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  • Chris O'Rourke

Winter Journey

Winter Journey. Image uncredited


Given the name, you might think its primary focus was Schubert’s Winter Journey. But this is Cork Midsummer Festival so it’s really about Cork. Which is not to say Schubert’s song cycle is superfluous. Original poems by Wilhelm Muller, which Schubert set to music in 1827 provide a haunting undercurrent with their theme of transitioning from summer to winter, from life to death. Cork city’s historical Shandon district, part ghost town, part living community, throbbing with life and memory. Even as its streets are being gentrified to within an inch of their identity.

Sounds heavy? Not overly. Especially as joy, wonder and curiosity prove the defining features of this gentle promenade visiting nine sites. Ten in truth. Shandon, with its musty, silent streets and patchwork pavements, derelict and flake-paint buildings next to achingly shiny new ones being a site in itself. As an old church bell chimes, a game of theatrical orienteering sees the audience scattered to nine key locations with their small map. Meeting artists, singers, and installations, along with delicious cocktail sausages. Jazz funk, opera, and Irish trad along with pubs, butchers and Art Centres. A cornucopia of living presences all that little bit magical the closer you listen and look.

Different strokes for different folks; true. But you’d hard pressed not to find at least one occasion that doesn’t mesmerise. Like the room with the wall of climbing flowers next to a typewriter with its half typed page. Spectacles and a recently finished cup of coffee set next to it on the table. As if its owner had just stepped out for a moment. Their presence vibrant in their absence. Here but not here, likely to come back any second now. Meanwhile tape reels, and a violin case embedded in a bookshelf, evoke Schubert. Polite inquiry to a helpful steward reveals the artist’s poignant motivation behind this deeply personal work, especially the violin. Immediately the room is transformed. The poignancy deepened.

Or maybe you’d prefer the woman pressed into the corner of a room behind a modest wall of musical tech. Fiddling with knobs and computer generated effects, her voice, like the inimitable Anne Briggs, conjures the dark as it dispels its terrors. Or maybe a taste of a trad session in a tiny bar with a welcome as warm as a winters fire. Musicians trying to cheer up Schubert amidst a pint of stout and a club orange in a tall glass. Or maybe a bespoke family butcher traversing then and now. A living memory speaking to a time before one size, same size, every city corporatisation lost sight of what’s valiantly being kept alive here, their cocktails sausages moreish in the extreme. Or an old church with a raven haired woman, her lips and dress black as sin, keening from somewhere Middle Eastern perhaps. Answered from the organ gallery by a Celtic, ethereal response. The raven, head on her hands, asleep, or indifferent. Meanwhile, outside, jazz funk sax meets spoken word rap, while across the way opera in the park evokes an 1980’s art house movie. Up the road an artist paints in a small gallery with local images next to reproductions of Klimt and Monet. You’re invited you to join them. But let’s stop there.

Throughout, Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ is reimagined and reinterpreted to unify the distinct identities that make up Winter Journey. Artists JFDR, Gavan Ring, Gary Beecher, Lina Andonovska & Dermot Dunne,, Outsiders Ent., Neil O’Driscoll, Peter Power, Rachael Lavelle, Ciara O’Leary Fitzpatrick, Johnny McCarthy, Emma Nash, Sheherazaad and Bláithín MacGabhann weaving a rich yet delicate tapestry. A lament at times, for a future that never happened perhaps, it’s never quite a requiem. For after winter comes spring. The season of birth and rebirth. The question what is to be born, or reborn begs an answer. But the bell rings once more signifying the journey’s end. Or that your love affair with Shandon, with Cork, with Cork Midsummer Festival, and Winter Journey has just begun.

Winter Journey, presented by Islander, Sophie Motley and Cork Midsummer Festival, runs until June 16.

For more information visit Cork Midsummer Festival 2024


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