A Mesmerising Night in Dublin
Ficino Ensemble, Matthew Noone, and Súp Trio at Bello Bar
Kaleidoscope Night brings together Dublin’s finest classical and contemporary performers for a spellbinding midweek escape the first Wednesday of each month. Held at Bello Bar just south of Harcourt Street on the Grand Canal, The Lower Deck downstairs harnesses an air of relaxation and mystic wonder.
April 5th’s event was titled, “the mask, the muse & Mishima” after its three performance groups. Doors opened at 8pm with a small gathering outside the sealed entrance. As the gate was risen, footsteps huddled their way down carpeted steps and away from the brisk evening air. Hands were stamped as more footsteps poured in to fill the small underground room.
Without a stool to spare, Kaleidoscope was completely sold out. Candlelit faces mumbled and chuckled and smiled from right up against the stage to the bar as the clock neared 8:30pm. As the emcee approached the stage, lights dimmed and chatter diminished. A violin bow peaked out of the red curtain to the side of the stage and all eyes fixated on the musicians taking their seats.
Five members of Ficino Ensemble began to tune. Formed in 2012, the chamber music group has played for President Higgins and across the many counties of Ireland. Violist Nathan Sherman introduced their first piece based off of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” where fictional Prince Prospero summons survivors of the plague to dance a waltz and shut out thoughts of sickening despair.
“As the song spirals into delirium and Prospero’s dancers hear the clock strike twelve, well, you’ll know when the clock strikes twelve,” said Sherman.
His audience knew indeed — pupils dilated with lens-aperture speed. Fingers tickled the harp with intense precision. Horsehair frayed frantically against spiralled steel as the group lashed from ferocious full stops to intricately latticed measures. The piece was ravishing.
Full-bodied song made a packed lounge even more full as it cut through every particle of the air. As soon as the last note was strung, rippling wine glasses calmed and applause roared. The crowd which was once segregated by conversation now felt as one under a spell.
Ficino Ensemble disappeared behind the red curtain with great poise. A barefoot man who had been leaning against the back corner now emerged. His shirt was unbuttoned at the top and a dark beard hung to an exposed collarbone. He picked up a bizarre instrument, bulbous at the bottom and creased at the head with a wide, luminescent neck — an Indian sarode. Matthew Noone was a shy fellow.
“Please allow me to explain my instrument afterwards. If I talk now I’ll get anxious and won’t play as naturally,” Noone said as he closed his eyes.
What followed was nothing short of pure magic. Noone touched each string with such meaning and grace as a cat places its paws upon the ground. He lulled each listener into a pacific dreamworld. Inspired by a stint of yurt-living in the Wicklow Mountains, Noone’s soundscape was a very specific pleasure — it painted rolling hills on the backs of eyelids. To add to the experience, a loop pedal was tapped throughout the song to string together melodies and layer each strum with one as sincere as the last.
“You’re all still here?” Noone asked, lifting his head.
The crowd was stunned and rightfully so. Noone lifted his sarode and enlightened everyone of its intricacies. It was handmade for him in India, he said, and he had watched its construction down to the sealing of its cream leather drum. A break in the concert commenced. Chatter resumed. The crowd sobered from entrancement while queueing at the bar.
Small, chipped wooden tables sat with water rings of past drinks and cold glasses of new ones. The stage transformed to accommodate Ficino Ensemble once again. The audience which was virgin to the power of the group just an hour before was now privy to their potential.
Four members took their seats this time, absent of the harp which would not be necessary for performance of Phillip Glass’s Quartet №3. Bows raised. Elegance ensued. While not nearly as intense as the first piece, “Mishima” managed to capture an essence of beauty akin to the fascinations of human transformation. Each section of the piece was short and definite. Glass’s minimalist movements were woven with great structural integrity. Heads swayed — each listener enveloped in the refuge of their own mind. The musical journey was brief and left behind the sweetest taste. Ficino bowed to applause and filed out.
The final act, Súp Trio, took the stage. The Euroradio Jazz Competition finalists had something different to offer — a more jaunty jazz sound began to dance through the lounge. Muscles slacked from the fervidity of the prior pieces. Feet tapped and noggins nodded. Cormac McCarthy bounced across the ivories of an open-panel piano over a century old. Eoin Walsh plucked warming bass notes and Davie Ryan brushed along the drum kit. ‘The Farm Hand’ soothed all tensions. After getting lost in the healing song, McCarthy sprinkled on a final arpeggio that sailed across the wood-boarded ceiling and dissipated into the back of The Lower Deck.
This magical night, this Kaleidoscope Night, was at a close. Coats rose from the floor and onto the backs of cheery friends. Final swigs of drink were had and footsteps huddled up the carpeted stairs from whence they came. The lounge thinned and a card lay on the back table announcing next month’s performers — a myriad of strings, voices, and brass instruments that would charm the next intimate crowd. Kaleidoscope continues Wednesday, May 3rd at 8:30pm. An online search for “Kaleidoscope Night at Bello Bar” will lead those interested to tickets.
Enchantment lives beside the Grand Canal in that small underground lounge adorned with art-deco borders, tropical trees, candles, and red curtains. Each event held there is ever so mystic — the gentle twist of a Kaleidoscope.
This review was originally published on Hot Press, April 7, 2017, 17:49UTC.