Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra | The Move Online

This summer wasn’t easy for young musicians. They were not able to meet with their friends and peers for rehearsals and their usual orchestral summer courses. This was no different for those who were due to take part in the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra, a course for advanced instrumental students with an interest in historically informed performance practice, provided by the Irish Baroque Orchestra and Irish Association of Youth Orchestras.

However, with some brainstorming and thinking, a new version of the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra was created that allowed the students to participate online in a three-day course, working with some of the best Baroque musicians from the Irish Baroque Orchestra and other specialists. The course was re-imagined by Irish Baroque Orchestra Leader and IYBO Artistic Director Claire Duff and Irish Baroque Orchestra CEO Aliye Cornish. We have spoken to them both about their work and experience in making this possible. Claire Duff:

“The Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra always has a very special atmosphere and it was sad to think that the musicians of IYBO 2020 were going to miss out on this unique experience. As IYBO had to be online this year, we decided that this was a chance for us to do something really different. In the end, we created a course which, while only being three days long, became quite a comprehensive guide to Historically Informed Performance.

The IYBO musicians were required to submit performances and presentations in advance of the course and at the end of the course, they formed research groups to create a presentation on a baroque composer of their choice. Without the deadline of a concert, the students had time to step back and think about how we interpret Bach’s music and there was a lot of interesting and animated discussion throughout the course. We compared contrasting performances of Bach and discussed the different approaches to style and interpretation. In the masterclasses, there was time to discuss and explore how we can apply knowledge about baroque dance to our performances of Bach’s dance movements. All the tutors involved shared their unique knowledge and insight with the students ranging from such topics as tuning and temperament, performance anxiety, baroque dance, and professional development to Feldenkrais sessions.

But for me, what I found most exciting was to see how much students can learn from each other and how helpful it can be for students to learn in a supportive and open environment. I was thrilled that despite everyone being in their own rooms on Zoom, not only did the students seem to enjoy the course and learn a lot from it, but there was also a lovely buzz of excitement and a lovely, joyful atmosphere. There is so much to share about performing baroque music and because we were forced to go online this year, we have now discovered that we can continue to create online courses as an introduction or compliment to the real IYBO experience.”

Aliye Cornish spoke to us about the practical side of organising the new course:

“With the inevitability of activities for the Irish Baroque Orchestra having to be re-shaped this year in response to the pandemic, we have tried to turn the situation to our advantage and explore the new possibilities available to us through digital platforms.

Once it became clear that running the IYBO course in its usual format was not a possibility, we swiftly turned our minds to putting together a course that would still carry value for the participants, with expanded emphasis on professional development. What emerged was a three-day course, instead of the original six days planned, including group discussion of different interpretations of Baroque works, sessions on Baroque dance (with more source material than we would usually have been able to present), masterclasses with IBO players via Zoom, a class on temperament and tuning, and two professional development sessions, one of which allowed students to submit questions to renowned Baroque violinist Rachel Podger.

We had wondered if spending 6 hours a day at the computer would be too much. After all, we have all become acquainted with the notion of “Zoom fatigue”. However, with so much variety between the sessions, this didn’t seem to be an issue, and we were really pleased with all of the contributions and energy from all of the musicians involved. In future, we hope that the IYBO will resume in its usual form, and we certainly missed seeing the musicians in real life this year! However we now plan to run digital courses in the future too as a means of expanding engagement with Historical Performance and opening up a new channel of recruitment for the IYBO.”

We also asked IYBO participant Doireann Kelly about her experience. Doireann has attended IYBO previously so this version of the course was a little different from her usual experience!

“Having participated in the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra for the past three years, I have become very interested in Baroque Performance. I am a fourth-year student in the CIT Cork School of Music where I am focusing my studies on baroque performance.

I first took part in the IYBO summer course in 2018. I have made so many great friends and connections as a musician. The IYBO courses have given me the confidence I needed as a Baroque cello player and I feel it has greatly improved my playing in many ways. Whilst taking part in my first two courses, I was given the opportunity to play on the baroque instruments which opened a whole world of playing for me. I really loved how much more we could achieve with the instruments and, through the guidance from the tutors, we were able to play to our full potential.
So this year’s online course was different from the previous two. I was genuinely surprised at how much I was able to take from the online element as when another student was playing through something or trying a new technique suggested by the mentor, I was also able to try it myself in real-time, as the rest of us were muted. We were also encouraged to think about the music, not just the performance. I really did enjoy the masterclasses and I would highly recommend the IYBO online courses.”

To continue this great work online, a new and exciting Baroque Oboe programme has begun for two wonderful oboe players.

Following the purchase of two Wolfgang Kube baroque oboes by IAYO, both musicians have begun online lessons with Andreas Helm with the aim that they will participate in (and embellish) the Irish Youth Baroque Orchestra for 2021.

For now, each player receives the lessons in their own home but soon it is hoped they will be able to play together in the same space.

We look forward to hearing their progress in the New Year and are excited to see what further developments will happen with the Irish Baroque Orchestra in 2021.