Ireland and Germany in harmony at chamber orchestra concert


The euro zone crisis was left at the door of Berlin’s historic Konzerthaus on Monday night as the Irish Chamber Orchestra wowed their audience with a lively programme of German-Irish music.

The orchestra’s guest conductor, Jörg Widmann, a well-known composer in his native Germany, played the clarinet as soprano Ailish Tynan led the audience through Thomas Moore’s Last Rose of Summer and Franz Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock).

“Jörg and Ailish typify the best of the German-Irish cultural collaboration,” said Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, composer and chairman of Culture Ireland.

“When they sang the Schubert, I had a wonderful image of a German shepherd pursuing Kathleen Ni Houlihan across the Macgillicuddy Reeks.”

First and second acts began with contemporary pieces: Elaine Agnew’s Strings Astray and Widmann’s own 180 Beats Per Minute.

‘Gripping’ rendition

The concert, marking Ireland’s European Council presidency, ended with a rendition of Felix Mendelssohn’s first symphony described as “gripping” and “stirring” by delighted audience members.

The German composer has come an honorary Irishman since the Irish Embassy in Berlin moved into the Jägerstrasse building that once housed the Mendelssohn Co bank. As a young man in 1827, Mendelssohn adapted The Last Rose of Summer into a beautiful Fantasy.

The concert’s Irish and German hosts said the composer’s European outlook remained a model to all.

“Europe is more than rescue funds and crisis summits,” said Hansjörg Staehle of the Europamusicale cultural foundation.

In his welcome address, Irish Ambassador to Germany Dan Mulhall likened the European project to an orchestra.

“If there’s dissonance it’s hard to please everyone,” said Mr Mulhall in German.

“If we play together we can bundle together our strengths and talents.”

He then sent a ripple of excitement through the audience when he announced that Johnny Logan was in the building.

“People still really do like the Irish, not in a patronising way,” said Logan afterwards. “Events like this are important to show people our culture and our music and it’s a good chance for us to rediscover ourselves.”

Widmann, a regular visitor to the Irish Chamber Orchestra in Limerick, agreed.

“It’s such a fruitful collaboration, a European collaboration, I always go home more inspired than when I arrived,” he said.

“With this orchestra, you can fly.”