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Julie’s feet on ground as her new opera aims for the stars

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Arts Week with Judy Murphy – judymurphy@ctribune.ie

Athenry singer-songwriter Julie Feeney is having a busy Monday. She’s just performed live on RTÉ radio’s Pat Kenny Show where she was also discussing her latest projects, including the opera Bird, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale, The Happy Prince.

She followed that with two interviews with UK radio stations to mark the release of her latest album, the award-winning Clocks in Britain. Then there’s the Connacht Tribune interview, after which she’s off to the artists’ retreat, Annamakerrig in Co Monaghan to continue working on Bird, which will receive a concert performance net week as part of Galway Arts Festival. She’s also preparing for a concert with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in the National Concert Hall next month, where songs from her three albums, Clocks, Pages and 13 Songs will be performed, with full orchestral backing. Not to mention appearing in Castletown House, Co Kildare as part of the Music in Big Houses series, for which she is creating a special show about Irish people and The Big House.

But, despite a crazy schedule and the fact that she’s been on the road since 6.30am, she is fully in the moment as she settles down to have brunch and talk again about her work.

First up, Bird which she was commissioned to write by Dublin Theatre Festival, Galway Arts Festival, Kilkenny Arts Festival and Cork Midsummer Festival. It’s different to anything she’s worked on before, explains Dublin-based Julie, who originally hails from Ty Saxon, close to Athenry.

“It’s very different to making an album. I craft and make them in exactly the same way, but opera is such a broad art form and there are so many parts to it that I have to keep recalibrating.”

Julie has written the words as well as the music for Bird, although her original intention was to use Oscar Wilde’s text for the The Happy Prince with her music. She did that and performed a 20-minute segment of it at last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival. That was when she realised she wasn’t going to be able to ‘feel’ the story unless she wrote the libretto herself.

“I loved the story, but what really I loved was the reason behind it.”

Wilde’s account of the statue of the unhappy prince, which is befriended by a swallow appealed to her on three levels. It had flying, which she loved; it explored attachment to an inanimate object, which is something we all experience, whether it’s a piece of art or a car; and it was Irish.

Most of all, it felt right.

“When I found the story first I read it and then I went to sleep and left it open, to see if I was in a nice head space when I woke up and if I wanted to read it again.”

She did, using Wilde’s original text. “But after performing the 20 minutes at the Theatre Festival, I realised I wanted to get deeper.”

So she began imagining the scenario behind what Wilde had written and took it in her own direction.

“Initially I wanted it to be about flying and about the swallow flying, then I wanted them [the characters] all to be birds.”

So there’s a swallow, the prince has been re-imagined as a peacock, there’s a swan, a nightingale and a chorus made up of birds of paradise.

The story is not set in any particular time or place, but it’s most definitely ‘birdland’, she laughs.

What she really wanted to do was explore the prince’s story and why he was in statue form.

“Was he put under a spell, why was he so sad, how did he spend his time in the happy life he had, what role did fantasy play in his life?”

The notion of fantasy and its role in our lives fascinates her.

“I’ve never believed the hills are greener on the other side, so while fantasy and imagination are great, you need to bring them into your own life.”

She points to a flower in a vase on the table to illustrate her point.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

CITY TRIBUNE

Reverberate – exploring migration and memories

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Joselle Ntumba of Éireann and I, the collective that is presenting the show at Galway Arts Centre, pictured with her family.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

A new exhibition, Reverberate, by Éireann and I, will open at the city’s Galway Arts Centre this Saturday, December 3, at 2pm, and will run until December 22.

Reverberate is an oral history project developed by Éireann and I, a black migrant community archive, in collaboration with members of Galway’s African diaspora.

The organisers invited Black migrants who have settled in Galway to recount their journeys to Ireland, their relationship with the city and county, and to reflect on whether they have developed a sense of belonging.

The testimonies in Reverberate come from eight people of varying age and from different places. The many subjects they deal with include parenting, politics, the effects of the asylum system on lives and the communities and organisations they have built.

Some of their shared background is immediately obvious, but there are deeper connections too and these demonstrate how all humans are affected by the global and local tensions that cause people to leave their homelands and build new lives elsewhere.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Songs of Celebration at Galway Cathedral

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Composer and clarinettist Emma Johnson will join Vox Orbis.

Galway’s Vox Orbis, a female choral ensemble directed by Mark Keane, is joining forces with internationally renowned clarinettist Emma Johnson to present her Songs of Celebration. The concert will take place in Galway Cathedral next Friday, December 9

Emma Johnson, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Future at the age of 17, has since gone on to become one of the world’s biggest selling classical artists, celebrated for her diverse repertoire. The choir will present two of her compositions as well as her Variations on We wish you a merry Christmas with Annalisa Monticelli, piano.

The programme will also include Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, accompanied by concert harpist Aisling Ennis. Aisling has recently released an album of harp solos, Folly of Melancholy, and will perform a solo on the evening too. Galway based soprano Noreena McDonagh will join the choir for seasonal favourite, O Holy Night, newly arranged by conductor Mark Keane.

Vox Orbis promotes the work of female composers, and the programme will include Snow Angel by the contemporary Canadian composer Sarah Quartel, with Nickie Geddes, cello. They have also commissioned leading Irish composer, Rhona Clarke, to compose a set of carols, Sweet the Song, which will also be premiered on the evening.

Tickets at €20 are available on Eventbrite and at the door on the night. Visit voxorbis.ie for more information.

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‘Potato People’ pays homage to victims of Great Famine

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Artist and sculptor Joe McCaul

The Potato People, an exhibition of sculptures based on the Irish Famine of 1845-49, will open in the foyer of Alcantara, one of the new buildings at the city’s Bonham Quay, this weekend.

It’s the work of artist and sculptor Joe McCaul, who lives in Ballinderreen.

These ceramic figures, fired in clay, “tell the harrowing stories of the lives and deaths of our ancestors during the Great Hunger”, he explains.

The exhibition has already had an eight-week run in Kinvara where it was very well-received, Joe adds.

Joe became fascinated by the Great Famine in recent times and with the many different accounts of those tragic years.

This fascination began in earnest when he read The Truth Behind the Irish Famine, by Kerryman Jerry Mulvihill.

“I began to feel a strong affinity with the people in these stories, their tragedy and the horrendous suffering they endured. I felt compelled to find a way to honour the millions who died of hunger and disease – and emigration; the countless stories forgotten in the Famine graveyards all over this country.”

Joe used his knowledge of working with paper clay to express this need. The process was intuitive and experimental, he says, as he worked without pre-planning or pre-drawing.

The resulting figures, which were formed by draping paper clay over armatures of chicken wire and steel bars, “just emerged from my fingertips. I sculpted feverishly for many months, one horrific figure leading to the next – so many stories to be told”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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