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A cappella and piano maestros: July in Dublin is going to be amazing for music

We speak to the organisers of two music festivals.

ArduImage3 Source: Ardú

A NUMBER OF unusual music festivals are happening in Dublin this month – with a cappella singing and piano the order of the day.

The Irish International A Cappella Festival will take place from 14 – 16 July, while the Dublin International Piano Festival will see people tinkling the ivories across the city from 22 – 30 July.

The Irish International A Cappella Festival is the first festival dedicated to a cappella – that is, singing without instrumental accompaniment – to take place in Ireland.

It will see Grammy-award winning a cappella group The Swingles headline the festival with a performance at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on Sunday 16 July, after a Friday 14 July gig at University Church featuring ​Ardú Vocal Ensemble​, International Barbershop Champions ​4 in a Bar​ and Ireland’s A Cappella Competition Winners 2016 The Apple Blossoms and The Ramparts Chamber Choir.

Ireland’s A Cappella Competition will also take place during the weekend at Griffith College Conference Centre.

Festival Director Ciarán Kelly tells TheJournal.ie why they decided to bring this festival to the capital. “We have decided to bring it to Ireland and sell it as something new and something different,” he says. “There’s musical festivals happen every weekend over the summer – this offers a new and different thing.”

Kelly is also director of Ardú vocal ensemble, and said that a cappella covers a range of genres. “It covers everything,” he says. “We try and encourage at the festival that there’s no boundaries as regard to genres. It’s definitely not choral music.”

It’s music in its purest form. It’s the natural form of music – we make it ourselves. The main thing that we are trying to push and promote is the fact Ireland doesn’t have enough of what we do. Despite being an incredibly musical country, we are so far behind the UK and America and EU in this genre.
It involves everybody – you don’t have be able to sing or read music or play an instrument to get involved.

Is a cappella singing singing without a safety net? No, says Kelly. “Singing solo, that’s when there’s no safety net. The wonderful thing about a cappella is you’re in a team, you’re always a member of the group, everyone has got your back. It’s a real group activity, so you have that support for everybody.”

Bringing big names in piano

Archie Chen - DIPF Artistic Director Archie Chen

Moving from voice to piano, the Dublin Piano Festival – run by husband and wife team Archie Chen and Rhona Gouldson – will bring some beautiful sounds to the city in July.

Gouldson and Chen run the Piano Academy of Ireland in Rathgar together, and the family (they have two children) are so embedded in the world of music that they have not one but five pianos at home.

Chen tells TheJournal.ie that he was inspired to set up the festival after experiencing similar events abroad. For the past five years, he and his wife have been bringing some big names to the country.

“Piano is our passion and so we very much wanted to do something together that would involve both our passions,” said Chen. “Most couples that hear about us working together 24 hours a day are taken aback – how do you do it, how do you stand it? It’s music that keeps us together.”

This year, the festival brings classical and electronic aficionado Francesco Tristano, Russian ‘Titan of the Piano’ Berezovsky, plus Schubertiade featuring Dr Evelyne Brancart and Chen to audiences.

DIPF also runs a summer academy as part of the festival, where young pianists from all over the world visit Dublin to do masterclasses with some of the hugely accomplished acts that are in for the festival.

I’ve been to many festivals myself and it was my vision to create something that was even better than what I’ve been to, and there was a niche and need for something like this in Dublin at the time [five years ago] – and there still is because no one has done anything like ours before.

Chen was taught by the legendary John O’Conor (which was the reason he came to Ireland from the US 14 years ago), who praised him for having the “guts and organisation” to not just talk about putting on a festival, but actually do it.

Evelyne Brancart (1) Evelyne Brancart

Proof of the festival’s reputation is the names it has attracted – particularly Boris Berezovsky, one of the greatest living pianists today.

“He is an unbelievable booking for us because of his stature,” said Chen. “He has been an idol of mine for many years, growing up, and I never thought in a million years we could get him here for the festival. It’s a dream come true.”

Someone like Berezovsky could command a huge fee, but he encouraged Chen and Gouldson to give some of the proceeds to charity – they chose Child Vision – and so the tickets are available at a reduced rate.

Along with the music, there is a focus on encouraging piano students to learn new ways to approach their practice. That means a visit from Jaime Diaz-Ocejo to talk about what sport psychology can teach us about learning music; and talks by Frederic Chiu on stage fright and what cooking can teach us about piano.

Source: Frederic Chiu/YouTube

Chiu will also teach a class where the students get to learn a song… without touching the piano. It’s all in an effort for Chen and Gouldson to show their students that learning piano doesn’t have to be like the stereotypes suggest.

“You hear about these horrible piano lessons people get with the people hit over the fingers with a stick,” said Chen. “I hear about that all the time. [But] this is a truly cutting edge programme for piano and it truly takes everything to the 21st century with all the resources we have today.”

Those expecting the festival to just focus on classical piano will be interested to hear that it touches on a few genres, including electronica (that would be Francesco Tristano who has worked with techno legends like Carl Craig and Derrick May).

So why dedicate an entire festival to the piano? The answer is simple, says Chen:

It is an amazing instrument. They call it the king of instruments because they can emulate a whole symphony orchestra – it can be a singer, it can weave things like melodic lines. There’s so much range on a piano.

And to showcase this, there will be a performance by Gabriele Baldocci, who will play Beethoven’s fifth symphony entirely on the piano at the Hugh Lane Gallery. “That one is not to be missed,” said Chen. And he’s a man who knows.

For more information on the Dublin International Piano Festival, visit the official website. For more information on the Irish International A Capella Festival, visit its website.

Read: Good news for parents – kids are being given free admission to dozens of Irish heritage sites>

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