The idea of making this list gave me heart palpitations – like selecting your favourite child. Here it is…. in no particular order. All of the events I’ve chosen were from projects that I was involved in. I just couldn’t beat the thrill of seeing creative work come to life when having been involved in the creative process. The connection to the work brings a thrill to the performance that just cannot be matched.
In 2011 I directed and produced the Reich Effect while I was running Cork Opera House, created to celebrate Steve’s 75th birthday. Music for 18 Musicians with Steve Reich in the house was a definite highlight for me, I had a “wow, we did it moment” for a couple of reasons: one being it is one of my favourite pieces of music by one of my favourite composers and the second was that it marked a pretty major programmatic turning point for the audience during my tenure as CEO there.
Bon Iver and The National playing on each other’s sets at Sounds From a Safe Harbour (SFSH17 edition) was another pinch me moment. I remember sitting with Cillian Murphy and Enda Walsh and us all looking at each other saying “Jesus, this is incredible stuff”.
While I was in the mid production at the first 37d03d [collaborative community of artists] residency in Berlin in 2016, I had the great pleasure of being whisked away, blindfolded and taken to a private space. A Tibetan bowl was put on my head and was struck – the resonance of which travelled down by body. When it was removed I was invited to take off the blindfold – and there sitting in front of me was Justin Vernon to sing a song just for me. He sang ‘Flume’ and I cried like a baby. It was recorded by La Blogotheque, but Justin and I decided it was too personal to release. Justin has become a good friend since, but I watch it every now and then (and still cry).
The next one is a remote experience which I had during lockdown. I had the great pleasure of producing Bonny Light Horseman with Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, for MusicNOW Festival [Cincinnati] but sadly could not travel there because of covid. Bella Blasko was my eyes and ears on the ground and kept sending me videos of the rehearsal and performance – unbelievable stuff – there is something deeply unique about the marriage of this band with Bryce Dessner’s arrangements. I am really looking forward to the extended version of that performance here in Cork this September with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. (SFSH is also presenting it in the NCH on Sept 14, and the Barbican on Sept 15).
Lisa Hannigan is always a magical force, but there are three stand-out moments we have shared together (if I can be so bold as to collect them into one!?). One was during my first programme in Mitchelstown Cave (I programmed a series of unique gigs there for a number of years), another was the SFSH show we did together in 2017 with Aaron Dessner and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and finally HEARTSHIP by Dorothy Cross – which will always and forever be one of the stand out experiences of my lifetime. Imagine Lisa standing on the bow of a navy ship with a human heart on board singing as it comes down the Harbour into Cork city… yep!
Seeing Teac Damsa’s Swan Lake for the first time opened up a new compartment in my brain. I was in total awe of what Michael, Rachel and the team had created. It bravely went into and occupied so many familiar dark places yet in the final scene there was a genuine sense of euphoria – thrilling, joyous, beautiful. I remember thinking “How the hell did he do that?” with my heart full and my jaw on the floor. We ended up presenting it in a basketball court in Clonmel as part of Junction Festival and then to Cork Opera House for SFSH19. I love working with this company and am very proud to get to present their How to Be a Dancer this year with the Everyman.
This one left me standing in a random field in Galway in 2014 crying uncontrollably. Seeing Cillian Murphy in Enda Walsh’s Ballyturk was mind blowing. There is something indescribable that happens when these two get together. The way that Cillian physically embodies Enda’s words and direction brought me to a place I had never been before. It opened up something in me that I still cannot describe or fully understand but was desperately needed. In retrospect I would say it got inside to a place even I cannot access and left a mark that will remain forever. It was a huge moment for me to present it in Cork Opera House after the field incident.
I recently produced KAGAMI, a ground-breaking mixed reality concert with legendary composer and artist Ryuichi Sakamoto [who died in March 2023], directed by Todd Eckert for Tin Drum. Before the opening night in NYC (The Shed) we had the great privilege to stand with his ashes in the place where he would appear in device and hold hands in a circle around him before the opening show in NYC (The Shed), which moved us all to tears. This emotion was paralleled in the reaction of the first live audience in the room – how they physically moved and were moved by Sakamoto’s incredible music completed the spine tingling nature of that event, and how close we got people to experience Ryuichi.
‘All of this Unreal Time’ was another lockdown project that I was the creative producer for. During the filming, I remember Max Porter and I watching Aoife McArdle and Cillian Murphy’s work on the monitors and knowing what a special and beautiful work it was. When Jon Hopkins sent us the music he composed for the closing scene it lifted everything to that sweet spot. We are all incredibly proud of the work we made together and so glad it will have its Irish Premiere in Cork for SFSH this year.
I have been working with Feist since 2018. She has become one of my closest friends, I love her dearly. The whole experience of working with her and her music is incredibly inspiring and is always revealing (of both her and of myself), we have passed through many thin places together but I do have a stand out glorious moment. During a tech/dress rehearsal in Hamburg there was some confusion as to who was triggering a part – and the confusion led to roughly 40 seconds of frozen silence – we all thought we died. It was so incredibly powerful and impactful. After the show (when we realised we were still alive) I suggested to her that we work the silence into the show, which led to a conversation with Max Porter about helping Leslie create a monologue that she would work into the silence. I will never forget the first time she uttered the words “I see the curvature of the oncoming storm” on stage. I was like “Holy shit, she’s doing it!!!” Not a dry eye in the house….
- Mary Hickson is from Fermoy, and now lives in Cork city. A former chief executive of Cork Opera House, she studied music at UCC and ethnomusicology at the University of Limerick. Sounds From A Safe Harbour takes place in Cork Sept 7-10. See https://soundsfromasafeharbour.com/
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