In tune with the times, part two
Join ALHAUS magazine on part two of our musical journey with RTÉ Concert Orchestra
DJ Jenny Greene and RTÉ Concert Orchestra in INEC Killarney, 2018
Read part one of our immersive musical experience with RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
The eerie stillness of the previous day’s visit is forgotten when dozens of musicians walk in and take their meticulously-prepared places, fanned out in a semi-circle radiating from the conductor’s podium. This is the rehearsal before departing for Killarney—and the sounds of light-hearted chatter, laughter, the flutter of sheet music and clatter of instrument cases fill the room. The conductor greets all assembled, then a click-track plays from the monitor speaker, a pre-recorded voice measuring out the rhythmic pace: “one, two, three”. The lively chaos vanishes—only concentration remains as a sudden, stunning burst of music fills the room.
Yesterday, the Orchestra accompanied Aida; the scores being rehearsed today are a different affair altogether. Titles are almost absurd in juxtaposition; Adagio for Strings, Insomnia, Ride On Time. And it took some effort to get here: Gavin Murphy, Conductor (one member of the team of arrangers for the gig) explains that work started quite a while ago with pen and paper at the piano. “I strip it down to what I think should come from Jenny (the DJ)—that would normally be beats and rhythmic stuff, maybe some effects and dance sounds. The rest of it, I would orchestrate for what we have here.” It’s a long process, taking up to two days to complete each arrangement: “You are writing every note for every instrument—you’re writing the whole thing.”
Fast-forward to Friday evening, and it’s been 14 hours since we left Dublin. We’re backstage at the INEC in Killarney waiting for the musicians to take their places. During the five-hour bus journey, it was almost impossible to tell we were in the company of some of the finest musicians in Ireland—the only give-away being a very rare reference to a composer stuck in between jokes. But after this light-hearted trek westward, there weren’t many chances to unwind before the evening show. Hotel check-in, sound checks, final rehearsals—the tempo only accelerated as everything felt brisk, tightly-scheduled… and carefully orchestrated.
The pace quickens again, and deafening noise comes from the impatient crowd as the Orchestra musicians take the stage: when DJ Jenny and vocalist Gemma move past the curtain to take their places, the cheering of the crowd transforms from merely enraptured to completely euphoric. And that only grows and intensifies as the concert continues.
It’s easy to see why the performance is such a success. Yes, there’s a great selection of music chosen specifically for this audience, but what adds to the experience is seeing the musicians play. Their sense of enjoyment flows from the stage in some magical way, then is absorbed and magnified by the public. Executive Producer Gareth Hudson says he doesn’t know of another orchestra capable of evoking the love of music that Irish people have in quite the same way: “There is a real spirit, a real sense of humanity about them; which I think makes them quite a unique orchestra.”
Backstage preparations; DJ Jenny Greene enters the stage; DJ Jenny Greene with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at INEC Killarney, 2018
As the RTÉ Concert Orchestra musicians come to the end of their performance—adrenaline flowing and emotions running high—the crowd goes on partying to heavy rave beats, and the Orchestra musicians join in. With bow ties stuffed deep in their pockets and instruments safely nestled in their cases behind the stage, we finally head to the bar. As we chat, morning approaches and the challenge of accurately describing the Orchestra becomes apparent.
Every member has their own stories and particular takes on orchestra life—each one of them knows exactly how to be true to themselves, but also fit perfectly into the context of the larger group. Perhaps it’s the essence of the job—the ever-changing schedules that render personal plans impossible to make, the highly unsociable work hours—that foster this camaraderie and ability to snap into a role. Everything seems to be shared by the group—in a working life chaotic, at times discordant—yet harmonious at the same time.
As the stage is broken down, the versatility of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is apparent yet again. After tonight’s ear-splitting beats, tomorrow holds a family performance with a live screening of The Snowman and Christmas concert. After that, it will be time to return to Dublin for a brief rest before it’s time to perform Handel’s Messiah.
Having pulled back the curtain, we’ve seen that the RTÉ Concert Orchestra is a complex machine of programming, marketing, PR and administration—constantly turning its cogs around the business behind the magic of art and entertainment. A living organism with all its individual parts moving in perfect unison. Surviving, thriving, continuously adapting—and never failing to keep perfect time.