Live Music Review

Paddy Mulcahy – “A cathedral of serenity”

Where does one go for a soul-cleansing, soothing and musically-edifying break from the unceasing cacophony of Berlin on a Saturday night?

One of the joys of the city is that every district has its own multitude of treasures. Wedding is one such place, where the energetic, multicultural pulse of Seestrasse transforms suddenly into the sleepy, streetlamp-lit Liebenwalder Straße, where Mastul, tucked into the corner, shines out like an artistic beacon. And the mellifluous, lyrical piano music of Paddy Mulcahy and Kelly Wyse gives many of us the soothing, transportive break from the hubbub of life in the capital that we need.

Limerick-based Paddy Mulcahy is here as part of the Modellbahn series, curated by Seattle-born Berlin resident Kelly Wyse. The series is described as a set of concerts of “experimental, improvised classical music“. This description might be a turnoff for some – isn’t experimental classical music supposed to be austere, impenetrable, aloof and cold? The venue, for a start, is anything but austere and cold. The pleasant bohemian chatter of Mastul’s bar area leads to a dimly-lit, cosily- wallpapered backroom, where lines of benches are placed before a majestic old upright piano with its myriad of hammers, pins, pegs and strings on display for all to see. And eagerly awaiting are a mix of wine-sipping classical music aficionados sat next to seasoned club-goers here to break a weekend of hedonism with some cultural enrichment. The overall effect is like being in a temple, with the piano placed like an alter before the expectant throng, a promise of spiritual reward from a higher source.

Recurring motifs around which dynamics undulate and harmonies evolve with slow-building intensity

Kelly Wyse is first to play. He charms the audience with a collection of pieces loaded with grace and beauty. His website describes his music as having been influenced by Ravel’s ‘Gibet’, a piece “where the same B flat octave ostinato remains constant while harmonies and dynamics change around it.” This concentration on repetition pervades his own music: recurring motifs around which dynamics undulate and harmonies evolve with slow-building intensity. Pieces such as ssSwan unravel from the piano unhurriedly and elegantly, whetting our appetites for Kelly’s solo album Pastoralia, which is set for release later this year.

A short break reminds the ensembled audience that they are in the backroom of a raucous Wedding pub rather than floating on a river at sunset, the door being opened to allow us to refill our drinks and mix with the joyful clatter of revellers at the bar. Then headliner Paddy Mulcahy takes to the stage, unfurling a Limerick flag to dampen the sound of the piano and achieve a muted, percussive tone that brings the audience to an awed silence. Telling us that he had fallen in love with sythesisers when recording latest album How to Disappear, Paddy adds the synthetic swooshes of a Korg Monologue keyboard and ambient delay of a Roland Space Echo to the mix, lifting us away from Wedding to an oasis of calm, wanderlust and orange-hued skies.

Paddy explains that this pared-down setup is a far cry from the heavy-duty one he uses when playing back home in Ireland. But it’s a mark of the music’s quality that motifs from pieces such as Sunset Connoisseur and When Away embed themselves in our brains like earworms, regardless of the setup in which they’re played this evening. And when, after the music has finished and this cathedral of serenity reverts to the smoky backroom of a hip Wedding bar, the music continues to resound in our heads. If ‘experimental’ piano music is always this intoxicatingly beautiful, perhaps Berliners seeking a break from the pell-mell of city life should consider introducing more ‘experimental’ music to their own busy schedules.


Cover Picture by
© Shane Vaughan

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