MONDAY APRIL 15 will be a red letter day for Galway’s classical music aficionados as it sees the debut of the city’s new orchestra, Luminosa, at Galway Cathedral. The debut concert programme, Maestra, will feature works by female composers ranging from the 12th century Hildegard of Bingen to Galway’s own Jane O’Leary.
Maestra is the first of two concerts Luminosa will present this year under the series heading of 'Soundings'. The second presentation in June will, again, be in the Cathedral. Entitled Landscapes, it will showcase pieces by Vaughan Williams, Bill Whelan, and John Maxwell Geddes.
Ahead of Luminosa making its eagerly awaited bow, I met orchestra co-founder and CEO, Lucy Hayward, to hear how the orchestra came together and details of the music they will soon be performing for Galway audiences.
Orginally from Surrey, England, Lucy grew up in a highly musical family. “My late father, Bill Hayward, was an organist, composer and conductor," she tells me. "He was also the musical director for tenor Russell Watson on his international tours. My mother was a concert pianist and plays the cello. So I was brought up running around rehearsals and music was always a big part of my life. It is my total passion.” Lucy herself plays violin and classical guitar and moved to Galway in 1999 where she met her partner, Danny O’Leary. The couple now have five children, “They keep me rooted here,” she notes with a smile.
The seeds of Luminosa were sown when Lucy got chatting one day with Nicola Geddes, of the ConTempo Quartet, at the hairdressers and they decided to try to get an orchestra off the ground. “For years I’d been hearing people saying that Galway should have an orchestra,” Lucy recalls. “So I finally decided why are we just sitting around saying it; let’s do something about it.
'When you bring in musicians from central Europe the standard of training there is on a whole other level, they are so brilliant and when they come here they inspire our musicians to be better'
"Firstly I set up Luminosa as a limited company with three directors and started building a suite of things, like a logo, a website, stationery, business cards. Then I sent thousands of emails to the music community and I got letters of support from Music For Galway, the Galway Jazz Festival, Galway Early Music Festival, Aidan Thompson from NUIG, and many others. I’ve been doing a master's degree in arts policy and practice at NUIG and that gave me the practical tools I needed. Nicci Geddes already knew all the musicians around and everyone we approached was on board for the project and was very positive about the idea.”
Luminosa Music is now a fully established professional orchestra and has raised more than €20,000 in funding from the Arts Council, Galway City Council, its founding patrons; Bank of Ireland, and individual donors through its patronage scheme.
The European dimension
There is a central-European core to Luminosa orchestra with the members of ConTempo Quartet, who are Romanian, serving as the orchestra’s section leaders, as well as Hungarians Gergely Kikulis (first violin ) and Peter Sebestyen (cello ) in its ranks.
“The Luminosa orchestra is an amazing group of very talented musicians that I am privileged to work with,” Lucy enthuses. “When you bring in musicians from central Europe the standard of training there is on a whole other level, they are so brilliant and when they come here they inspire our musicians to be better. Luminosa means ‘brilliant light’ and it is about brilliance. You can be it if you can see it, so from that viewpoint it is important having an immigrant input into the project. We are also standing on the shoulders of giants; people like Jane O’Leary who has been working here for the last 45 years and started Music For Galway and the Galway Music Residency.”
'Classical music is not middle class, everybody can listen to it. All our members teach in various schools so we are very much about promotion'
Given Jane O’Leary’s huge contribution to classical music in Galway it is entirely fitting that Luminosa’s debut concert features one of her compositions. 'Snapshots', first performed in 2003, comprises four movements inspired by poems from Brendan Kennelly, Moya Cannon, and Emily Dickinson. Lines from the poems will be read by Grace Kiely as part of the concert.
Maestra commences with Joan Trimble’s Suite for Strings. Trimble, who died in 2000, was born in Enniskillen and many of her compositions use Irish idioms or are written on Irish subjects. Suite for Strings (1951 ) is typical of her work and has attractive melodies and influences of folk music. Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179 ) an abbess, author and polymath, is perhaps the earliest known composer whose work is still performed. Most of her compositions were religious songs and her ‘O Virtus Sapientiae’ celebrates wisdom through the imagery of the Holy Trinity; the musical setting is by turns reflective and ecstatic.
Jane O’Leary’s Snapshots concludes the opening half of the concert and, after an interval, the music resumes with Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s String Quartet in Eb Major. The sister of Felix Mendelssohn, and a prodigious talent in her own right, Fanny’s career suffered from prejudices that, as a woman, her work was not given the same respect as her brother’s. In recent decades, her music has enjoyed a re-assessment, and she is now recognised as an important contributor to 19th century keyboard music in particular.
Next is 'Winter Sun' by Marian Ingoldsby. Winner of the Fleischmann Prize in 1995, and the first holder of the Elizabeth Maconchy Composition Fellowship, Ingoldsby lectures in the Department of Music at the Waterford Institute of Technology. 'Winter Sun' was composed in January 2017 and dramatises the dramatic contrast of a dark winter day suddenly illuminated by a shaft of warm sunlight.
The evening concludes with Elizabeth Maconchy’s Music for Strings. Born in England of Irish descent, Maconchy was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ favourite student. Her musical language owes less to Vaughan Williams than to Bartók, however; and like Bartók she excelled in the medium of the string quartet. Music for Strings (1983 ) was one of her last orchestral works and features a climax of almost Mahlerian intensity.
It certainly promises to be a memorable debut by Luminosa and we looks forward to it being part of Galway’s musical fabric for many years to come. “We are trying to build part of the musical infrastructure which supports professional performers and classical music awareness,” Lucy Hayward concludes. “It is not middle class, everybody can listen to it. All our members teach in various schools so we are very much about promotion. Everyone should be able to experience classical music and it is not something you normally could.”