Domhnall MacAuley: Music of eternal youth

Domhnall Macauley The only oestrogen in the room came from a packet. And, from my seat, no man had a full head of hair. It could have been a convention of replaced hips, knees and dodgy coronary arteries. Such was the age profile at the Sunday afternoon concert at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival that few could read the programme without glasses, and almost all must have struggled with the higher frequencies. The soloist, Antti Siirala, a Finn, had the pallor of someone who spends too little time outdoors, deep sunken eyes, and an early stoop. Neither the artist nor the audience painted a rosy picture of youth and vigour.

The programme began modestly with Mozart’s ten variations on a theme by Gluck. A piece he first improvised, later transcribing formally- the rather up market musical equivalent of a blog. Siirala began the next piece, a Brahms rhapsody, as if he was in a hurry home for his tea.

But, just as the mind began to wander from the slightly bland programme, the Chopin preludes changed everything. Twenty four hugely different and contrasting pieces. Some short beautiful melodies, some dramatic, almost shocking bursts of energy in keeping with the turbulent personal life and troubled health of the composer. With the light touch of familiar melodies, and the drama and excitement of the more strident pieces, the audience was transformed, transported, across the wide expanse of life. Subconscious smiles crept across suddenly youthful faces, fingers moving to forgotten tunes, knowing glances to remembered pieces.

Music had achieved what health care had failed to do: swept back the years, kindling memories of past triumph or romance. Some swept away in the mood of the music. Others eyes closed, dreaming of times past.

Framed by the large glass doors of the library in Bantry House, this piano magic harmonised with the wonderful richness of summer growth and moist freshness of the stunning garden. Ageless music confounding age.