Midlands Youth Orchestra shines at the Youth Orchestra Festival
The Midlands Youth Orchestra gave an exceptional performance at the Festival of Youth Orchestras on Saturday February 19th.
The concert featuring four other youth orchestras – City of Belfast School of Music Junior Chamber Orchestra, Music Generation Louth Senior String Orchestra, Dundalk Grammar School Orchestra and Queen’s University Symphony Orchestra was held at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Under the direction of Music Director, Matt Rafter with conductor Arka Chatterjee, the orchestra performed Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D Major and an arrangement of pieces by prolific composer Michael Rooney – An Bealach Ar Ais (translated “The Way Back”) Suite – a harmonious fusion of classical and traditional music.
The first movement of this sequel is called Aonrú which Michael wrote during confinement when he was unable to see his parents for a long time and was struck by the isolation that many people were experiencing.
The music references ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, a track that reminded her of her parents. Moving through ‘Sult’ an uplifting reel, the piece ended with an energetic and lively presentation of ‘Dochas’, our hope as we emerge from difficult times! The orchestra has a solid group of traditional musicians, and it was an honor to be able to play this beautiful piece which delighted the public.
Michael Rooney has composed many pieces combining traditional Irish music and classical music. He is widely regarded as one of the leading players of the traditional Irish harp. He received the TG4 Composer of the Year award in 2017. One of his compositions, the “Suite Macalla”, composed for the 1916 centenary, was performed in London by the Macalla Orchestra – some former members of the ‘Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra were members of this orchestra. Other notable compositions by Michael Rooney include the Famine Suite (2019) and the Battle of the Books Suite (2007). His music also features in RTE’s documentary ‘The Queen’s Speech’ about Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ireland.
The Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra was founded by Vincent Hunt in 2006 after a collaborative project involving various orchestras in the Midlands.
They are now a well-established and thriving group of young musicians, aged between 12 and 22, mainly from the Offaly region and neighboring counties. Since its inception, the orchestra has had several accomplishments, including earlier performances at the National Concert Hall as part of the Youth Orchestra Festival. The orchestra has traveled to Germany, Dubai and Madrid where it has performed alongside local orchestras and musicians. In addition to holding its own concerts, the orchestra has performed regularly with other groups, including the Athlone Orchestra, Scoil Mhuire Tullamore, Lakeland Orchestra, Vltava String Quartet and Musical Allsorts Choir for their concert always popular in Mullingar. In May 2019 the orchestra teamed up with St. Mary’s School Choir, Edenderry and Academy of Music, Tullamore for an ambitious concert series.
The orchestra rehearses once a month and holds a series of workshops for musicians at different times of the year. Some notable workshops took place with the Cork School of Music in August 2019, a workshop with RTE Concert Orchestra in January 2020 and most recently with traditional composer Michael Rooney.
By participating in the orchestra, the aim is to develop individual musical skills, self-esteem, social awareness, confidence and the ability to work in a team; more importantly, the orchestra promotes fun and friendship through music.
IMYO also has a new orchestra for young musicians called “Primo” Orchestra. It was formed in 2016 for young people (8-12 years old) to prepare and give them the opportunity to play in an orchestral environment before progressing to the senior orchestra. Before the covid restrictions, the orchestra rehearsed about one day a month during the school year, and for two or three day workshops in September and January, where new musical pieces were planned and introduced.
The orchestra plays music in a variety of styles ranging from classical to modern pop and traditional Irish. With the easing of covid restrictions, we hope to return to normal and showcase the rich and high standard achieved under our current Music Director, Matt Rafter.
Matt Rafter is a Dublin-based cellist, conductor and event producer. As a freelance musician, he is regularly called upon for performing, recording and touring projects, which he balances with his passion for music education at all levels. He is currently Music Director of the Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra and cellist of the Vltava and Belenus String Quartets. He is also concert director for Crash Ensemble, Ireland’s leading contemporary music group.
Matt completed his undergraduate degree in music at Trinity College Dublin in 2013, where he has played an active role in the musical life of the college, including conducting the Trinity Orchestra at major Irish and international festivals. From 2013 to 2014 Matt toured internationally as a cellist with Irish sensation Hozier, as well as various performances with Kodaline, The Riptide Movement, Heathers and many more. From 2015 to 2018 he was a music educator in the strings program with Music Generation South Dublin and set up orchestral projects in a number of schools as the programs matured.
After being a member of the Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra as a teenager, Matt returned to become Music Director from 2015 to 2018, enjoying performances at the National Concert Hall and Madrid in 2017. After two years in Montreal, Matt returned in Ireland and was delighted to return to his role with the Irish Midlands Youth Orchestra in 2020. Matt was delighted that the orchestra was able to feature the music of distinguished composer Michael Rooney.