Music is the quickest and possibly the most effective way to cure the autumn blahs, so if you’re in need of something soul stirring you’re in luck. Next Monday (Halloween night!) the dynamic Irish Chamber Orchestra (ICO) will make a very rare New York appearance accompanied by world-renowned pianist Leon Fleisher.
We know it’s not the Saw Doctors or another U2 mega-concert, but sometimes we should make room for something a little grander in our lives, right? And the ICO certainly have that department covered.
On Monday they will perform a host of familiar classical favorites, along with the U.S. premiere of a new work for strings and the traditional uilleann pipes written by Irish composer Micheal O’Suilleabhain in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
That last piece is certain to resonate in the Irish community here, as will the music’s intention to commemorate and celebrate the lives of all lost in that day of infamy (which included far too many Irish American sons and daughters).
Next Monday’s concert is part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland program, a yearlong festival of Irish arts in America. The orchestra itself was originally set up in the early 1990s to be one of the leading chamber orchestras in the world and a cultural ambassador for Ireland, in fact.
Since then it has realized its ambition with a series of outstanding performances around the world, attracting some of the top musicians in the world to participate in its sell out concerts.
On Monday the orchestra will play excerpts from Hadyn’s Symphony No. 96 in D major, known as The Miracle. It will also play Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, No. 4, Op. 53 and conclude with O’Suilleabhain’s Termon for Uilleann Pipes and String (the New York premiere of the work) commissioned by the American Ireland Fund and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
John Kelly is the orchestra’s only full-time employee. Kelly was appointed the first ever professor of music at the University of Limerick, and his vision of a leading chamber orchestra arose from his attempt to keep Irish talent in Ireland and allow it to blossom.
There was -- and is -- a good reason for this. The orchestra lacks funding, and talented Irish artists are still forced to work abroad.
In response Kelly took the daring move of relocating the ICO, inviting it to take up residence on the University of Limerick’s campus, where it is governed independently of the university itself.
In 2004 the ICO received its own state-of-the-art building with concert hall-quality rehearsal space and studio, practice rooms and administrative facilities. As windfalls go it was unprecedented and near miraculous, but put it down to Kelly’s passion for the work.
Since it’s debut luminaries in the field of classical music have all performed at the Limerick concert hall, including Nigel Kennedy, Maxim Vangerof, and Anthony Marwood. That tradition of Irish musicians having an opportunity of collaborating with world-class maters will continue when they take the stage accompanied by pianist Leon Fleisher on Monday.
As well as all of the world class collaboration though, there’s a personal benefit to Kelly’s vision for the ICO. He has managed to create a community of Irish artists, with many of the musicians emerging from university study progressing directly into their professional careers, allowing the ICO to grow as a group in terms of renown, skill and size.
And although classical music has a reputation for elitism, in fact the ICO is extremely engaged with the community of Limerick and runs many out-reach programs to teens and the wider community. The orchestra perform regularly in Cork, Limerick and Dublin and throughout rural Ireland -- beating back any charges that it’s out of touch or inaccessible.
By bringing it’s music to Limerick’s most disadvantaged schools its also changing the lives of students and teachers alike by helping children develop strong musical skills, skills that they can use in other areas of the curriculum and in their own lives as they grow.
The Irish Chamber Orchestra will play at Lincoln Center on Monday October 31 at 8 p.m. For tickets to the concert call 212-721-6500 or visit the Alice Tully Hall Box Office.
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After living in Ireland for almost one year, this is what I’ve learned