THE West Cork Chamber Music Festival had three distinguishing features this year: the most incredible standard of musical performances; brilliant and sustained sunshine; and a programme that featured some quite demanding themes.
Festival director, Francis Humphrys, speaking midway through the festival, was quite clearly in awe of the talent on stage at Bantry House and St Brendan’s Church.
‘I haven’t been to a single dud performance yet,’ he said, ‘and I have been to everything. It is quite extraordinary how good everyone has been – that is why people come and why the musicians keep coming back.’
For some, the coffee concerts at 11am are the high point – like the sonorous delights of the Vivaldi Coffee Concert on the Sunday and hearing Summer from the ubiquitous Four Seasons played brilliantly on such a perfect summer’s day. It is just one example of how this festival weaves its magic.
‘It has got to the point where I feel I am going to have to apologise for the weather,’ said Mr Humphrys, who was mindful of the musicians coming off the stage drenched. ‘It is so hot, and giving performances like that, under those conditions, is extraordinary.’
The sunshine also affected audience numbers. The festival director confirmed that the daytime numbers were down dramatically and that some of the international tour groups did not, for one reason or another, come this year.
‘We have about nine groups that come on a reasonably regular basis, but this year we have two,’ said the festival director who stoically added: ‘We will weather it, but next year I am going to have to be a bit more cautious about the programme.’
He is referring to the fact that this year’s programme had some quite demanding themes: ‘composers and war and their reactions to it.’
The premiere, for example, was a performance of work by Deirdre Gribbin marking 80 years since Hitler’s Kristallnacht pogrom.
‘It is a theme running right through the festival,’ said Francis. ‘A lot of it is a bit tough, but we need to be a bit tough, I think, about everything, including music.’
Mr Humphrys said he felt compelled to have this year’s programme reflect what is happening throughout the world, in places such as the borders of the Mediterranean and the United States and Mexico.
‘The same things are happening again,’ he said, ‘the persecution of aliens – people who are considered not to belong.’
Mr Humphrys justified his programme choices saying: ‘I think you have to do this. It brings music that very often wouldn’t be heard – certainly not in Ireland – and it wins you respect among a lot of people, but it doesn’t necessarily bring the audience.’
Nevertheless, Francis Humphrys said: ‘I felt I had to mark the centenary of the Great War and the things that are happening all around the world. I felt it was important to make a few statements.’