In tune with the times
Join ALHAUS magazine on part one of our musical journey with RTÉ Concert Orchestra
(From left) Gavin Murphy conducting the Concert Orchestra, DJ Jenny Greene and vocalist Gemma Sugrue. INEC Killarney, 2018
We live in a golden age of musical access. The days when we were happy to keep hundreds of songs on a device in our pocket—much less clutter up our homes with stacks of compact disc cases or cardboard cartons full of cassettes—are numbered. Now we subscribe to streaming services, never running out of old favourites or new discoveries to add to our playlists.
But when an unlimited aural diet of digital bits and bytes isn’t enough, chances are there are dozens of concerts and live gigs happening around us on any given night. Performances provide a chance to reconnect; to step into what music should be, and always has been, at its best—a multi-sensory experience to be shared, to stir the emotions and tell stories.
So the good news is that real-life music experiences are very much alive and well—however, all this choice in music consumption creates selective audiences, and a very competitive market. Even the biggest venues and most established artists can struggle to sell out performances. In such tough times, could there possibly still be a place for a model of music performance as quaintly archaic as the orchestra?
Angela Rohan—PR Executive for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra—knows that orchestras can be just as relevant today as they ever were. To demonstrate, Angela (who diligently chronicles the Concert Orchestra’s behind-the-scenes life on Instagram) invited us to join them on a musical journey, showing us first-hand that it’s time to set aside any preconceived notions we may have had about the modern role of an orchestra in today’s world.
We meet Angela in Studio 1 at the RTÉ Radio Centre in Dublin. With the space completely silent and empty—apart from a few chairs and boom-stands scattered about—one quickly realises how easily the quiet is disturbed. The most hushed sounds resonate, bounce and amplify. The room sits in anticipation—as if waiting for sound to fill it. This is the place that the RTÉ Concert Orchestra calls home.
A brief introduction to the Orchestra: RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann) is Ireland’s public service broadcaster. It maintains the country’s national orchestras, operating both the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (up to now) and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, as well as two amateur choirs. Unlike symphony orchestras around the world (and their sister Symphony Orchestra closer to home), the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is unique in that it doesn’t focus on the main big-scale classical repertoire. Instead, they’ve diversified—embracing music’s capacity to communicate, motivate, uplift, educate and entertain. As they say themselves, they offer “authentic and innovative interpretations of music across a variety of genres.”
We’re introduced to Executive Producer Gareth Hudson, who makes it clear that competition is only one of the reasons that they need to employ this diversification strategy if they’re going to thrive… or even survive. “You can’t say ‘something worked in the 80s, so we’ll do it again’. You really have to [continually] reassess.” The stakes are high; light orchestras are an endangered species, many having shut-up shop worldwide. He continues, “The BBC, for instance, used to have six orchestras around the UK playing lighter forms of music—only one of those still remains.”
So what does the RTÉ Concert Orchestra play? Virtually everything. Classical music, film music—John Williams for example—accompaniment to live film screenings; jazz, musicals. The full orchestra also teams up with RTÉ 2FM radio DJ Jenny Greene and vocalist Gemma Sugrue for a special series of concerts across Ireland. With a dazzling light show and song list highlighting iconic 90s dance music, the Concert Orchestra manages the feat of filling the country’s largest venues: from Dublin’s 3Arena to Electric Picnic in County Laois to Ireland’s National Event Centre (the INEC) in Killarney. As the tour’s finale, the latter performance is very special—and it is that outstanding INEC show to which we are invited to tag along.
Join us next Friday for the second installment of our musical journey with RTÉ Concert Orchestra.