Tuesday 28 March 2017

The woman conducting magic - Eimear Noone: 'I couldn't even get a chance to screw up in Ireland'

Eimear Noone was told she'd never make it in Ireland because she was a woman. So she fled to LA instead and forged a stellar musical career. Back in Dublin for a very special show, she tells our reporter why she's not bitter

Mozart meets Metallica: Eimear Noone gives a sneak preview of the eyecatching Claire Garvey outfit she’ll wear on stage this weekend. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mozart meets Metallica: Eimear Noone gives a sneak preview of the eyecatching Claire Garvey outfit she’ll wear on stage this weekend. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

'You don't have a hope of a career as a conductor. You're young, Irish and female."

So began Eimear Noone's ascent to the top of her profession as one of the world's foremost orchestra leaders and composers.

The determined young Galway woman was 19, just out of Trinity and finding so many doors slammed in her face that she doubted her own ability when the senior Irish conductor told her she would never make it.

Yet success is the best revenge and now nearly 20 years later, Noone orchestrates for Hollywood royalty and wields her baton at everything from Stravinsky to R&B to electronic dance music, often in the same week.

But it is her role as the leading lady of video games music by which she has made her name globally, waving her musical magic wand for giants of the industry such as Nintendo and Activision Blizzard.

Perhaps Noone would never have made it to her adopted home of LA if the rejection in Ireland hadn't been so overwhelming.

"I was seeing people come up around me with no study and no experience getting opportunities that I wasn't let anywhere near," says the petite 38-year-old over a coffee in Dublin. "I didn't see any girls getting those opportunities."

She tells how a Trinity lecturer had sidled up to her one day and hissed: "Well, if it isn't Little Miss No One!"

So she moved to the US west coast where she found a niche and the attitude was immediately different.

"In LA, they give you a shot. They give you a chance to screw up. I couldn't even get a chance to screw up in Ireland."

And she took that shot, scrabbling her way up through the classical industry before happening into games with Blizzard, the creator of World of Warcraft, the long-running fantasy game with five million players.

This weekend, Noone is back in Ireland with her husband - Emmy-nominated composer Craig Stuart Garfinkle - for their iDigMusicFest at the RDS, a celebration of video game music now in its second year.

The event culminates at the Convention Centre tomorrow night with Video Games Live (VGL), a spirited interactive concert that has toured the world with Noone as occasional guest conductor.

Part rock'n'roll show, part classical spectacle, VGL features a dervish-like Noone conducting up a storm backed by a full orchestra and light show. Noone takes to the stage in a one-off leather outfit by Irish designer Claire Garvey - which she gleefully describes as "Mozart meets Metallica".

Together with an ensemble led by musician Tommy Tallarico, they perform a rapid-fire parade of themes from the likes of Skyrim, Legend of Zelda and World of Warcraft. Noone herself contributes an emotional piece laced with Irish lyricism from Warcraft called Malach, which is dedicated to her son Aaron, who tragically died just before birth.

Malach means "angel" in Hebrew. Last year, Noone told her Facebook followers what the piece means to her: "In 2012 we lost our beautiful boy, two weeks before he was due to enter this magical world. It is the epic adventure he might have had, told through a mother's lullaby."

Other performers include Jack L singing Baba Yetu, the Grammy-winning tune from Civilization IV, and Sibéal Ní Chasaide, the young star who made such an impression during the 1916 celebrations.

The creation of the iDig festival was a labour of love for Noone and Garfinkle, who live in Malibu with their two children. The festival aims to showcase the achievements of Irish musicians and developers, while promoting Ireland as global hub for the games industry. She feels she owes the country at least that much and any bitterness has been put aside.

"I'm very fortunate in that I have a world-class education that my parents and the Irish taxpayer paid for," she says in a soft Galway burr that sometimes slips into a Californian twang.

"I have this frustration that Ireland has so much storytelling and musical talent and so many great technological facilities that we're so suited for the videogame industry.

"People spend so much money on videogames. Why don't we have a structured investment programme for Irish developers? It's the perfect industry for us in so many ways."

The couple have struggled to attract any government interest in the festival but they're hopeful of help in the future. "The investment of time alone for us is absolutely astronomical - but it's been so worth it," she says.

In addition to sinking her own money into iDig, Noone also launched a Kickstarter to fund an album of Zelda tunes by the DIT Traditional Music Ensemble - weaving a trad Celtic influence into the cherished Nintendo soundtrack.

It's just one many irons she has in the fire. Two other Kickstarter projects on the go include a virtual-reality conductor tutorial called 'Conductrix' and an album of music from the VGL show.

But the couple's biggest projects frequently centre on Warcraft. The next big update is due out on August 31 and the couple are again at the heart of its million-dollar soundtrack.

"We're talking at least 90 in the orchestra and on top of that a choir of 50 or 60," says Noone.

For now, though, she's just focused on making iDig a success. The festival features a host of sessions highlighting indie Irish developers, game artwork and music and presentations by visiting US producers.

Noone hopes official Ireland will take note: "It'll be unsustainable much longer unless we get serious input because we want people to see what we're trying to do, which is to bring the Americans in to see what is going on in Ireland."

The iDigMusicFest runs from Friday until Sunday. See idigmusicfest.com

Irish Independent

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