Sunday 19 November 2017

Classic talk: On tour with another successful Irish squad

On the road: Irish Chamber Orchestra
On the road: Irish Chamber Orchestra

George Hamilton

Just four months after one Irish squad conquered Vienna, another Irish ensemble was in town intent on scoring its own success. Then, it was the international football team securing three precious World Cup points with their very first victory in the Austrian capital. Last week, it was the Irish Chamber Orchestra making its debut in the Konzerthaus with two sell-out shows that had the Wiener Zeitung purring with delight.

"Creative and innovative" was the headline on an article that was full of praise for both players and director, the German clarinettist and conductor Jörg Widmann.

The Konzerthaus is one of music's greatest stages. The playbills outside read like a who's who of international music - Joshua Bell, the London Symphony Orchestra, Branford Marsalis, the Hagen Quartet. The ICO's opening night in the 1,800-seater Great Hall featured on lyric fm, which is how I came to be involved.

In many ways, it reminded me of travelling with the Irish football team back in the day before monstrous amounts of money and media management became involved. It was just like old times as I boarded the plane with players and management.

The orchestra had performed in Limerick and Dublin on the two previous nights, so the alarm call at what their leader Katherine Hunka referred to as "stupid o'clock" hadn't been exactly welcome. You'd never have known it.

Nor would you have been aware of the issues that arise with their kit. Understandably, musicians don't like to be parted from their instruments, which can be a bit of a problem when you are trying to take a double bass on board as hand luggage. Timpanists have no choice. Their drums don't travel so they're hired at the venue.

Touchdown mid-morning, leisurely lunch, 4pm rehearsal, showtime 7.30pm. The third of four concerts on consecutive nights, in three venues, in two countries, 1,500 miles apart.

The Overture to Don Giovanni and the Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor by Mozart were presented as one piece - a most effective innovation.

Then it was the Russian-German pianist Igor Levit with the Elvira Madigan Concerto (No 21). This went down so well - "Bravo!" they cried, as the final chords rang out - that the half-dozen curtain calls had to be followed by an encore, a tongue-in-cheek rendition of the waltz from Shostakovich's Ballet Suite No. 1.

The second half was dedicated to Mendelssohn. The sonata for clarinet and piano, written when the composer was only 15, was presented as an adaptation for string orchestra, adding a harp, and employing the celesta - a kind of keyboard glockenspiel - in place of the piano.

This reworking by Jörg Widmann, who took the solo part himself, was a sensitive exploration of the subtleties of the piece. A vivid account of the Reformation Symphony brought a spellbinding evening to a close.

There's a taut vivacity to the playing of this orchestra that's easily traced to the geniality of the group. For this tour, the core of 22 regular musicians was augmented by 18 more.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra's concert season includes two dates this month. With the Austrian conductor, Thomas Zehetmair, at the helm for the first time, they're performing music by Dvorak, Barber, and Schoenberg in City Hall, Waterford, on April 12, and they're back on their home stage in the University Concert Hall in Limerick the following evening.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

Indo Review

Promoted Links

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment