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.

2023 reviews

The Divil at the 2023 New Ross Piano Festival 

The music of Franz Liszt often features at the New Ross Piano Festival (NRPF) where last weekend an audience of newcomers and oldtimers satiated their expectations; unlike their antecedents in Clonmel in the winter of 1840 who forgot they had engaged the virtuoso, New Rossians came eagerly to hear Ellen Jannsen’s thrilling and forceful account of Liszt’s  Ballade #2 in B minor. Another infrequent, but not entirely unexpected guest – the very Divil himself – imposed himself in the score in order to challenge the performer but Ellen gave him the flick and creamed her performance delectably while in a state of heightened consciousness stimulated by her audience, itself similarly in the zone. This rare coincidence is what live music is all about. Yevgeny Subdin’s playing of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata #5 was similarly electric, though his demeanour gives little away. And if that wasn’t enough, along comes Meagen Milatz from the vast wheatbelts of Saskatchewan with an informative verbal introduction to her selection of Clara Schumann’s music. Clara’s compositions don’t get the space given to her husband, Robert, but aficionados know better and certainly would if they’d heard her recital on Saturday with its rich, warm and vital tones enlivened with strength and vigour. Clara was self-mentored in the nowadays scarce culture of the musical salon but what is the NRPF if not a contemporary version of the bygone soirée? Many people in the audience were known to one another, even if only by sight, and with whom the musicians mingled freely throughout the festival creating a convivial collective of enthusiasm. The consequent warm relationship engendered engagement between musician and audience which helped to heighten performance and reception. 

Composer Frank Martin’s 1925 Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello on popular Irish melodies is a take on Irish traditional music akin to the work of Bartok, Stravinsky, and Delius, among others, drawn from folk tunes. Martin’s piece included a complex mix of superimposed rhythms where a slip jig in 9/8 plays simultaneously with a regular jig, The Blackthorn Stick, in 6/8. Meagan Milatz, on piano, accompanied Mirijam Contzen, violin, and Alexander Chaushian, cello; the latter two were seen occasionally foot tapping during parts of the challenging mix of rhythmic character, perhaps a subconscious act of authenticity invariably seen in traditional music sessions. The trio’s rousing rendition suggests the piece deserves more exposure. Lucifer then interfered with the original programming when a scheduled player fell ill to be replaced with the ever energetic Milatz and her partner, Cameron Crozman. They also looked at folk music with Crozman’s cello cleverly imitating the sound of a flute with his bow playing the 2 bass strings far down the fretboard towards the bridge.

The hellion was still at it but he was finally finished off by Yumeka Nakagawa in her thrillingly brilliant performance of Chopin’s 24 Preludes Op. 28. Small in stature but mighty in forte, she moved beautifully through largo, allegro and lento until exploding with dramatic force in prelude #16, Presto con fuoco. Chopin’s score is rife with devilish technical difficulty and unexpected twists and turns all treated with astonishing ability and felicity. Brava.

Festival artistic director, Finghin Collins, brought his majestic presence and passionate delivery to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata Op. 1 and two Chopin nocturnes, his choices contrasting Berg’s uneasy tonal harmonies (decried as degenerate art by the Nazis) with the sublimity and grace of Chopin’s strains.

The festival’s annual celebration of piano playing of ‘mesmerising virtuosity, unanimity of vision, intelligent interpretation, and intensity of sound’* continues unabated in the intimacy of St. Mary’s Church with its fine, natural audile properties. Attendees who chose to forego Saturday’s evening recital in favour of a rugby match, though Ireland won, missed an inimitable musical experience.

 *Jeremy Yudkin, BostonGlobe.com, 11 Sep. 2023 (not specifically about this festival but relevant).


The 17th New Ross Piano Festival had to cope with rugby matches, storms, leaf-shedding winds, bucketing rain, and an event cancellation due to ill health. It has built resilience over the years and, thanks to Artistic Director Finghin Collins, has developed an exciting programme. Adding jazz to the festival has yielded excellent results in expanding the audience. None more so than the concert by Kit Downws (based in Germany). He is a contemporary jazz musician and composer who surprised and impressed me.

He didn’t have a programme, but in his creative way, he spoke to the audience about music in the moment, and what moments! His work has developed a crossover genre repertoire with contemporary music, organ music and country-influenced pieces on CD.

Arriving onstage in a cream cheese-cloth shirt, dark trousers and stockinged feet, he began by ‘noodling’ with improvisations and then started a series of sounds within the Steinway grand piano. My heart sank. Not another deconstructor of the music and the instrument. But his technique built and built into passionate exposition of ripples and cascades and sweet, sweet jazz.

After the interval, he was at the organ in the balcony loft and created wonders on those pipes, adding drones into full church organ mode. Then he wowed with a variation of ‘She Moved Through The Fair’.

Returning to the altar stage, he rocked into honky tonk and lonesome train whistles fading into the distance and drifting into late-night cabaret jazz and ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’.

His segue into Skip James Delta Blues was so impressive, and then the Scottish fiddle influences of Aidan O’Rourke from the original Blazin’ Fiddles band……..

Liam Murphy

2022 reviews

Enchantment in New Ross

An elegant flight of granite steps lead the way into St. Mary’s Church in New Ross which has one of those fortunate interiors that enriches the sound of music. The professional musicians who play in the church’s intimate space respond with overt pleasure to the acoustical characteristics of this ancient, medieval place; it’s this innate response that adds vital advantage to the height of exceptional performance. 

Such was the accomplishment of two recitals at this year’s New Ross Piano Festival that audiences found themselves spellbound in states of enchantment. The Albion Quartet, with Georgian pianist Tamara Licheli, gave the first of these fruitions in the playing of American composer Amy Beach’s early 20th century Piano Quintet Op. 67. Live performance is sometimes fortuitous enough to bring everything together in a climax of perfection. Licheli’s accompaniment was delicately judged to find the precise fulcrum between quartet and piano and this integration elevated the totality of the performance. The violins, viola and cello included a Stradivari and a Guarneri, the former known for sweetness of sound and the latter for gutsy timbre but each and all producing the divine music of the spheres. Finding itself by good fortune in an auditory sweetspot, the performance soon stunned the audience into utter silence andan embrace between player and listener enfolded while the proverbial falling pin was suspended in mid drop. 

Saturday’s midday Coffee Concert by Ukranian soloist Dmytro Choni occasioned further reverie. His assured personality and dignified address at the keyboard created an immediate rapport with piano and audience and it took only a few bars for us to realise that something special was forthcoming. Choni is a gifted pianist and despite the extraordinarily good performances of the other five in this remarkable festival his recital stood out as exceptional. Music and performance is above politics but the interface between the calm and simplicit bagatelles of Choni’s fellow countryman Valentin Sylvestros and Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata #2 seemed an apt metaphor for the David and Goliath confrontation that is so disturbing the world. 

Other memorable performances included Finghin Collins’ Schubert:  Der Wanderer, John Plowright’s Chopin: Tempo di Marcia, Tamara Licheli’s Schumann:  C major Fantasia, F-X Poizat’s Ravel: preludes, and Máire Carroll’s Philip Glass: Étude #12.

All the adjectives in the dictionary could never conjure up the magical musical expression of Dmytro Chroni’s sublime performance at one of the finest piano festivals on offer. 

26 September 2022

2021 reviews

A live-concert resurrection to lift us out of musical limbo

New Ross Piano Festival was back in action with some transcendent performances

Musically, we’re in a kind of limbo. The country’s biggest musical institution, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, still hasn’t found a way to play regularly for live audiences, though it is performing for a paying public at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this Friday – a giant leap, in current circumstances. And, who knows, the definitive move of the orchestra from RTÉ to the National Concert Hall, currently scheduled for Monday November 1st, may change all that, though currently classical music is pretty sparse in the hall’s own schedule. At the moment it looks as if it’s regional promoters who are being quickest to get back to normal activity. The Westport Festival of Chamber Music took place earlier this month, Music for Galway has announced its 40th season with concerts running up to January, the tiny Derravaragh Music Association, which gives concerts in Tullynally Castle, Co Westmeath, is back in action, and last weekend brought full programmes from the Sligo Festival of Baroque Music and the New Ross Piano Festival.

New Ross opened with a confident free midday recital by Tiffany Qiu, who is currently continuing her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her programme of Bach, Chopin, Schubert, Debussy, Elliot Teo (a fellow student in London) and Liszt followed the simplest and most straightforward of lines: a succession of pieces that she particularly likes. On this occasion it was the clean lines of three movements from Bach’s fifth French Suite which most fully suggested her potential.

The main opening concert started with an extravaganza, the arrangement of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture for four players on two pianos made by Robert Keller, chief editor at Brahms’s publisher, Simrock. It was a peculiar choice, given the composer’s reservations about Keller’s transcriptions, and it sounded exactly like what it was – a version for domestic consumption, prepared at a time when music lovers had no access to radio or recordings. Keller himself likened his arrangements to “drawings”. Brahms’s musical thought came awkwardly in and out of focus in the performance by Katya Apekisheva, Christian Chamorel, Finghin Collins and Charles Owen.

Overly sculpted

Apekisheva and Owen are an established duo, and performed together in works by Poulenc and Milhaud, and also in solos, Owen offering overly sculpted performances of Chopin (the Nocturne in F sharp, Op 15 No 2, and the Barcarolle) and Apekisheva a hell-for-leather, aggressive account of Prokofiev’s sharp-edged Sarcasms.

The festival’s major new commission was Sally Beamish’s Sonnets for three pianists and two pianos. Six hands is a rare enough combination, but Beamish took the idea quite a bit further in a theatrical piece sparked by Shakespeare’s Sonnets 19 and 129.

Sonnets is a playful piece that casts the players as the Bard himself (Owen), the dark lady (Apekisheva) and the young man who was of interest to both (Collins). It’s also a theatrical piece for which the first entry set the tone – Collins sauntering up the aisle of St Mary’s Church, more interested in flicking through pages on his mobile phone than anything in the wider world.

Beamish makes atmospheric use of some songs of Dowland and plays quite directly with the interpersonal tensions she’s depicting. The theatrical realisation, however, did get a bit too guffaw pantomimic, as in the moment when the three players were jostling for position on a single piano stool.

Israeli pianist Einav Yarden made a point of juxtaposing Haydn and CPE Bach, the one a giant in so many areas of music, the other a famous son whose quirkiness continues to make him elusive to many listeners. Yarden’s approach to both composers was very brittle, melodic lines shard-like, the stretched logic of CPE Bach pushed beyond breaking point. It was almost as if she had taken the performing aesthetic of postwar serial music and applied it to the late 18th century. She shone, however, in Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös’s Erdenklavier-Himmelklavier, a 21st-century tribute to fellow composer Luciano Berio, and even more so in Eötvös’s Dances of the Brush-Footed Butterfly. In Christian Chamorel’s solo recital it was also the most recent work, Heinz Holliger’s Elis, a set of three “night-pieces” from the early 1960s, that brought the best playing.

Pedal piano

The highlights of the festival came from Cédric Pescia and Philippe Cassard. They played Debussy’s two-piano arrangement of Schumann’s Op 56 Studies for the pedal piano, a long-obsolete instrument that emulated the organ by giving the piano a pedal board. These studies are now most often heard in organ recitals, where some of the pieces take on a kind of fairground music feel. It was good to hear them in more sensitive and shapely accounts that more accurately reflect their true nature.

And it was Pescia and Cassard who brought the festival to a blazing close, in Liszt’s two-piano arrangement of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. Brahms was particularly severe in his view on Keller’s two-handed arrangements, saying, “I would have considered a two-hand arrangement interesting only if an extraordinary virtuoso did it. Somewhat like how Liszt did the Beethoven symphonies.” And Liszt’s four-handed arrangements work even harder than his two-handed ones to deliver the musical essence of those works.

Pescia and Cassard have already recorded the two-piano Beethoven Choral Symphony, in Berlin last year, on a pair of Bechstein concert grands. The clarity of the recording studio was not delivered on Steinways in New Ross, but the spirit of the music was just as well served in a reading where the shape and grandeur of the music – and, of course, some glorious and not so glorious moments of pianistic clamour – brought the audience leaping to their feet.

Michael Dervan

New Ross Piano Festival 2021 Sounds the End of Lock-down

Reminiscent of an alien monolith, two black Steinway Grands were geometrically entwined side by side on the stage in St. Mary’s Church. As the light dimmed, four pianists, all of international standing, took their places, two to a piano. The cultural drought of lockdown was broken by a shower of delightful music from 40 fingers and thumbs rendering, most appropriately, the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms.  

Resourceful as ever, the festival’s commissioning of three contemporary works offered composers the opportunity not only to participate in an established festival but to have their work performed by one of Ireland’s finest pianists – Finghin Collins. Ireland has a significant number of well regarded contemporary composers in its midst and past programmes have included the 15 commissions of the Ross Tapestry Suite setting a high bar for an informed audience. This year Donnchadh Hughes and Harry O’Connor competently seized their chance but the third commission was, disappointingly, much ado about not very much.

However, the towering strength and breadth of the Festival’s renewal in terms of musicality was as exciting, eclectic, educative and entertaining as ever despite the irritation of a mobile phone which halted a charged performance in mid stream of Beethoven’s 9th symphony in a two piano arrangement by Liszt. The contrasting character of each of the performers, Phillippe Cassard and Cédric Pescia, merged seamlessly in a thrilling performance of a work that roamed through changes of tempo, key and mood to finish in an energetic finale and a justified resounding applause. In a more peaceful recital, a deft Einav Yarden’s sophistication was just what nature was asking for in Dances of the Brush-footed Butterfly – an evocative contemporary work which left a certain bumblebee for dead. Katya Apekisheva’s playing of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms was notable for her extremes of dynamic and a reminder that pianissimo is not a missing element of the Russian’s compositions. Putting these two works into the weekend’s programme assures Finghin Collins’ place as artistic director supreme. His own piano playing was a significant part of what many thought the ‘best in show.’ Ernest Chausson’s compositions are few; he died in an 1899 bicycle accident at only 44. On Friday night, his emotionally rich Piano Quartet was a melodic eye-opener given exemplary expression by piano, violin, viola and cello. It was a deeply satisfying revelation in composition and performance.

Late night listeners at Saturday’s 10pm concert were treated to a rare account of a Tchaikovsky Piano Trio – his memorial for a close friend. Technically challenging for the pianist, the strings (violin and cello) delivered haunting melody and mournful moments in roles requiring strong playing.

The overall French air of the programme included works by Poulenc, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns and Fauré supported by Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Haydn, Schumann, Schubert, Mozart and others. With ten and more highly rated musicians performing in the intimacy of St. Mary’s Church, the New Ross Piano Festival presents a world-class weekend for the price of a single ticket to the world’s great concert halls, none of which are ever likely to match the overall quality and quantity of this remarkably bundled three day annual event. Viva!


2019 reviews

New Ross Piano Festival finishes on a high note

A piano festival such as the New Ross Piano Festival has a fascination that no comparable festival for, say, flute, violin or clarinet, would ever have.

Like most other instrumentalists, flautists, violinists and clarinettists bring their own instruments with them. Only a select few pianists do the same, and none of those have yet been heard in New Ross.

So, with many of the concerts in New Ross featuring three pianists in succession, the audience knows that each of them is dealing with exactly the same mechanism and the same acoustic. There’s no finessing of the instrument between performances. Though, obviously, whoever comes last in any particular programme has the short end of the straw, as the tuning of the piano will have soured from the workout by concert pianists.

Tchaikovsky was so concerned about forgetting to write the Seasons that he had his servant remind him, month by month, for a year

I’ll never forget that in the days when the Dublin International Piano Competition offered players a choice of instrument – Steinway or Kawai – a lot of listeners seem to have spent their time listening to the instrument rather than the player. Sure, the pianos were different, probably even more different as an experience for the players than for the listeners. But I doubt if many listeners would have had a high success rate in identifying the instruments in a blind listening test. There were extremes – of brightness and brashness, of softness and delicacy – that could be wrought from either piano.

Those kinds of extremes were well in evidence from this year’s line-up of pianists in New Ross. The evening concert on Friday was typical. Israeli pianist Matan Porat opened with the first and fourth of Johannes Brahms’s Ballades, Op 10, which he played with a forthright deliberateness which rather weighed the music down.

Finghin Collins provided a fluid background for the strings to work against in Clara Schumann’s trio.
Ireland’s Finghin Collins was joined by two French musicians, violinist Régis Pasquier and cellist Henri Demarquette, in the substantial Piano Trio that Clara Schumann composed in 1846 and which became the most performed of her works during her lifetime – she lived until 1896.  After rehearsing the trio for the first time she wrote: “There is no greater joy than composing something oneself and then listening to it. There are some nice passages in the Trio and I believe it is also fairly successful as far as form is concerned, but naturally it is still women’s work, which always lacks force and occasionally invention.”  A month later, after hearing her husband Robert’s Piano Quartet, she felt that her trio seemed “more harmless each time I play it”. And a year later, after her trio was published, and Robert had written his Trio in D minor, she described her own work as “quite effeminate and sentimental”.

The playing in New Ross was light and deft, with Collins providing a fluid background for the strings to work against. Pasquier, a veteran of French string playing, is now in his 70s and, however firm his intentions, his intonation proved variable in this work.

Barry Douglas completed the programme with Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. In terms of piano sound he delivered a sense of scale that neither Porat nor Collins had managed. What you might call his normal speaking voice, in musical terms, was quieter than either of the others, yet he could swell to grander climaxes and also curl up quietly to whisper in your ear.

The Seasons remains Tchaikovsky’s most popular set of piano pieces, even though the composer himself is reported to have thought them “of little significance”. They were commissioned for a music journal, and the composer was so concerned about forgetting to write them that he had his servant remind him, month by month, for a year.

Douglas found character in every one of them, and his playing communicated a kind of infectious fondness that made the playing time of 40 minutes or so fly by.

The two midday recitals were highly contrasted affairs. Sae Yoon Chon, a pupil of John O’Conor in Toronto who took the top prize at last year’s Dublin International Piano Competition, is as totally secure and clear-speaking as you would expect a prizewinner of any of today’s international piano competitions to be.

His touches of individuality do sometimes come across as a kind of finger-pointing emphasis that’s not always persuasive in what it draws attention to. And, with the core of his programme given over to song transcriptions, it was a pity that he still sees projection as a valid alternative to cantabile. His most sensitive playing, surprisingly, came in a nicely suggestive selection of Debussy’s Préludes.

Italian pianist Maurizio Baglini is a musical shapeshifter, the kind of player whose extremes bring to mind the implausible elasticity of people and objects in the world of cartoons.

His goal seems to be to weave spells, to treat the piano as a kind of huge, black-and-white magic wand. On the one hand he can use that wand to spin out tone of such gossamer delicacy that it’s hard to imagine there was any kind of percussive impact involved in its creation. On the other, he can summon up a blazing brassiness to pin you to your seat.

Not everything he does holds together persuasively, and he left little in what he played – three Scarlatti sonatas, three of Liszt’s Paganini Studies and Robert Schumann’s Carnaval – in the exact shape the composer’s notation seems to suggest. But there was no shortage of fantasy or of technical wizardry in his playing.

Porat’s best music-making came in his late-night recital titled Lux. The lighting of the venue was brought into play so that the programme began and ended in darkness, and the music was chosen to suggest the various stages along the way. The blaze of midday sun, for instance, was delivered through Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No 4, and the darkness after sunset provided by the opening movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

For the grand finale of three concertos with Camerata Ireland, the festival moved from St Mary’s Church to St Michael’s Theatre. Collins took the conducting honours and Douglas the playing honours. And, with both coming in a beautifully sprung and finely-detailed performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2, the festival ended on a high.

Michael Dervan, Irish Times

Piano Festival hits the right notes in New Ross

MUSIC lovers travelled from near and far to hear some world-class music at this year’s New Ross Piano Festival. The audience at the Thursday evening concert in St Mary’s Church came out in awe at the talent and technique of the jazz pianist, Gwilym Simcock. Many had heard of him, but not seen him, and it was a concert where seeing the live performance was astounding. Festival director Connie Tantrum said, ‘He has, of course, won recognition in the jazz world for many years, and is at present professor of jazz piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London. We were very privileged to have him play in New Ross. As one member of the audience said, “If this was in Dublin, he would have had a thousand people in the audience”. Several people had indeed travelled from Dublin to hear him. As well as playing so brilliantly, he gave short and often humorous introductions to the pieces he chose to play. It was an incredible tour de force from beginning to end.’ Earlier in the day, the Phil Ware Trio also pleased audiences. Ware and his bass player Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady showed how skilfully they are musically as individuals while working together to play a superb programme. On the previous day, Fergus Sheil had started the jazz side of the festival by playing a very different kind of jazz piano in New Ross Library and in the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience visitor centre. His programme was based on the Great American Songbook and included many arrangements that he had created himself. Another highlight of the start of the festival was the Young Pianists Concert. ‘This has grown from strength to strength. This year was particularly poignant as it was dedicated to a young student, Karl Kirby, who sadly passed away this year, and who had taken part in several of the concerts over the years. The standard of playing was very good this year, and it proved to be a rewarding night for all concerned,’ Ms Tantrum said. The focus on young people continued on Friday, when Sinead Crowley showed primary school students from Listerlin, Cushinstown and New Ross the workings of the piano in the library, and let them experience making music on it. More or less at the same time, second-level music students were gathering in St Mary’s Church, where 19-yearold Clara Siegle from Germany talked to them about Clara Schumann, whose 200th anniversary was last week.

New Ross Standard

Tender was the night at intimate St Mary’s Church

THE dominant sense of this year’s New Ross Piano Festival was tenderness. It was, after all, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Clara Schumann whose relationship with her husband Robert and their endeared friend Johannes Brahms became something of a folie à trois. Clara’s romanticism suffused her life as composer, performer and carer of two men as well as her children. The ultimate expression of the festival’s emotion was offered by Sae Yoon Chon whose lunchtime recital was of the finest quality, elevated by the intimacy of St Mary’s Church. With its small capacity, this recital had the feeling of a drawing room soirée, private and unique. Rapt in its own silence, the audience heard the pianist producing the tiniest of sounds through extreme delicacy of touch. Chon was stealthy as a stalking cat, his fingertips almost motionless as he sounded the upper reaches of the keyboard and created a sound impossible in the great concert halls of the world. Maurizio Baglini, a marathon runner, equally enjoyed the challenge of producing small sounds in his Sunday lunchtime recital when he said the attentiveness of the audience made him think he was in a recording studio rather than a live performance. Penderecki’s sextet for string trio, clarinet, horn and piano is a contemporary composition not 20 years old and unashamedly political with strident, insistent sweeps of protest on the strings of an ancient Strad and even older 17th century viola. New Ross always has contemporary work in its programme and the audience approval showed its own maturity. The inter-European nationality of the sextet, French, Irish, and English, underlined the cultural importance of the EU and the possible ill effect of Brexit on music making in the post-Brexit UK. At the time Penderecki was composing his modern music, Jeff Koons was developing his sculptured balloon animals, which were soon to be seen at Versailles, while Damien Hirst was to feature at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. What price one of their works now – $58 million for a Koons, what price a ticket to St Mary’s – €20? Following the Penderecki, Finghin Collins gave a very moving and robust account of one of the last compositions by the too-young-todie Franz Schubert. Is there a tougher Finghin Collins emerging to complement the immensely capable and sensitive conservative? For the night owls among us, the Saturday late night concert comprised 10 pieces covering 10 centuries of composition from early Gregorian chant to Thomas Adès’ recent ‘Darkness Visible’. This interesting recital programme brought us from early morning darkness to the light of day and a return to the dark of night. They were not nocturnes but Matan Porat’s playing had the same soporific effect as he drew another glorious day of music day to a close. Keat’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is an attempt to reconcile the real with the unreal: “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?” Tender was the night in New Ross.

Jeremy Hill

Social media comments from Liam Murphy, Munster Express

Musically it has been an unusual and mostly amazing week, as I listened to such a diverse selection of tunes. CSNY, Derek Flynn a Waterford Singer/Songwriter’s Ballad of a Broken Girl, The Human League, Shygirl’s single UCKERS, The Who and the Kords versions of Boris The Spider and jazz pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock’s NEAR AND NOW.
Then to go to New Ross Piano Festival where Simcock gave a memorable and melodic concert of world class quality.
Lunchtime concert with Clara Siegle @ New Ross Piano Fest. A Clara and Robert Schumann influenced concert that showed her confident, youthful dexterity and technical ability. I managed to make her informative talk to assembled school pupils and I was as impressed as the pupils by her 6 hours practice daily to develop the professional career that is ahead of this beautiful and assured performer.
Saturday night and the wind howled and the rain lashed into surface floods and inside St Mary’s Church all was snug and welcoming for a wonderful concert.
A virtuoso sextet played a Penderecki 2000 composition that was ultra-modern with clockwork precision and the sound of confusion and alienation. Such was the despair and desolation that I wondered what would be the defining music of Brexit or Extinction Rebellion.
I was in awe and then after an interval Finghin Collins transported the audience into the hyper manic and depths of depression of a Schubert Piano Sonata.
It was electric as the trees tossed angry shadows on the stainglassed windows.
What a night of music.
Maurizio Baglini got a standing ovation for his entertaining playing of showy technical Scarlatti, Liszt Etudes de Paganini and the impressive Carnaval by Robert Schumann
He spoke to his audience and the love of music shone in the warm September sunshine.
He has several projects running in Europe using Web Piano to popularise and foster a love of music. After lunch, the festival moved to St Michael’s Theatre where the acoustic was excellent for three pianists and Camerata Ireland. This was crowd-pleasing if a little bland after the highlights of the festival, but this was an extension of the festival’s remit.

Liam Murphy

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