres, such as traditional, jazz, world and others besides.
A stand-out concert for me was the performance of Brian Hughes’ ‘Shackleton’s Endurance”, when traditional musicians were joined by classical musicians, as well as a male Gospel choir (the ship’s crew!); this will forever remain in my memory as exceptional!
Other stand-out moments are the irrepressible Conor McKeon and his band on the Back Lawn, when even the weather obliged!
Future plans at Castletown, will, I hope, include more outdoor music, on the Back Lawn, and in the Pleasure Grounds.
Of course, the musicians who play at our monthly markets also deserve a mention, when the courtyard “rocks” to the sounds of the many wonderful concert bands and groups entertaining the crowds.
Here I must mention Polish violinist, Bogdan Rusin, from the earlier years. I found Bogdan busking on Grafton street.
He had been one of the many professional musicians who found themselves unemployed in Poland, when the government closed down the majority of its orchestras. Bogdan has gone on to bigger and better things, but we’re always delighted to see him when he returns to Ireland.
Nothing in Castletown is a one man, or one woman, job, and my colleagues and line managers have been of invaluable support.
Thank you, Kevina, our Events Manager, for listening to all my mad ideas without raising your eyes to heaven, (at least not in my presence!), to Sandra for creating my posters, and to everyone else for putting up with me!
Dear readers, keep heart, keep safe and ‘We’ll Meet Again’, as Vera lane sung in some of the world’s darkest hours during World War II. Let music soothe you, whatever kind it may be.
Linda Gillen Byrne, Music Co-ordinator.
“I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it” – Igor Stravinsky