City of Culture Countdown

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City of Culture media director Garbhan Downey on interest from across the waters in our fair city, the Walled City Music Festival and Dr. Lightbody’s latest role....

US cousins to join the party - Interest in the US in Derry’s 2013 celebrations is hotting up, not least among our expats.

Two Derry-themed conferences - one in Illinois, the other in Massachusetts - are being organised by Irish-American groups in the autumn.

In October, the Irish Books and Music (iBAM) Festival in Chicago will be adopting a City of Culture brand for this year’s ceremonies. And a sizeable contingent of Derry speakers and North West diaspora have been invited to perform.

Guests are to include Phil Coulter, who will host two concerts, Joe Mahon, Richard Moore, and Culture Company chair Martin Bradley.

There will also be an awards ceremony recognising the best of Irish-American talent, and word is that some Derry names could feature here as well.

Then in November, the Irish Echo newspaper will be hosting the fourth Golden Bridges Convention in Boston, and its central focus will be developing connections between the US and Derry-Donegal.

Featured speakers at previous events have included political leaders from the US and both sides of the border, community stalwarts, business leaders and arts champions.

And this year, there will be a special City of Culture reception, featuring Irish and American artists, on the opening night.

There will also be Derry showcases in New York later in the winter and in Washington on St Patrick’s Day.

Other media too are seeing the potential of the 2013 project. The new Ireland Today TV station – which is being established by the MHz group which runs Al Jazeera, France 24 and 30 other networks in America – will be broadcasting live from next March. And MHz’s president, Fred Thomas, met Culture Company reps this month with the express purpose of offering substantial, free coverage of our 2013 events stateside.

The City of Culture project has already been strongly featured in the Irish-American press – and indeed, mainstream newspapers, such as The Pittsburgh Gazette.

Very importantly too, Tourism Ireland, which markets our island on the international market, has listed Derry as a top priority for 2013.

Their other big campaign for next year will be The Gathering, a clarion call for diaspora to return to home. And Derry will also benefit significantly from this initiative, because of the strength of our programme.

So the message we will be aligning to this campaign is: come to Ireland for The Gathering, come to Derry for the party.

Derry actors to go National - The Derry youth theatre group, MorePies Productions has been accepted for the second year running to take part in the National Theatre’s “Connections” project.

Under the scheme, young troupes from Britain and Northern Ireland perform a five-night run in their home locale of one of ten new specially-commissioned dramas.

Judges then visit each of the ten productions and select one to be performed at the National Theatre in London. And last year they selected MorePies production of Nancy Harris’s “Journey to X”, as their favourite.

The West End production, which was staged last month, was booked out several months in advance.

This year’s invitation for MorePies came in the form of a prestigious National Theatre bursary to their director Steve Wakeley, who is head of drama at Oakgrove.

And this year’s script-writers include Lenny Henry and Irish dramatist Stacey Gregg.

Good tunes on old fiddles - The Walled City Music Festival, which gets underway this weekend, not only attracts some of the world’s finest musicians to the city, it also brings some of the world’s finest musical instruments.

For instance Chinese cellist Li-Wei Qin, an exclusive Universal Records Artist, who has a massive following across the world, will perform the complete Beethoven cycle on a 1780 Joseph Guadagnini cello.

On Sunday night, Russian violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky will play all of the works of Brahms on a Stardivarius that was made in 1717.

To put the pedigree of these instruments into context, the concert venue Derry First Presbyterian Church was opened in 1780 the same year Qin’s cello was made - and some 63 years after Antonio Stradivari produced Sitkovesky’s violin.

The provenance of these instruments also underlines the global stature of the musicians who will are visiting our city this weekend.

All evening concerts will be held in the First Derry Presbyterian Church in Magazine Street and will start at 7.30pm.

Tickets, priced £12 (full) and £8 (concessions) are available to purchase online at www.walledcitymusicfestival.com

Shakespeare, Heaney, Byron...Doherty - Local actress/poet Amanda Doherty found herself keeping esteemed company at the Peace Camp installations which took place at Downhill and White Park Bay over the weekend.

Deborah Warner’s co-commission for the London 2012 Festival and City of Culture 2013, which was created in collaboration with Irish actor Fiona Shaw and Irish musician and composer Mel Mercier, featured audio recordings of the works of such luminaries as Shakespeare, Yeats, Byron, Heaney and Burns.

And in there along with the sonnets of the Bard and Heaney’s Lovers on Aran was a recording of Doherty reciting her own composition Eskimo.

It was fitting to see a young local artist being given a platform for their work at an event of Peace Camp’s stature.

Overall the Peace Camp event really caught the public imagination. And the success was hardly impacted by the freak high tide that saw the closing night of the event on Sunday foreshortened.

Queues of people lined up to get into the installations at both Downhill and White Park Bay, and testimonies were universally positive.

Dr Who? - Recent Magee graduate and more-than-honorary Derry man, Gary Lightbody, is starting a new sideline as an actor.

The Snow Patrol singer, whose mother is from the city, is to have a bit part in the HBO TV show ‘Game of Thrones’, currently being filmed in Belfast.

The star posted a picture of himself in medieval get-up, commenting: “Can’t say much – just it’s no pivotal role. Fun.”

Meanwhile, Snow Patrol have just confirmed that they will join Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on a joint-headline tour in America in the autumn.