Leading lights let orchestras shine
This weekend Courtney Lewis proved himself a talent to watch out for, while Alan Buribayev brought a rare maturity to the youth orchestra, writes MICHAEL DERVAN
THE PERSON who came to mind when Alan Buribayev conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland at the National Concert Hall on Sunday was the late David Lillis. I met Lillis as a student, when he was the violin teacher of a girlfriend of mine, although I already knew his playing from his concerts – he was the leader of the RTÉ String Quartet of the time. I don’t remember our first meeting, but it must have come about, I’m sure, through my being roped in to play the piano at a violin lesson.
Before I knew it, I was meeting him regularly to play through repertoire with him and ended up being his rehearsal pianist on Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto, a role which delivered me one fateful day to Studio 8 in the RTÉ Radio Centre in Donnybrook, for a session with the late Albert Rosen, then the principal conductor of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.
Being with and playing with Lillis was a real education for me. He had worked on the orchestral scene in London in the 1960s, and he loved to recount stories of the great and good of those years, sometimes including details of what went on at sessions that produced recordings I actually knew. But he also taught me about myself. I played better with him than I did with anyone else that I’d worked with up to then.
He could be a nervous performer on the concert platform. But there were no nerves in private. He was rock solid, and, for someone used to playing with fellow students, unbelievably communicative. There was simply never any doubt about what he was going to do. It was as if he locked me into his musical vision in a way that I couldn’t resist. The clarity of his musical intentions made me feel as though he were somehow giving me more time and creating a kind of extra space for me to work in. The subjective expansion of time that I experienced – which had nothing whatsoever to do with the speed of the playing – allowed me greater control over what I was doing.
I thought of David Lillis when Alan Buribayev began Sunday’s concert with the Prelude to Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh. It’s a nature prelude in praise of wilderness, and the young players delivered its shimmers, rustles and twitters as if they had a lifetime’s experience of creating atmospheric orchestral textures.