Music to Your Ears | Galway’s Midwinter Festival

Did you know the term ‘Swan Song’ is derived from the legend that, while they are silent during their lives, swans sing beautifully and mournfully just before they die?

With this in mind, Music for Galway’s Midwinter Festival 2019 – subtitled ‘Swansong’ – will focus on compositions written towards the end of famous composers’ lives. It concludes a trilogy of seasons exploring the artistic legacy of musicians at different stages. This began with 2016-2017’s ‘Prodigy’, solely featuring works written before the age of 18 and continued with 2017-2018’s ‘Beloved’, where music was performed composed by artists in love.

Discussing this year’s programme, Finghin Collins, Artistic Director for Music for Galway said in a statement: “It has been hugely rewarding to programme the trilogy. I hope you enjoy the musical beauty of these final works which express those deep felt emotions that only intimations of mortality can evoke.”

Midwinter Festival 2019 will take place at the Town Hall Theatre in Galway from Friday, January 18 to Sunday, January 20. Over the years, the event has become renowned for bringing people together to enjoy great music in a welcoming, comfortable setting.

Galway ConTempo Quartet will perform a selection of contrapuncti – the technique of combining two melodic lines so they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their individuality – from J.S. Bach’s last great masterpiece The Art of Fugue.

Other highlights include soprano Ailish Tynan interpreting opera composer Richard Strauss’ achingly beautiful Four Last Songs, in which the German contemplates eternity with great composure, and Finghin Collins performing Four Pieces for Piano by Johannes Brahms. The latter was the Romantic period pianist’s last work for solo piano, whereby he distilled a lifetime of experience and technical refinement, giving listeners some of his most personal and moving music.

Dutch singer Henk Neven will bring his artistry as a baritone to Franz Schubert’s last song-cycle Schwanengesang. The work was written at the end of the composer’s short life – he died at 31 from typhoid fever – and is regarded as his farewell to song.

Clarinettist Michael Collins will be joined by the ConTempo Quartet for Brahms’ magnificent B minor Clarinet Quintet, regarded as one of the best works in the chamber repertoire for the instrument. Meanwhile pianist Leon McCawley – accompanied by Bogdan Sofei on violin, and Adrian Mantu on cello – will perform Fanny Mendelssohn’s beautiful Piano Trio in D minor, composed as a birthday present for her sister and published three years after her death.

The festival will also feature veteran composer John Kinsella as the special guest for the event Interview with the Composer on the Sunday morning, This will then be followed with a performance of his String Quartet No. 5 by the ConTempo Quartet.

Another special event is the festival’s opening talk ‘Indian Summers, Brahms, Strauss and a sense of the past’ delivered by musicologist Richard Wigmore. In his lecture, the professional singer and lecturer will set the context for this year’s festival.

The Midwinter Festival 2019 will then close with a cinematic ‘swansong’. In partnership with Galway Film Society, legendary Italian filmmaker Lucchino Visconti’s masterpiece Death in Venice will be shown.

Starring Dirk Bogarde and based on a book by German author Thomas Mann, the film centres on a sickly composer who becomes dangerously fixated with a teenage boy. The 1971 drama has been described as a ‘feast for the senses’ on account of its use of classical music. Featuring the third and fifth symphonies by Gustave Mahler, it won Best Sound Track at the 1972 BAFTA Awards.

Throughout the Midwinter Festival, patrons can enjoy 24 works, equating to 440 minutes of live performance, from nine internationally acclaimed artists. While prices vary for each event, entry for the entire festival costs from €90 (€100 including the Death in Venice screening). For more information and to purchase tickets, visit here.

Music for Galway is funded primarily by the Arts Council and Galway City Council. Its goal is to promote the west of Ireland; inspiring and enriching new audiences for music through memorable performances by exemplary national and international artists.

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