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Friday 22 September 2023 Dublin: 10°C
marco borggreve
# great music in irish houses
A unique music festival will see great music played in unusual venues this week
The Great Music in Irish Houses festival is going into its 49th year.

FOR ALMOST 50 years, a unique Irish festival has been recalling the days of salons of yore, when the work of composers like Brahms and Mozart was played in small locations.

The Great Music in Irish Houses, which kicks off on 11 June, sees what’s described as “an exciting and eclectic choice of chamber music” performed by an array of international and Irish artists in a variety of unique spaces across Dublin and the Midlands.

The Great Music in Irish Houses Festival is Ireland’s longest running chamber music festival, founded at Castletown House in 1970 by David Laing. The Festival’s core founding principle was to present chamber music, the music of friends, in small, intimate spaces for which the music was originally the written.

This year, the Festival welcomes artists from the United Kingdom, France, the Czech Republic, the United States, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as home-grown performers.

The music will span musical styles and different centuries, and will include “the American doyen of Classical keyboard interpretation”, Richard Goode, who will give a rare Irish performance at the Royal Irish Academy on Dublin’s, Dawson Street.

Irish soprano Ailish Tynan will perform at Belvedere House, a Georgian villa, in Mullingar; the Colin Currie Percussion Quartet will perform at The Printworks at Dublin Castle; French cellist Marc Coppey and Irish pianist Finghin Collins will collaborate in Killruddery House, Bray.

The National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin will host the Pavel Haas Quartet, while St Ann’s Church will be the setting for Chamber Choir Ireland. There will also be the Dublin Musical Saunter, which celebrates the renowned Irish pianist John O’Conor’s career and will include concerts taking place between Dublin Castle and Farmleigh House, and city-wide pop-up concerts in further venues.


Ciara Higgins, Artistic-Director of Great Music in Irish House, told that the festival is all about “bringing music back into the spaces where it was originally written”.

“When [the composers] were writing they weren’t writing for the big concert halls – they were writing to have them performed in salons, in people’s house,” she explained. “That is what chamber music is – it’s sometimes referred to as ‘the music of friends’.”

They’ve chosen the venues so that they are small and intimate, and the audience can get “up close and personal” with the musicians. “You can see expressions you might not see in a 1,500 seater concert hall; the sounds are different,” said Higgins. “The eye contact, all of that comes into play. It’s a very different experience.”

Although the festival is about paying tribute to the great work of the past, it’s also about keeping up to date with what’s going on right now, which is why the programme also features contemporary work.


That goes for the venues, too. “We are very conscious of trying to explore new as well as stayin true to stalwarts like Kilruddery House,” said Higgins. A new partnership with the Office of Public Works has also opened up new spaces to them.

Higgins says that they are “so grateful” for the audience that has followed them along throughout the past 50 years, but they also have to try and attract new people. “We have to expand, we have to grow with the times – that’s why you will see something like the Colin Currie Quartet. It attracts a very different audience. We have to constantly step back and say how relevant are we?”

When they see things like their first four concerts this year selling out, it helps show them the festival “is relevant in 21st century Ireland”, says Higgins. 

“The reason this music has survived this long is it really is extraordinary music,” she said. For the 50th anniversary in 2020, they will be looking more at women composers, many of whom have been neglected by the musical world over the decades. “If you look at Fanny Mendelssohn, or Clara Schumann – they were equals and that’s fascinating as well to be able to go back and discover old new music,” says Higgins. 

Who is the festival aimed for? Both the longtime chamber music fans and complete newbies. “We encourage people if they’ve never been to a chamber concert to come along and try it,” she says. And with such beautiful spaces for the music to be heard, it couldn’t be a more fitting introduction. 

Great Music in Irish Houses runs from 11 – 16 June – for more information, visit the website.

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