Since its foundation in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has brought many of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers and artists to the heart of Ireland’s medieval city each August. Over ten days, the city’s historic churches, castle, courtyards, townhouses and gardens offer a magical setting for magical performances and up-close artistic encounters.
From the beginning, classical music has been at the core of the programme, featuring globally acclaimed artists such as Alfred Brendel, Jordi Savall, Dawn Upshaw, Nigel Kennedy and Joshua Bell among many others. Over the decades the Festival has staged major open-air productions of Shakespeare, hosting from 2012-14 annual residencies by Shakespeare’s Globe and the epic theatre event DruidShakespeare in the historic Castle Yard, Ireland’s finest open-air theatrical space.
Poetry has also featured prominently since the early years in the 1970s, when Seamus Heaney acted as literary curator and brought some of the world’s finest poets to Kilkenny, including Robert Lowell and Sorley Maclean. Last year, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins was the Festival’s poet-in-residence, while extraordinary performance poet Kate Tempest gave the Irish premiere of her new album.
This August, the sublime sounds of MOZART: PRINCE OF MUSIC will be floating through the Kilkenny air. We’re proud to present as a centrepiece of the 2016 Festival the most ambitious Mozartian season ever to take place in Ireland, from his grandest operatic masterpiece, Idomeneo, to cycles of his late symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets and quintets.
Producing a series on this scale wouldn’t be possible without another exciting first for the Festival: for the first time, we welcome an orchestra in residence, the stunning Irish Chamber Orchestra, together with their renowned artistic partners Gábor Takács-Nagy and Jörg Widmann. It’s an honour for us to embark on this partnership with the ICO for the next three years.
Also at the heart of our Mozart series are two unique five-day musical journeys: cult Mozartian Christian Blackshaw makes his Irish recital debut with a complete cycle of the piano sonatas, and the Heath Quartet, whose Beethoven cycle at our 2014 Festival was unforgettable, returns to perform the great string quartets and quintets with guest violist Atte Kilpeläinen.
Pitching their legendary tent on the banks of the Nore opposite Kilkenny Castle will be one of Europe’s legendary ensembles – Footsbarn Theatre. Combining poetry, visual storytelling, masks, puppetry, circus, music and emotion, the company has inspired generations of theatre-makers. We’re thrilled to present the Irish premieres of two contrasting Footsbarn productions, The Incomplete Works of Shakespeare (a celebration of the Bard in the spirit of Monty Python!) and their unique version of cult classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Our series of global musical dialogues, the MARBLE CITY SESSIONS returns with Martin Hayes as guiding spirit, host and co-curator. Martin has gathered a fresh line-up of extraordinary musicians from America, India and Britain to create a series of unique collaborations in residence at the Festival, including bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and two pairs of fabulous singing sisters, The Unthanks and Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill.
Other musical legends joining us in August, this time from the classical world, include Sir András Schiff, Alina Ibragimova and Mark Padmore (who joins our baroque ensemble Camerata Kilkenny led by Maya Homburger for a unique Bach evening).
Stars of stage, screen and concert hall present unique projects at the Watergate: Stephen Rea reads the spellbinding final work by Seamus Heaney, Aeneid Book VI, while one of the great American singer-songwriters, Loudon Wainwright III, presents the European premiere of his one-man show Surviving Twin.
Our sensational line-up in the Set Theatre includes Villagers, Icelandic electropoppers FM Belfast, the only Irish performance this season of Mercury-nominated Sam Lee & Friends, the unique opening-night Wake for Roger Casement, and the Irish debut of rising star of jazz piano Justin Kauflin.
Central collaborative presences in our 43rd Festival also include poet in residence Paul Muldoon and visual artist in residence Mick O’Dea, who returns as our “embedded artist” to report on the Festival in paint, following an incredible reaction from last year’s audiences who spent time in studio with Mick and his portrait subjects. We also open two international exhibitions: the first Irish solo show by major Canadian artist Michael Snow at the Butler Gallery, and at the National Craft Gallery a major group show exploring the idea and form of the Vase.
This is just a flavour of some of our highlights – you’ll discover many more unmissable artists and unique events in our full programme on this site. Whether you can come for a day, for a weekend or for the whole artistic adventure, we look forward to welcoming you to Ireland’s medieval city this August.
Theatre: Footsbarn Theatre perform "The Incomplete Works of Shakespeare" - Friday 5th, Saturday 6th, Sunday 7th, Tuesday 9th, Wednesday 10th & Saturday 13th August - Footsbarn Tent at County Hall, John St - 7.30pm, €28/25 - Having enchanted countless audiences worldwide, the legendary travelling ensemble Footsbarn will be pitching its famous tent in the heart of Kilkenny's medieval city for our 2016 Festival. Their multinational performers transcend the barrier of language with a unique blend of visual theatre, masks, music and magic. Footsbarn's productions of Shakespeare have won global acclaim over the years. Newly created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death, The Incomplete Works is full of magic and humour, where anything is possible - a three-headed Shakespeare, an audition of male Juliets, a duel between two of the Bard's greatest villains, Falstaff and his drinking partners, a giant apparition of the Dark Lady from the Sonnets... Don't miss this Shakespearean evening of surprises!, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/footsbarn-1
Concert: Sir Andras Schiff performs sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven & Schubert - Saturday 6th August - St Canices Cathedral, Coach Road - 8pm, €55/49/44 - The legendary pianist returns to Kilkenny to continue his exploration of late works by these four musical titans, this year focusing on their penultimate sonatas. Opening with Mozart’s well-known Sonata 17, Schiff progresses to two groundbreaking works - Beethoven’s Sonata 31, second in a final trilogy of piano sonatas, and Haydn’s famous London Sonata, which remade the sonata form - and closes with Schubert’s long-neglected Sonata in A major, now ranked among the greatest of all essays in the form. This promises to be an unforgettable evening with one of the greatest artists of the age, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/sir-andrs-schiff
Reading: Stephen Rea reads Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid: Book VI - Saturday 6th & Sunday 7th August - Watergate Theatre, Parliment St - 5pm, €20/18 - Seamus Heaney’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid was his last great project. Inspired by his A-Level teacher, Father McGlinchey, Heaney’s acclaimed translation of Book VI (which tells the moving story of Aeneas’ descent into the Underworld to look for his father) is the culmination of a lifelong engagement with the work. For this special celebration Stephen Rea – who knew and worked with Heaney for more than 30 years – reads the poem at the Watergate, with a live soundscape by composer and cellist Neil Martin, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/seamus-heaney-s-aeneid-book-vi
Loosysmokes perform "Behind The Dark" - Tuesday 9th to Saturday 13th August - Kilfane Glen & Waterfall, Thomastown - 10pm & 11.15pm, €18/16 - Exploring a mind on the edge of fear, Behind the Dark is a spectacular fusion of acrobatics and dance. Staged at night in the eerie surroundings of Kilfane Glen and Waterfall - that ancient site of mystery and menace - Behind the Dark explores the darkness both without and within, moving from the surreal to the ecstatic, and shot through with moments of unsettling beauty and raw, savage power. This is an outdoor performance in a wooded area. Please dress appropriately. Contains strobe lighting. Venue has accessibility restrictions. The event takes place in Kilfane Glen and Waterfall. There is a nightly bus service to the venue, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/loosysmokes
Concert: Songs of Love, Loss & Rebellion - Thursday 11th August - Set Theatre, John St - 9pm, €27/24 - In this centenary year of the Easter Rising, Marble City Sessions co-curator Martin Hayes joins forces with singing legends Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, uilleann piper David Power and guitarist Dennis Cahill to perform traditional airs of Ireland, Scotland and England which explore tumultuous events in our shared past. Featuring well-known songs from 'Roísín Dubh' and 'Spanish Lady' to 'The Boys of Barr na Sráide', Songs of Rebellion, Love & Loss is a unique tribute to the men and women who lived, fought and died at defining moments in our island's history. Supported by the Kilkenny County Council Programme for Ireland 2016, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/songs-of-rebellion-love-and-loss
Concert: Loudon Wainwright III (with European Premiere of 'Surviving Twin') - Friday 12th to Sunday 14th August - Watergate Theatre, Parliment St - 7.30pm, €25/22.50 - Loudon Wainwright Jr. was an award-winning journalist whose column, ‘The View from Here’, was essential reading for LIFE Magazine subscribers until his death in 1988. Interweaving his own songs with letters and articles by his father, Loudon stages a ‘posthumous collaboration’ that explores everything from pet ownership and fashion to birth, parenthood and loss. Shot through with Wainwright’s acerbic commentary and self-deprecating wit, Surviving Twin is a unique meditation on fathers and sons, at once funny, touching and profound, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/surviving-twin
Concert: Festival Finale - Sunday 14th August - St Canices Cathedral, Coach Road - 7.30pm, €42/37/33 - In recent years the Festival Finale has established itself as one of the Festival's must-see events: a joyous blend of poetry and song, and the culmination of ten days of unique collaborations and unmissable performances. This year's line-up is as rich and strange as ever, bringing together Hindustani jazz pianist Utsav Lal, Kentucky fiddler Liz Knowles, acclaimed singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, poet Paul Muldoon, Northumberland folk stars The Unthanks, sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionaird, jazz clarinettist Doug Wieselman, uilleann piper David Power, organist Malcolm Proud, bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs and guitarist Dennis Cahill, all gathered in St Canice's by Marble City Sessions co-curator Martin Hayes. Don't miss this chance to experience the full range of this year's talent, onstage together for the first, and final, time, kilkennyarts.ie/programme/festival-finale