Athenry Youth Orchestra – IAYO Youth Orchestra Achievement Awardee 2019

The Youth Orchestra Achievement Awards are presented awards annually to youth orchestras at the Festival of Youth Orchestras. The awards aim to acknowledge the particular accomplishments of IAYO member orchestras which have contributed significantly to the development of these orchestras and to highlight the great work they have done.

The 2019 accolades were awarded by the President of the European Orchestra Federation, Jüri-Ruut Kangur. There were three awards this year, the one of which went to Athenry Youth Orchestra for a wonderful lon running project which promotes Irish composers and young musicians involvement.

Athenry Youth Orchestra

Alba Rodriguez accepting the Youth Orchestra Achievement Award on behalf of Athenry Youth Orchestra. Photo by John Soffe Photography.

Over the last decade, Athenry Music School has run a continuous project to promote contemporary Irish composers. This project has four main strands. Firstly, to support composers by commissioning new works from established and new Irish composers across the genres. Secondly, to promote and perform existing works by Irish composers. Thirdly, demystify the composer and compositional process by bringing the composers to the orchestra. And finally, the tutors and young people from the ensemble made their own transcriptions and arrangements suitable for a mixed instrument youth orchestra to make the music more accessible.

Director Katharine Mac Mághnuis and her team wanted to instil a sense of ownership and pride in the ensembles in Irish Classical music. To do this, they selected suitable, exciting and relevant music from Irish composers. Hearing and working with this music gave the young musicians an intimate sense of ownership of that music and instilled a form of national pride. These benefits were further heightened through the commissioning of works by modern Irish composers specifically for the youth ensembles and through the Composer-in-Residence programme which saw the composers working directly with the young people as part of the compositional process.

In tandem to working with living composers, the ensemble also use works by deceased Irish composers. Athenry Music School teachers and students conduct searches of the CMC library for compositions which are technically accessible to student players. While suitable pieces do exist, on occasion the typescript is so difficult to read and that alone makes the piece inaccessible. Also, the issue of the often unusual instrumentation in Irish youth orchestras arises. So, transcription and then arrangement is necessary to place these pieces within the youth orchestras grasp. Athenry Music School has put in place a project of transcribing works into Sibelius which started with their director transcribing Joan Trimble’s Suite for Strings, and in 2019 a series of classes was conducted with the orchestra to teach them how to transcribe and use Sibelius. Now, members of the orchestra select, transcribe and arrange themselves.

Athenry Youth Orchestra were going to use the award money to continue with their commissioning of new works for the orchestras however, under the current circumstances, they are now thinking of creating a piece for a virtual orchestra with layered ostinati accessible to all levels of their orchestras.