Friday 9 December 2016

Classical: The great sound of sweet music out in leafy Ballsbridge

George Hamilton

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

Hamilton Harty
Hamilton Harty

The RDS means many things to many people. When I was growing up in Belfast, it was the Dublin Horse Show. Over the years, the sporting connections have expanded and now Leinster Rugby is at much at home in Ballsbridge as draught mares and hunters.

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Its role as a music venue is well known too, playing host to everything from the Eurovision Song Contest to Bruce Springsteen.

As you'd expect of an organisation which, as well as supporting agriculture and industry, had the promotion of the arts as one of its aims when it was set up in 1731, the Royal Dublin Society's involvement with music pre-dates the arrival of rock and roll.

There would be chamber concerts for the members, at a time when Dublin was flourishing as a musical centre. Handel had come and spent 10 months in the city, presenting his Messiah for the first time in the New Music Hall in Fishamble Street on what was Tuesday of Easter Week in 1742.

He fully intended to return, and though that never happened, the fact that he'd stayed around so long really put Dublin on the map.

Over time, the involvement of the RDS expanded. The Great Industrial Exhibition of 1853, organised by William Dargan (who'd built the country's first railway line from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire - then called Kingstown - 20 years before) was staged on the lawns of Leinster House, which was home to the RDS at the time.

It included a concert involving the biggest body of musicians that had ever been seen in Ireland - an orchestra and a choir of a thousand performers, among them personnel from five military bands.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Michele Esposito, who'd come from Naples to be professor of composition at the Royal Irish Academy in Westland Row, was a regular in Leinster House.

He put on chamber concerts for the RDS. That encouraged him to set up what was known as the Dublin Orchestral Society, Ireland's first professional orchestra.

With Ireland's independence came the move to Ballsbridge. The RDS already had land there for its agricultural shows. They sold Leinster House to the government, and moved lock, stock, and barrel out to the suburbs.

There they played host on several occasions to the County Down composer Hamilton Harty and musicians from the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he led for 13 years. There was a strong connection. Esposito had been Harty's mentor.

The RDS is still at the forefront of music making here. Ireland's major classical music festival, the ESB Feis Ceoil, is hosted by the society each year. And this coming week, they'll be announcing the name of the latest recipient of the RDS Music Bursary.

Now worth €15,000, an increase of 50pc on last year, it's Ireland's biggest prize for young classical musicians.

First awarded to the Bray guitarist Redmond O'Toole in 2003, it's part of the Society's Arts programme which also supports young talent with its two Rising Stars concerts each year.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10.00 am each Saturday.

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