This year’s Trench Award during the Birr Festival of Music has been won by Kildare pianist Aidan Chan.
The crowded auditorium of Birr Theatre & Arts Centre listened with rapt attention to the fabulous performances of six very talented young musicians on Sunday evening during the Trench Award concert.
Another Kildare contestant, soprano Leah Redmond, won the coveted Birr Lions Club Bursary and Nenagh baritone Dylan Rooney won the Canto al Serchio Prize which means an exciting musical residency in Italy. Dylan impressed the judges with his four songs including the ever popular Mozart aria “Non più andrai” (a song which is about the end of the philandering behaviour of a character in the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” - “You shall go no more, lustful butterfuly, / Day and night flitting to and fro; / Disturbing ladies in their sleep / Little Narcissus, Adonis of love.”) The Canto Al Serchio Award is kindly offered each year by renowned baritone Bruno Caproni and pianist Julian Evans. Each year Bruno and Julian run a summer music academy at their residence Villa Irlanda where a small group of international singers gather for vocal coaching, Italian lessons, performance opportunities, paying a visit to Puccini’s birthplace in nearby Lucca, and generally immersing themselves in Italian culture.
Leah Redmond performed five pieces which included the technically difficulty “Chanson Triste” by Henri Duparc, which she managed very well, and the equally difficult “Standchen” by Richard Strauss. She really blossomed in the final two songs. She gave an excellent rendition of the Sanderson song “As I Sit Here”. This is a very beautiful song which, alas, one very rarely hears performed live nowadays, so it was pleasing to hear it here. The final aria was Puccini’s very famous “Quando m’en vo” from La Bohème which is usually a crowdpleaser, and that proved no exception here.
Aidan Chan was technically brilliant but I think what won him the overall award was his emotional investment in the three pieces he played, particularly the final piece “Isolde’s Liebestod” by Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. This is a fiendishly difficult piece on the piano, one of Liszt’s typical, renowned, bravura pieces. Most piano players avoid tackling it because of its difficulties. Wagner’s music builds to a wonderful, thunderous climax which is one of the most magical and greatest moments in opera. Aidan was well up to the emotional, as well as technical, challenge and he showed a great maturity in his interpretation.
Another performer was Roscrea soprano Breffni Fitzpatrick. I feel Breffni was very close to winning one of the prizes as she gave an excellent performance. For me her best interpretation of the evening was the fourth and final song, “The Seal Man” by Rebecca Clarke, which is an emotional, atmospheric song with powerful lyrics, including, “She had a little white throat, and little cheeks like flowers, and she went down into the sea with her man, who wasn’t a man at all. She was drowned, of course.”
At the end of the evening the Steering Committee Chairperson Maureen de Forge said it had been a very special evening of musicmaking and a privilege to be in attendance. She said it had been a very successful weekend and she thanked all the audiences at all the events “for being with us across the weekend and savouring a unique celebration of classical music.” She offered “a huge thank you to our incredible funders, sponsors, patrons, volunteers, performers, venues, and more.” She also thanked the MC for the evening Tommy Lyndon who, as always, did a fantastic job, bringing a considerable amount of humour and wit to the proceedings. She also thanked Salters Sterling and Michael Hanna of the Trench Trust for their extraordinary vision and generosity. Maureen said listening to classical music of this high calibre is one of the most pleasant experiences in life and she would love to see more, much more, people in society embracing this special artform and enjoying its beauties.
There were several other events during the weekend. This writer attended the performance of Crash Ensemble in Birr Theatre on Friday evening. Crash is an acclaimed ensemble and we could see why this is the case. They performed an atonal, non-melodic programme which many listeners might find challenging, but they did it with the verve and energy of a rock group which was sometimes exhilarating to listen to. This was highly rhythmic, deeply atmospheric music. Some of it would be ideal accompaniment for horror films, and I don’t mean that comment in any sort of flippant way. I also liked the way Crash stayed firmly committed to their atonal vision, never once deviating into conventional, melodic music (which must be a temptation at times).