Mar 01, 2012
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Music Nation 4th March 2012
It’s a measure of the progress of ‘normalisation’ in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement, that the BBC Music Nation event which sees the Ulster Orchestra joined on stage by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, will happen with the attention firmly on the music – and without the attachment of any heavy handed symbolism.
I first came to Belfast in 1996, when our venue for this event, the Belfast Waterfront, was still being built. Armoured police and army Land Rovers were still rumbling up and down Royal Avenue, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, and Belfast felt neglected and uneasy. The Waterfront became a symbol of the new optimism in the late 1990s as the peace process gathered momentum and the promise of those times is now realised in a rejuvenated city and a thriving cultural scene.
Orchestral musicians are often rather unsentimental about ‘event’ concerts, but no one can deny that 4 March will be a very unusual and potentially exciting day at work. Although many players on stage will have freelanced with the ‘other’ orchestra at some point, and will have played or even studied together before (RTÉ’s principal trumpet and I were postgraduate contemporaries in Birmingham), putting two professional orchestras on the same stage together is extremely rare. One ‘superorchestra’ of 100 players is not without its logistical problems of course; issues of who sits where and next to whom, who gets the nice solo and who plays the supporting role have all had to be ironed out in advance. The formula that has been settled on sees our leader, Tamás Kocsis, sitting alongside that of RTÉ and section principal seats shared equally between the two orchestras. In my section, the UO’s principal trumpet remains in his seat, but the principal trombone will be from Dublin.
The programme is one of great orchestral showpieces, built around Brian Irvine’s new work Praise Aloud The Trees. Brian is a former composer in residence at the UO and so the Ulster Orchestra have plenty of experience of his idiosyncratic style. We’ll be expecting more of the rhythmic drive and spiky tunes which typify his other work for us, although the source material for this work, a Seamus Heaney translation of a medieval text, might bring something very different.
So, a great celebration of orchestral music, of Belfast as a great city in Ireland and in the UK, and of promise fulfilled.
Principal Trumpet No. 2