Friday 18 January 2019

Fusing trad and baroque music for one special night

Jessica Farry

This April, the Hawk's Well Theatre presents Tradroque - a juxtaposition of Irish traditional and baroque music traditions featuring Sligo Baroque Orchestra and an ensemble of traditional musicians including Michael Rooney on harp, Liam Kelly on flute, Leonard Barry on pipes, John Joe Kelly on bodhrán and Seamie O'Dowd on guitar.

This specially commissioned collaborative concert explores the musical links between Europe and Ireland over the last few centuries. Sligo Baroque Orchestra is markedly inclusive, involving professional musicians as well as amateur and student instrumentalists all from very different musical backgrounds. The selection of traditional musicians who will join them are all highly accomplished in their individual fields and together this assembly promise a freewheeling, pulse-quickening, constantly surprising fusion of Irish and Baroque sounds with over twenty musicians on stage.

Music on the night will include; Vivaldi: L'Estro Armonico, Opus 3 - Concerto 6 featuring Nicola Cleary, Heinichen Seibel 238 concerto for flute and oboe featuring Lorraine Howley and John Flanagan and movements from Vivaldi RV 421 and Fasch - Concerto FaWV L:F4 mixed with traditional tunes and compositions from Michael Rooney played by the full ensemble. An epic example of descriptive music composition originally written by Edward Keating Hyland called The Foxchase will also feature, in which the uilleann pipes portray the story of a typical late-eighteenth century foxhunt by imitating the barks of hounds, the trumpets of the hunters and the howls of the fox.

Marie O'Byrne, Director of the Hawk's Well Theatre, is also a member of the Baroque Orchestra.

Marie had thought of the idea for a while, and when she contacted Rod Alston of Sligo Baroque Orchestra, he was more than willing to get involved: "It was a big undertaking. There's no problem getting people to do it, getting the orchestra involved was no problem" Marie told The Sligo Champion.

"But you need scores and those can take a while to get. Those take a lot of time, Anna Houston has helped out a good bit with that as well. You probably couldn't score a whole show so we'll have chunks really. The first-half will feature the baroque orchestra on their own and then the traditional artists. The second half will be the collaboration. We took a piece that we played in baroque and we made some small changes."

The Baroque Orchestra can vary in numbers from anything between nine and 20. Around a dozen members will take part in 'Tradroque', while five traditional music artists will link up with them. Tribute will be paid on the night to the later Liam O'Flynn and Thom Moore.

"I am so looking forward to The Foxchase in particular. In 1995 as a classical violin student I was asked to lead a small chamber orchestra to accompany uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn in a festival performance in Flagmount in Co. Clare. That night, I literally fell in love with Irish music through Liam's playing and The Foxchase, in particular, was a highlight on that night. The trad and orchestral version we will play on April 12th was arranged by Shaun Davey for Liam O'Flynn and will be dedicated to the memory of the master piper," added Marie.

Homage will also be paid in the concert to the great musician and songwriter Thom Moore who also passed away recently in a specially orchestrated version of Believe Me Sligo also featuring the full ensemble.

Leaving their comfort zone is something that Rod actively encourages orchestra members to do, and collaborations such as this one are always welcomed.

"It's always good to play something that extends what you normally do. With the baroque orchestra we play mostly baroque, all different types but it's all baroque and you can kind of anticipate what's coming next.

"Music is easier to get nowadays. You used to have to buy it and it was expensive but now whole libraries are available thanks to the internet.

"For some people who are used to playing by ear it can be different playing what's written in front of you."

Marie added: "Sometimes they (trad musicians) will like to make improvisations and changes but we need them to do it the same as us so it's two different styles being blended into one here."

There are plenty of links between baroque music and traditional music, as Rod explains: "A well known Italian composer Francesco Geminiani lived in London and Scotland with two long stretches in Ireland, Dublin and Cootehall. He wrote arrangements of Scottish traditional music for keeping the same melodies and he then transcribed that into baroque melodies. Turlough O'Carolan, well nobody knows, but some said it was influenced by Vivaldi and some said Geminiani, they were around the same time because O'Carolan said he had met Geminiani.

"It's an exciting time for music. What was previously stored away for years is now becoming more available."

Tickets are €15 with a special Go See rate of €7.50 for under 18s. Tickets will have a €1 development fee surcharge and are available from the box office on 071-91/61518 or book online at

Sligo Champion