Special Reports

[Off The Beaten Path]
West Cork Chamber Music Festival

March 31, 2015

Location: Bantry, IRELAND
June 26 - July 4, 2015

One of Europe’s most beguiling festivals, the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, had an unlikely start. Chamber enthusiast/dairy farmer Francis Humphrys was irked that he had to travel so far to hear the music he loved, so during the long early-morning milking sessions he dreamt up the idea of setting up an event in the coastal town of Bantry in a remote corner of southwest Ireland. Assisted by the Vanbrugh Quartet, he mounted the first festival in 1996, 35 musicians giving 13 concerts and three master classes over seven days. Now, 20 years on, the festival is broadcast to an international radio audience of 40 million with more than 70 musicians giving 37 concerts and 20 master classes over nine days.

From the start, Humphrys’s imaginative programming has been one of the great strengths of the festival, with an emphasis on lesser-known works alongside more standard repertoire. He writes most of the comprehensive program notes himself, revealing a deep knowledge and insight.

This year’s highlights include a return visit from the Borodin Quartet, now in its 70th year, and five world premieres, including Ian Wilson’s Sonàid béaloidis played by violinist Alina Ibragimova. Also getting first performances are the four winning works of the Composition Competition for Young Irish Composers.

The festival takes place in a number of local venues, notably historic Bantry House, owned by the same family since the mid-1700s. Its wood-panelled library is the perfect venue for chamber music, the audience crammed in on three sides of the small platform to enjoy the great sound and a quietly intimate atmosphere.

In the two decades since the festival’s founding, Ireland’s economy has taken an historic dive, and Humphrys has worked hard to keep the event afloat. It is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and Failte Ireland (the tourist board), this year’s budget coming in at $539,000. —Keith Clarke



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