Festival reviews

Jeremy Hill, writing in the New Ross Echo, opined that:

“…this piano festival now ranks in quality and imaginative organisation and programming with any other event of its like around the world. Its uniquely personal atmosphere is engendered by the superb location and acoustic quality of St. Mary’s Church. A dedicated volunteer and amateur committee deserves the sweetest smelling bouquet of bright and colourful flowers for they present an unequalled opportunity for music lovers to engage with the genius of world class piano playing.

2017 reviews

“New Ross’s greatest claim to fame is undoubtedly persuading John F. Kennedy’s great-grandfather to take a boat to America in 1849, during the Irish potato famine. Statues, a homestead-museum and an arboretum now testify to New Ross’s gift to the New World. A couple of hours’ drive south of Dublin, this town appears an unlikely location for a piano festival. But back in 2006, the young Irish pianist Finghin Collins got together with local music-lovers to found an annual piano weekend. For a venue they settled on the venerable St Mary’s Church of Ireland, a snug spot with comfortable seats and good acoustics. A decade on, the New Ross Piano Festival has expanded in extent and ambition, now stretching over five days, with the innovation of a preliminary jazz day and performance opportunities for emerging pianists of the region.  But its greatest asset is still its intimacy, built around just three days of solo and small-chamber “classical” performances.

Collins has meanwhile stormed the heights of international fame, with recent tours of America, Australia and China, augmenting an ever-busy European schedule.  His calendar in 2015 included Hungary’s chamber-music festival in Kaposvár, directed by violinist Kristóf Baráti and cellist István Várdai.  Hence, his concept for New Ross 2017:  a festival involving “Hungarian musicians playing non-Hungarian music, and non-Hungarian musicians playing Hungarian music — so there is a whole mix going on”.  And so it was, with Liszt, Dohnányi, Bartók, Kodály, Ligeti and Kurtág works running as a national leitmotif through its programmes.

Those programmes especially featured the Hungarian pianists Klára Würtz, winner of the 1988 Dublin International Piano Competition, and Zoltán Fejérvári, winner of the Montréal International Music Competition just last May, among the Festival’s half-dozen pianists.  Each evening, in turn, Würtz, Collins and Fejérvári joined with the superb Baráti-Stumm-Várdai trio in playing Fauré, Schumann and Brahms piano quartets.  It sometimes felt, indeed, like a mini-eisteddfod.  Musicologist, Endre Tóth, in short talks each lunchtime, enthusiastically kept the Hungarian themes before the audience’s mind.

The rising piano star of this Festival was thirty-year-old Zoltán Fejérvári.  Unassuming when approaching the podium and still needing some practice in the noble art of applause-catching, Fejérvári, when actually seated at the keyboard, leaves no doubts about his technical prowess and deep musicianship.  The splendid sparseness of Beethoven’s late Six Bagatelles, fueled by the Master’s craggy and outlandish counterpoint, was impeccably rendered.  And the Liszt Sonata in B minor, after some initial rhythmic contortions, emerged as an intellectual “tour de force”, eschewing the customary bombast for an imaginative and consistent reading of Liszt’s demanding specifications.  A lesser pianist often cheats a little to gain speed or lets slip some of the melodic threads in Liszt’s complex musical fabrics, but Fejérvári’s delivery was true to the score, technically uncompromising, yet never forsook Liszt’s powerful poetry.  When joining Hungarian colleagues in Brahms’s Piano Quartet in C minor, Fejérvári’s talents as a chamber player were even more to the fore.  The balance, stylistic integration and reconciliation of individual interpretations made this the chamber performance of the Festival, notwithstanding Collins’ masterly collaboration with the same string trio in Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major on the previous evening.

Other manifestations of the Festival’s Hungarian theme included Collins’s nicely choreographed performance of the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, and an engaging opening concert by Irish pianist Séan Morgan-Rooney included shorter works from Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata, Dohnányi’s Ruralia Hungarica, and half a dozen of Kodály’s piano pieces.  At the other end of the Festival, Collins and Klára Würtz performed five of Kurtág’s Játékok for four hands, including the fiendish “Hommage à Sárközy”. Würtz also presented a polished performance of the four character pieces that comprise Bartók’s Op. 14 Piano Suite, but struggled to meet the simultaneous challenges of large leaps, dare-devil speed and high note accuracy in the outer movements of his solo Sonata (1926).  Mind you, even Bartók himself fell before those combined challenges, and quietly dropped the work from his active repertory after a few years.  It was on Würtz, too, that the honour was bestowed of concluding the Festival, with a spirited performance — full of folk colours and fine embellishments — of Kodály’s thorny piano version of his Dances of Marosszék, now better known in its orchestral clothing.

Rounding out the Festival were three contrasting cameo concerts, less connected with Hungarian focus.  Fortepianist, Kristian Bezuidenhout, just announced as Principal Guest Director of London’s “period chamber orchestra”, The English Consort,  brought to New Ross his own Paul McNulty reproduction of an 1805 instrument by Viennese maker Anton Walter.  On it he presented works by Beethoven (two rondos), Haydn (a variations movement) and Mozart (the Sonata in B flat major of 1783). Compared with a large modern Steinway this wonderful instrument — in Bezuidenhout’s capable hands and pedalling — demonstrated how much was lost, as well as gained, by the later developments of the piano.  The poignant late Haydn alternating variations conveyed a bloodless depth of emotions denied to modern pianos, just as the the finale of the Mozart sonata, in its cadenza, demonstrated admirably the passionate, silvery bravura of which these straight-stringed instruments are capable.

A second cameo came from twenty-year-old Elizaveta Ukrainskaia, last year’s winner of the European Piano Competition. Her hour-long recital — a nine-movement suite, originally for harpsichord, by Rameau; Schubert’s Hungarian Melody (1824); and Prokofiev’s ten-movement Cinderella Suite — through its many miniatures demonstrated neat technique, faultless memory and apt character depiction.  It remained for her final item, Liszt’s twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody, to dispel any possible notions of being “lightweight”.  Because of illness, a third cameo concert, from David Greilsammer, director of the Geneva Camerata, had to be cancelled, but Collins stepped in with four Chopin noctures, well matched to the concert’s late-night scheduling.

This short, intense festival in New Ross is a hidden gem.  Its exposure of well and less known Hungarian compositions and performers never faltered.  Perhaps one day it will even outrival the Kennedy legacy as New Ross’s greatest claim to fame.”

Malcolm Gillies, London-based musicologist and critic

2016 reviews

“The 11th New Ross Piano Festival offers an eclectic choice of programmes in the agreeable acoustic of St Mary’s Church. In two back-to-back events, I catch all of this year’s musicians. In Bach’s 1st Partita, artistic director Finghin Collins brings a carefree air to the dancing Courante as it slips merrily along. His Sarabande is stately but never stodgy while hopping Minuets precede the vitality of his final Gigue.”

Pat O’Kelly, Sunday Independent

“The eleventh New Ross Piano Festival continued to attract audiences and quality musicians to enjoy three days of wonderful music in times that are still difficult for the arts. The concerts are well put together, and I for one am glad that the ‘new music’ content of the new compositions to celebrate the Ros Tapestry is completed.”

Liam Murphy, Munster Express

2015 reviews

“The Ros Tapestry, a community project that was developed by more than 150 volunteers, is a celebration of the history of New Ross, a latter-day Bayeux for the southeast of Ireland. The Ros Tapestry Suite, commissioned by the New Ross Piano Festival, is not just a musical celebration of the tapestry and the events remembered in its 15 panels, but is also a cross-section of composition in Ireland in the second decade of the 21st century.”

Michael Dervan, Irish Times

“Celebrating its 10th anniversary in St Mary’s Church, the New Ross Piano Festival continues its established pattern of programme diversity and eclectic virtuosi mix.”

Pat O’Kelly, Irish Independent

“Once upon a time all roads led to Rome; but not so this past weekend in Barrowside New Ross whose steep and narrow medieval streets led unerringly to the platform of the town’s 10th Piano Festival. They have done so for a decade now and over those years they’ve played their part in a masterclass of musical experience. New York might have Carnegie Hall and London the Wigmore, but New Ross has St. Mary’s Church, standing contentedly on the site of Norman knight William Marshall’s earlier 13th century ecclesiastical building, and erected before the days of acoustic engineering. St. Mary’s interior resonates with a sound unequalled by its competitors to the delight of composer, musician and audience alike.”

Jeremy Hill, Echo Newspapers

“Finghin Collins got the 10th New Ross Piano Festival off to a splendid start at the Parish Church with a Beethoven Concerto with the RTE Concert Orchestra. The audience loved the lyrical, and expansive work where the piano was gentle in the Largo and the orchestra had the majestic sweep of an autumnal breeze. There was a pleasing almost dreamlike feeling ending in a triumphant orchestral flourish.”

Liam Murphy, Munster Express

2014 reviews

“If you’re a festival director performing in your own festival, you’re like a player-manager in football: the sole aim of your team selection has to be winning. You can’t fear being upstaged by the players you select. What you can do – what Kenny Dalglish did in Liverpool, for example, and what pianist and artistic director Finghin Collins did at his New Ross Piano Festival last weekend – is set the bar high with your own performance.”

Michael Dungan, Irish Times

“Under astute artistic director Finghin Collins the 9th New Ross Piano Festival broadens its remit by inserting music for piano and winds in its programmes for the first time. In two festival events I hear Dublin-based Cassiopeia Winds, led by flautist Caitríona Ryan and joined by the ubiquitous Collins, in works from the French repertoire.”

Pat O’Kelly, Sunday Independent

“The Ros Tapestry, seen by many as culturally related to the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, became an important element of the recent New Ross Piano Festival. Defying the national pecuniary straights and reduced grant funding, the festival committee commissioned, from its own resources, five short compositions for piano by five Irish composers. Each piece was to be a response to an individual tapestry in the series of fifteen panels; the commissioners’ only restraint on the composers was a time limit of five minutes.”

Jeremy Hill, Echo Newspapers

2013 reviews

“Behind the vision of New Ross Piano Festival’s artistic director, Finghin Collins, lies an instinct for access and inclusion; and so it was that seven years old Jane Sutton played the first notes of this year’s festival weekend with precocious aplomb, her Dvorak melody stirring the embers of fire to come from the professionals. Lily Hayes and Clare Spollen stood out among the 24 other young musicians from the South East at the opening event which gave them all a taste of a Steinway concert grand piano and the valuable experience of performing live before an audience.”

Jeremy Hill, Wexford Echo

“The Russian slant on this year’s New Ross Piano Festival comes more from the visiting artists than the composers represented although Rakhmaninov, Shostakovich and Boris Tchaikovsky (unrelated to Piotr Il’yich) dominate the events I attend. However, artistic director Finghin Collins’ astute programme planning means hearing the Russian visitors, each at different stages in their careers, as well as Collins himself, in back-to-back recitals.”

Pat O’Kelly, Irish Independent

“Due to a very busy weekend programme of arts, music and musical theatre I was only able to attend one day of the excellent New Ross Piano Festival. Artistic Director, Finghin Collins and his dedicated committee have established this festival firmly in the Irish calendar, and the performers have brought a wonderful international quality to the event. I know these are difficult times, but soon this niche festival will have to expand on its four days of events, and perhaps consider moving the St. Michael’s Theatre. There needs to be consolidation, and I am sure St. Michael’s could do with the business.”

Liam Murphy, The Munster Express

2012 reviews

“Last year in September was my second visit to the small, picturesque town of New Ross in County Wexford, Ireland. Pianofiles cannot ask for much more than a festival across four full days. What is more, the acoustic in St Mary’s Church, the main concert venue, rivals many of the great chamber-music acoustics available. 2011’s series was a highly enjoyable spotlight on works for two pianos. Last year, the first evening concert was given by Irish jazz pianist Fergus Sheil. His delicate and sensitive touch served the succession of standards beautifully, full of carefully voiced chords and intimate improvisations.”

Francesco Burns for ClassicalSource.com

2011 reviews

“The history of music in New Ross is due another glowing page after the recent Piano Festival weekend at St. Mary’s Church where audiences were treated to work by eighteen composers from 18thC Amadeus Mozart to 21stC Stephen Gardner. As a prelude to the main event, the 2011 New Ross Piano Festival began with a young players’ concert – 20 budding pianists from the south-east aged from 11 to 18. The concert platform is a lonely place even for the professional soloist but these young musicians relished the chance to play a concert grand before an audience.”

Jeremy Hill, New Ross Echo

“New Ross is a small port town in County Wexford. It’s easy to get to, whether by ferry to Rosslare or flight to Waterford; yet you’d be hard-pressed to think of New Ross as a destination in itself. Except, that is, in a long weekend towards the end of September, when the New Ross Piano Festival brings a volley of top-notch concerts to the serendipitously generous acoustic of St Mary’s Church.”


“Everything stops for the piano in New Ross – even the traffic… This quiet town in County Wexford is certainly an out-of-the-way venue for a major piano festival. The nearest airport, Waterford, is so small that you can easily absently-mindedly wander through passport control without knowing you have done so until you see the provincial station-style sandwich bar on the other side. Then you have to either get a taxi, or – better option – hire a car to reach New Ross itself.”

BBC Music Magazine

2010 reviews

“The brochure for the 2010 New Ross Piano Festival offers the reader a quote from a Medieval poem in which the poet, describing the building of the walls of New Ross, makes the observation: ‘and every stranger finds a welcome and is received with great joy’. Eight hundred years later, the line could be describing present day New Ross, and even more so the New Ross Piano Festival, a boutique festival founded by a group of music enthusiasts living in the port town of New Ross in southeast Ireland, who had met at various musical events in neighbouring towns and decided to launch something similar in their own.”

Chloe Cutts, International Piano

“It is an improbable location for a piano festival but, my word, it’s a good one. Snuggled in the south-east corner of Ireland, an easy 30-minute drive from Waterford Airport [landing, baggage collection, passport control and hire car all done in 10 minutes], New Ross lies by the side of the River Barrow. It’s all “a bit shook”, as the locals say.”

Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone

“Here is a wonderful example of how a little inspiration and a large amount of collective enthusiasm can go a very long way.”

Chloe Cutts, Classical Music

2009 reviews

“Now in its fourth season, the four-day New Ross Piano Festival, with Finghin Collins as Artistic Director, displays innovative planning both in content and artistic flexibility.”

Pat O’Kelly, Irish Independent

“When they buried General John Moore, one time captor of Wexford in 1798, at Corunna in 1809 there was only silence… ‘not a drum was heard, not a funeral note’… and in St. Mary’s Church, New Ross last Friday not a cough was heard, not a snuffled-up sneeze, as Finghin Collins opened this year’s piano festival with Bach’s Partita No.2.”

Jeremy Hill, Wexford Echo

“St. Mary’s Church sits on a steep hill looking over the grey rooftops and winding streets of New Ross and beyond to the wide Barrow river. It was from here that John F Kennedy’s forebears departed for the New World.”

Dick O’Riordan, Sunday Business Post