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A general view during rehearsals for the Clare Memory Orchestra's production of The Clare Concerto which is on in Glor on November 8. Photograph by John Kelly.

A memorable night with Dave’s orchestra

Musicians Fergal Breen, Mick O Brien and Jack Talty  keep their eyes on conductor Bjorn Bantock during rehearsals for the Clare Memory Orchestra's production of The Clare Concerto which is on in Glor on November 8. Photograph by John Kelly.
Musicians Fergal Breen, Mick O Brien and Jack Talty keep their eyes on conductor Bjorn Bantock during rehearsals for the Clare Memory Orchestra’s production of The Clare Concerto which is on in Glor on November 8. Photograph by John Kelly.

AN audience of 600 already have their tickets for what will be one of the most unique experiences for traditional and classical music lovers on the Clare stage.

Premiering The Clare Concerto, composed by Dave Flynn, The Clare Memory Orchestra, which has grown to an ensemble of 70 musicians, will perform for one night only in Glór.

In what is a fusion of the classical orchestral structure and traditional aural learning, the performance has already sold out. Featuring musicians from classical and traditional backgrounds, as well as those who have experience in both, this is the first orchestra of its kind and was the brainchild of Dublin native and North Clare resident Dave Flynn.

He outlined how the ambitious project came about.

“I had the idea for a long time and it kind of originated from working with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill in 2006, when I was commissioned to write a piece for them with a classical violinist. From that point on, I was always aware of the barrier between classical and trad and how to fix it. Even as far back as then, my solution for the violinists was to learn the music by heart. Especially when you are premiering a piece that is 26 minutes long, as that one was, most classical players will have the sheet music in front of them,” he explained.

This specially commissioned piece was Dave’s first time experimenting with this fusion of music and he said it went very well at the Masters of Tradition Festival. The piece was called Music for the Departed and was written by Dave in memory of his late mother.

An expanded version of this piece will feature this Friday during the first half of the concert.

“The composition has taken on new life, in that it has had different versions. After the Masters of Tradition, RTÉ got wind of it and commissioned me to write a fiddle concerto. I re-orchestrated the music for a string orchestra and the Irish Chamber Orchestra subsequently did it as well. It was out of that, that this came about,” he said.

“One of the big problems with working with a classical orchestra with trad players is that the classical orchestra cannot play a reel or a jig. It’s the same as jazz, you can’t expect to be Ornette Colman together with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra and expect them to improvised jazz,” Dave continued.

Originally, Dave came up with the idea of the orchestra as an accompanying instrument and used it to accompany Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. This developed with many different instruments coming together and being able to work with musicians who were adept at both trad and classical music.

“I have been working a bit with Mick O’Brien, the piper and he has experience playing in orchestras and working with composers so he can read music and play the pipes and the whistle and all that. His three children are all in the group now. Aoife Ní Bhriain is the main violinist,” Dave said.

There is a core group of approximately 20 musicians but over the summer, The Clare Memory Orchestra ran an apprenticeship programme and expanded to include 70 members, who will all be showcased as part of Friday’s concert.

“When we started what you would call the chamber orchestra, the first gig was in September for Culture Night and we had 15 musicians on stage, including Martín O’Connor and Liz Carroll, who were the guests for that. It just grew from there and I brought in other instruments, like Bronze Age Celtic horns and mad things like that. We got a core group together. This would be the real pros and they have been mentoring the apprentices.

“I had this idea, which we brought to Clare County Council. I always wanted to build a full-size orchestra. I was thinking back to the National Youth Orchestra; I saw them years ago. They were fantastic and they had great energy and I thought I’m sure there are kids out there who would love the opportunity to play with this group and share a stage with Martin Hayes and Mick O’Brien.

“That’s where I came up with this apprenticeship scheme to discover new talent. One of the incentives to it is that for those who really impress us, there is scope for them to become deputy players for future full gigs. I’ve already identified a few people who would be capable of it. It is a very specific skill set. You have to be able to do both,” he said.

Most of the musicians come from Clare but not exclusively so, as Dave explained.

“We have an oboe player from Down, a trombone player originally from New Zealand but who lives in Dublin, a Japanese fiddle player living in Limerick and a harpist from Cork. We also have some people from Waterford and Wicklow,” he said.

Outlining what to expect from Friday’s concert, Dave said the first half features the main section leaders, with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, and the second half will involve a major stage change to try to get 70 musicians on it. This half will see the premiering of The Clare Concerto, a piece Dave has specially composed, which is at least 50 minutes long.

“It’s in three movements, like most concertos, East Clare, North Clare and West Clare. Each movement represents a different musician, style or area. So one of them is called Michael Whistling at the Cliffs of Moher and so it is based on Micho Russell and it is an imaginary thing, as if he is up on the Cliffs of Moher whistling. There is another Flying into Shannon, an imitation of a plane flying into Shannon Airport. In a concerto for orchestra, each section is usually a showcase of instruments. So one of the sections is called Corofin Harps and that gets to showcase the harps. It’s very hard to find something in Clare related to harps and Corofin Harps are a soccer team,” he said.

The orchestra consists of nine fiddles, eight violins, four violas, four cellos, three double basses, four flautists/whistles, three uilleann pipes, a section which includes an oboe, cor anglais and tin whistle, a brass section with a saxophone, trumpet, two trombones, a Carnyx – an ancient Celtic instrument – four concertinas, four harps, a piano, a selection of percussion instruments and three electric guitars.

When the apprenticeship opened this summer, Dave said the standard was very high and there were instruments he wasn’t expecting, which created added intrigue.

Dave has dabbled in nearly every musical genre and after having a couple of tin whistle lessons, which ended abruptly following the death of his teacher, he went to classical piano lessons but didn’t enjoy them. He later got guitar lessons from a primary school teacher called Allister McNeill, who he said taught him the basics.

“I gave it up and I wanted to be a snooker player and then as a teenager all the angst came in and I got into heavy metal. I was thrashing away in heavy metal. I studied classical guitar with John Feeley and then he encouraged me to do a degree in DIT and I was getting into trad. I went in as a guitar player and then composition took over and my degree was in composition,” he said.

Now that his vision has come together, Dave said it is amazing to see it take shape.

“What’s great about this is everyone wants to do it. Everyone is enthusiastic, they all know we are doing something new and coming up with different ways of doing things,” he said.

Dave is hoping after this concert, the group will tour but he said realistically, due to funding constraints, it will only be possible to bring the core 20 piece.

Friday’s performance will be conducted by Bjorn Bantock.

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