'I think he's among the finest composers that Ireland has ever produced': Charles Villiers Stanford Festival Takes Place This Weekend in Galway
What may be the very first festival in Ireland dedicated to the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) will take place this weekend in Galway, both live and online.
Music for Galway’s three-day Midwinter Festival is a popular annual event, which continued through the pandemic last year with ‘Goldberg’, a festival dedicated to Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
This year, Artistic Director Finghin Collins wants to provide audiences with a broad view of the impact of Stanford, an influential artist born and brought up in Dublin and who has long been neglected in his own country. The festival has three dimensions: the performance of works by composers who heavily influenced Stanford (such as Brahms and Schumann); a range of chamber and choral works by the composer himself, including a number of songs sung by Sharon Carty accompanied by Collins; and works by students of the composer – Stanford was a renowned teacher in his lifetime at the Royal College of Music in London.
In researching and assembling the programme, Collins consulted with Professor Jeremy Dibble of Durham University. Dibble is an authority on the composer and published a major biography of him in 2002. He has also been involved in publishing and promoting his works.
Among the key works to be performed is Stanford’s String Quartet No. 6. ‘I knew that Stanford wrote eight string quartets,’ said Collins speaking to the Journal of Music,’ but I didn’t really know them … [Dibble] pointed me towards numbers 6 and 7 and then I… asked [ConTempo Quartet] would they choose, and they chose No. 6, which has some nice Irish folk elements.’ The quartet will be performed in the opening concert at the Town Hall Theatre, along with works by Reinecke and Schumann.
The Saturday afternoon concert will feature what is probably Stanford’s most famous work, ‘The Blue Bird’, Op. 119, for choir. Along with the piece ‘Chillingham’, it was one of eight settings he made in 1910 of poems by Mary Coleridge. The concert, with Collegium Choir conducted by Mark Duley and tenor soloist Christopher Bowen, will finish with a work by one of Stanford’s students, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s (1875–1912), with an orchestral reduction performed by Collins. The premiere of the cantata was conducted by Stanford in 1898 and became an instant success with choral societies and audiences across Britain.
Stanford wrote a range of works for clarinet, and John Finucane of the NSO will perform a number of pieces over the weekend. On Saturday, he will play the Fantasy No. 1 for clarinet quintet. This will be partnered with Coleridge-Taylor’s work for the same forces, performed by Finucane with a quartet of RIAM students that he has been working with. On Sunday, he will perform Stanford’s Clarinet Sonata, Op. 129, with Collins, a work the duo have performed before. Also on Sunday morning, Andreea Banciu from ConTempo will perform the Viola Sonata by Rebecca Clarke, another of Stanford’s renowned students.
The final work of the festival will be Stanford’s Nonet in F major, Op. 95, performed with pieces by Brahms and songs by Clarke and Muriel Herbert. ‘Jeremy Dibble recommended [the Nonet],’ says Collins. ‘He thought it was one of [Stanford’s] finest chamber pieces and I like the idea of finishing off the weekend with something a bit bigger – a big number of people on stage together …something a bit different… It’s a great piece, very tuneful, it’s very beautifully written, very lyrical’. It may be the first performance of the work in Ireland.
The Midwinter Festival will also feature lectures by Dibble on Stanford’s chamber music and his teaching, and documentary films by Charles Kaufmann, one of which focuses on the music of Coleridge-Taylor.
The Stanford festival marks a significant moment for the composer’s oeuvre in Ireland, which prefaces his centenary in 2024 with an increased awareness of his music. Collins, who previously recorded Stanford’s 2nd Piano Concerto on Claves Records, says: ‘I think he’s among the finest composers that Ireland has ever produced… He was really highly regarded in his day.’
The Midwinter Festival will feature Sharon Carty, Finghin Collins, ConTempo Quartet, John Finucane, Ríona Ó Duinnín, John Leonard, Hannah Miller, Dominic Dudley, Chrisopher Bowen, Collegium choir, RIAM Student Quartet, and Jeremy Dibble. The four Town Hall Theatre concerts are available live and online, the Saturday afternoon concert at St Nicholas’ Church is available live only, and the lectures and films will be streamed.
For full details and tickets, visit https://musicforgalway.ie/event/midwinter-festival-stanford/.