County Wexford Youth Orchestra travelled to the National Concert Hall in Dublin on 11th February for the 22nd Festival of Youth Orchestras. This is an annual gathering of some of the top youth orchestras in the country. CWYO was one of eight such groups given the opportunity to perform at this year’s event. The group was one of four orchestras performing in the second of two concerts presented over the course of the day. Each and every one of the musicians appreciated the fact that they were performing on one the biggest stages in the country before a critically appreciative audience.
The present Conductor of CWYO is Emily Redmond. The current Co-Leaders are Aisling Gouldson and Emma Martin.
Cellist Beth Powell put pen to paper to give an insider’s view of CWYO’s trip to Dublin:
“Playing in the National Concert Hall was a huge honour for everyone in our orchestra. When I recall all the practise and rehearsal time we put in I have no doubt that I speak on behalf of everyone in the County Wexford Youth Orchestra in saying that it was all worth it for such a brilliant and unforgettable day. We are all so grateful to everyone that helped in getting us here, all our leaders and chaperones and especially our Conductor, Emily Redmond.
The weeks coming up to the concert were a time for us to perfect our pieces. In rehearsals, we outlined the most difficult sections for each instrument and practiced them as much as we could at home. It was all about learning to perform the pieces and not just playing the notes. Many of us brought our music to our individual teachers to get the markings in so that that they might point out small things we could do to improve our technique. We also listened to recordings of the music to help get timings and rhythms into our heads. Personally, I spent a whole two-hour plane journey listening to our three pieces on repeat! Our last week consisted of two three-hour rehearsals to fix any remaining mistakes and to add the final finishing touches. At this point it felt brilliant to know that we were performing to the best of our ability.
Saturday, February 11. Our day began with an early morning bus journey from Wexford up to the National Concert Hall. Although the journey was long, it was fun as everyone was excited about the day ahead.
Our main rehearsal at the National Concert Hall took place at 12:30PM. Truthfully, it did not go as well as we had hoped but this just motivated each one of us to concentrate even harder on our music. The rehearsal gave us an opportunity to take in the layout of the stage and to view the wonderful hall itself. There were two levels of seats with the first-floor balcony going all the way around the stage. Above the stage stood a large, elegant organ, green with golden pipes. The walls and columns were a delicate fern green. It was beautiful. At this point it was beginning to feel more real with the realisation of just how big of an honour it is to play in the NCH.
Following lunch we attended the afternoon concert. Many of the players making up each of the four orchestras were quite young. It was great to see so much young talent. You could see how hard each orchestra had worked. It was a bit nostalgic for some members of our orchestra who had played in the afternoon concert a few years previously, to think that we were once that young playing, for the first time, in such a large concert hall! The wonderful playing at the afternoon concert served to set the bar quite high for the evening concert. No pressure then!
Following the afternoon concert, we walked the short distance to the Russell Court Hotel for dinner. The main focus at this stage was simply on keeping relaxed.
The evening concert began at 8PM sharp. Since we were the final act, and therefore in the second half, we had the luxury of watching the first two orchestras that performed. Our orchestra was sitting in the choir balcony, just behind and above the stage. Both orchestras were astounding and we were a little worried about meeting the high standards expected of us.
Ahead of the second orchestra’s performance, the compere, Seán Rocks of RTE Radio 1’s Arena, commenced the presentation of awards. He presented an award to the orchestra that was about to perform, the Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra, and we all clapped and cheered, not thinking for a moment that maybe we might deserve an award of our own. The compere then started to describe why one of the orchestras would be receiving the IAYO Outstanding Achievement Award. We all looked at each other with some bemusement as he talked about this orchestra. He was describing things that we had done! He talked about playing abroad and listed countries in which our orchestra had played. We sat there, stunned into silent wonder, none of us daring to believe he was talking about us. The compere then mentioned how the said orchestra showcased some Irish culture through traditional music and mumming – an Irish dance with sticks. As soon as he said the word ‘mumming’ we knew he was talking about us. We whooped and cheered as loud as we could as Emily Redmond walked on stage to accept the award. We were all ecstatically excited and as ready as we ever would be to get out there and perform.
At the interval, we rushed back to our dressing room and began to tune our instruments. This caused a bit of panic as, due to the heat of the room, most of the string instruments’ tuning had slipped. One of the cellos was completely out of tune and as Emily was tuning it, a string snapped. Replacing a string so close to performance is usually a bit pointless as it goes out of tune almost straight away. Such was the case here. Luckily, we were able to secure a replacement cello from the orchestra that performed before us, thanks to the efficiency of the IAYO staff. As we were waiting to go on, I looked at all the photos of the musicians and orchestras that had played on this same stage. It was, and still is, surreal to think that we had been given the opportunity to play where so many renowned musicians, groups and orchestras had played before us. Then came the call to stage. We walked on and took our seats with our Conductor joining us shortly after and taking her place before us. We proceeded to do our final tuning of instruments. The sound of an orchestra tuning up all together is one of my favourite sounds and as we were tuning I knew we were going to be amazing.
Emily raised her baton. There was complete silence throughout the hall for a few seconds as we sat, instruments at the ready. Before us, notes on a page waiting to be transformed into aural splendour. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture. We began to play, all of us concentrating on our music, on Emily and on each other. Our months of endless rehearsals and practice were paying off at last, as we poured everything we had into the music. We came to the end of our first piece and I had goosebumps. Any nervousness I had disappeared. We started into our second piece, Forrest Gump Suite. More relaxed now and more in the zone, all the revisions and the corrections we had gone through in rehearsal came through effortlessly in our playing. It sounded amazing, though perhaps I am a little biased! Next came our final and most difficult piece, Queen of the Scals. In this Irish piece, composed by Neil Martin, we had a soloist on the uileann pipes, Mark Redmond, and a soloist on the harp, Eilís Lavelle. Everyone was concentrating fully, completely immersed in the music. We performed the best we ever had and there was nothing but complete joy, and maybe a little bit of relief, on everyone’s faces as we stood to the crowd’s roaring applause. I felt, throughout our performance, that we were an orchestra united. Everyone listened to what each section was playing and followed each stroke of Emily’s baton. We listened to one another and performed each piece and every note to the best of our abilities. It was a performance none of us will ever forget.
We are all so grateful to Emily for all the hard work and effort she has put in, and continues to put in. She has made us the cohesive unit we are. It is thanks to her that we have the confidence to shine at events such as this.
None of us will ever forget the fun we have had with the County Wexford Youth Orchestra, the concerts, the trips, the memories.”
Note: CWYO was founded in 1980 by Eileen Hurlihy and the late Alan Cutts as part of the County Wexford School of Music. It is made up of musicians aged 12 to 18 years from thoughout Co Wexford. They practise together weekly throughout the school year. Through regular practise and performance the orchestra serves as an important stepping-stone in preparing young musicians hoping to progress to senior orchestra playing.