Drama, delicacy, and Mozart - Finghin Collins and the RTÉ NSO

DRAMA, FIRE, delicacy, humour, and virtuosity can be expected in the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s current all-Mozart spring tour which arrives in Galway on Tuesday featuring the acclaimed Irish pianist Finghin Collins as soloist and director.

Based on Finghin’s November experience with the orchestra in Dublin, ‘electric, high-octane music-making’ may also be expected. Patrons should note that this year’s visit by the NSO will see them perform in NUI, Galway’s Bailey Allen Hall rather than Leisureland.

Finghin Collins, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s first associate artist, will mark a double first on the tour. Not alone will the performances mark his tour début with the RTÉ NSO, it will also see him reach yet another milestone in the mammoth challenge which he has undertaken as the first RTÉ NSO associate artist: the performance of the complete cycle of 23 Mozart piano concerti, the majority of them directed from the keyboard.

In this, his first year, Finghin is performing a total of nine solo concertos: six in Dublin as part of the orchestra’s RTÉ NSO 2010-2011 season; the remaining three are being performed on tour only.

On tour, Finghin will perform and direct, as Mozart himself would have done, three contrasting concerti including two of the greatest - the concerto in E flat major, K482 and ‘Elvira Madigan’, K467 in C major which.

Galway audiences have a treat in store therefore and will be the envy of the Dublin audiences following Finghin’s great Mozart journey, commenced in November as part of the orchestra’s Friday-night season at the National Concert Hall. Finghin himself is particularly looking forward to the tour.

“The sessions with the orchestra for our first concert in November were fabulous,” he says. “The orchestra were incredibly responsive and supportive – here was edge-of-the-seat, electric, high-octane music-making from each person in the orchestra.

“Directing these concertos from the piano just feels like ‘the right thing to do’. After all, it’s the way the great man himself performed them. Just imagine how these works must have impressed the Viennese music-lovers in the late 18th century with their freshness and vigour, their glorious operatic melodies! It is my hope they will sound as fresh and vigorous in our performances as the day they were first performed.”

Speaking by phone from Switzerland, Collins enthused about his association with the NSO.

“It’s gone very well so far,” he tells me. “I didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t done much directing before but all the musicians have been very responsive. Normally there would be a separate conductor and I think there’s a heightened responsibility for us all when I am directing from the keyboard.

“It’s a two-way thing between me and the orchestra and everyone has felt very involved. This is also the first time the NSO will have done all Mozart’s piano concertos with the same pianist so that’s a very exciting journey for us.”

Collins went on to talk about the pieces he has selected to perform on tour.

“When putting together the programmes for this exploration of Mozart’s concertos we’re looking at ones that offer variety and represent different phases of his career,” he says. “So with the three we’re doing in Galway - Concerto No 8 (K246 ) is an early work, while both Concerto No 22 (K482 ) and Concerto No 21 (K467 ) are mid-to-late period works.

“Concerto No 8 features a small orchestra and is a very elegant piece. K482 is a much bigger piece with a bigger sound, it’s quite dramatic and its last movement is a great vehicle for a pianist to display virtuosity. Concerto No 21 is one of Mozart’s best-known pieces of course due to its second movement being featured in the film Elvira Madigan.”

From a young age Collins was a multiple prize winner in national and international competitions, culminating in his victory at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1999. Since then he has enjoyed a flourishing career embracing Ireland, Europe, the United States, and Asia.

As well as being associate artist with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, he is also artistic director of the New Ross Piano Festival. He studied piano with John O’Conor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and with Dominique Merlet at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève.

Over the past decade Collins has performed in many of the world’s major musical centres, collaborating with the finest orchestras and conductors.

In September 2010 he made his second appearance at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London, performing with the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. He has also developed a close relationship with Claves Records in Switzerland, recording two double CDs of Schumann’s piano music (winning numerous awards including Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice in 2006 ), and more recently recording a CD of works for piano and orchestra by Charles V Stanford with the RTÉ NSO.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra plays a central role in classical music in Ireland, through live performance, broadcast and touring. In its current season, the busiest to date with more than 70 events, the orchestra is enjoying many new and exciting changes, including a new artistic team of Alan Buribayev, principal conductor, Hannu Lintu, principal guest conductor and Finghin Collin as associate artist; new programme strands, Early and Late Night concerts; FORTE, a musical discovery programme for audiences of all ages, as well as an expanded series of pre-concert talks.

The orchestra has been critically praised for these developments, with The Irish Times saying that ‘innovation is the watchword’, noting the developments to be ‘adventurous’ and ‘breaths of fresh air’.

Audiences on tour will have a chance to enjoy some of this innovative thinking and style of music-making. Book early to enjoy something very special.

The Galway performance will take place on Tuesday March 8 at 8pm in the Bailey Allen Hall. Tickets are €22/18/10 from Music for Galway (091 - 705962 ), online at www.tht.ie, or in person at Opus II, The Cornstore. The full programme, venue, and ticket pricing information is available on www.rte.ie/nationalsymphonyorchestra

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