The Dublin International Game Music Festival

The Dublin International Game Music Festival
The iDIG Music Fest - Click on the image to go to our website!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Conducting The National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap

I may not have gone through the gates of Ellis Island but I am still an old fashioned Irish emigrant at heart, so it was a poignant experience for me to conduct The National Symphony of my adopted country in rehearsals at The Kennedy Center and in performance at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

The Hall of Nations at Kennedy Center reminded me that Washington DC was designed by the Forefathers with the express intention of intimidating foreign dignitaries.  As I looked at the flags of the world's nations above me in this cavernous hall I naturally had to find my own green, white and gold.

The SOTG team outside The Hall of Nations at The Kenndy Center, Washington DC

Just after finding the tri-color on the ceiling I opened the backstage door to be confronted by a black and white photo of the Belfast tornado himself, the bold Jimmy Galway. I thought, maybe I'm not such a foreigner here afterall...
I was shown to the conductor's dressing room which was like a private gallery of photographs of some of music history's greatest maestros (maestri?). My favorite being one of Leonard Bernstein in full flight:


Maestros Galore

Rehearsals with the NSO went extremely well and I got a chance to talk with principal harpist, the fabulous Dotian Levalier, whose extraordinarily sonorous playing was quite the musical and sonic experience.

We both agreed that comfortable trousers are a crucial pre-requisite for both of our jobs (thanks to composer Julia Newman my dear friend for those same trousers!) but aside from sartorial concerns, there was the worry of the inevitable heat and humidity at Wolf Trap breaking harp strings...
And I thought that only happens when I get near a harp; it's the musical equivalent of the smell of brimstone.

Rehearsals for the concert happend on the semi-outdoor stage at Wolf Trap and wow, Dotian was correct - someone had just thrown a few coals on Dante's Inferno and we were dripping in perspiration during rehearsals.  The kindly and excellent staff at Wolf Trap did everything they could for us but the Virginian weather had other ideas.
Any, extreme of temperature is problematic for orchestral musicians. Wood, brass, nickel etc. react to heat and cold in ways that are difficult to control. I always see it as part of my responsibility as a conductor to help create a physical and emotional environment conducive to my colleagues doing their best work in comfort. It was clear to me that a lengthy rehearsal was not a good idea especially since the orchestra had worked so hard and performed exceptionally at The Kennedy Center rehearsal.  The orchestra were absolute troopers at this, their summer home.

The performance at Wolf Trap was a great success. We had an audience just shy of 7,000 souls and as per usual Zelda fans treated the orchestra like rock-stars. Our concertmaster for the evening, Ricardo Cyncynates lent his stunning musicianship to the violin solos in the score. We've met some incredible concertmasters on our travels and I have to say, Ricardo was definitely one of my personal favorites.

Rehearsals with the NSO at Wolf Trap

This is why I referred to Wolf Trap as semi-outdoor:

My Heels on the podium at Wolf Trap!

You can read a review of the Wolf Trap show by Erica Laxson here.

Thanks to Emily Cary of the Washington Examiner for the article below.

You can view the original feature here.

Ireland's eclectic conductor tackles 'Zelda' at Wolf Trap

Photo -

Eimear Noone grew up in the tiny village of Kilconnell, Galway, loving every musical genre. When she was not practicing classical passages on her flute, she was listening to pop, rock or the symphonic concert music of popular video games. It's no wonder the accomplished Irish conductor-composer has captured hearts of Nintendo fans as she conducts symphony orchestras performing "The Legend of Zelda" while graphics from the videos play on giant screens.
"It's a fun show," she promised. "Being an Irish immigrant, I'm very excited to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra that I've known about and admired for years. Like everyone in my generation, I've loved the music in this program since my childhood and am crazy about the arrangements. My background is in classical music, so I knew from the start that this is a symphonic score."

The music for "The Legend of Zelda" was created by Japanese composer Koji Kondo, who has contributed many Nintendo soundtracks. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the video that has sold nearly 70 million copies. Its primary character, Link, is a courageous lad, whose many adventures include saving Princess Zelda, named for F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife. He carries a baton called a Wind Waker to invoke powers of nature. To help him achieve his goals, the players must solve games and musical puzzles. The various instruments featured are important components that the players never forget.

"Video games became the soundtrack of young people's lives, but wherever I conduct this music, it's still amazing to me that some in the audience burst into tears," Noone said. "When the concertmaster comes out, he gets a huge round of applause, and this phenomenon happens each time a principal player takes a bow. It's like a rock concert filled with respect for the players. We made a special Wind Waker like the one Link uses, and every time we hold it up, there's a great roar from the audience."

Noone's passion for conducting and composing film scores led to an invitation to meet with the makers of World of Warcraft and record the score of "Starcraft" at Skywalker Ranch with members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Ballet. She now makes her home in Los Angeles, where she has scored or orchestrated a variety of films, including "The Hole," "The Donner Party," "The New Daughter" and "Mirrors."

Here Lewis Lipnick discusses the Contraforte:
After our first rehearsal together, I bumped into principal contrabassoonist - or should I say, principal contraforte bassoonist - Lewis Lipnick and got to talk to him about this astonishing instrument his brass playing colleagues call "the rocket launcher" (it would be the brass, wouldn't it...). The sound of the contra-forte is much more refined that the regular old contrabassoon with an extended range and high notes that sound somthing like a soprano sax. Lewis is the only musician in a professional US orchestra playing the contraforte and he also commissioned an exhilarating concerto for the instrument by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho.
I was so excited to learn about this instrument and the Aho Concerto as coincidentally I'd studied briefly with Aho at the Ennis IMRO Composition School when I was about 17! His work is exceptional and of course Lewis gave me a copy of the recording (and score; yeaay, geek-out) he made of the concerto for BIS.

Naturally I'd love any old excuse to perform it...
Here it is on ebay.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Inspirational Voices - Anúna and Sacra/Profana


For over twenty years now, Irish choir Anúna has been pushing the envelope of choral music and not for that reason but purely as a side-effect of the unique sound their visionary director Michael McGlynn has endeavored to bring forth from the recesses of his own musical mind. Quite simply, they sound unlike any other singing group on the planet and we are the richer for it.

I have been a fan of Anúna and Michael's for many years and when Blizzard Entertainment's audio director and composer Russell Brower told me that he was looking for a unique and "different" sound for Diablo III, Anúna instantly sprung to mind. Two years after that conversation we found ourselves at Windmill Lane in Dublin with not one but two legendary recording engineers, John Kurlander and Brian Masterson recording the group Russell had chosen to represent the seductive voices of hell (!) for this immense project.

More about that later - I have a whole essay to write about the unbelievable experience we had on Diablo III.

Last night at Dublin's National Concert Hall I got to experience the choir as an audience member - with the added treat of John McGlynn's singing/song-writing - as they performed Michael's stunning arrangements and two of Russell's pieces from D3. I was more than mildly entertained to see the Classical organ at the NCH adorned with flames in wonderfully lit theatrics characteristic of an Anúna show (The profanity! Love it!).

 The live sound that Brian Masterson got for the choir - which he has specially designed for them over years of working with Michael - was nothing short of exquisite.

Michael has set so many beautiful ancient texts, folk songs, chants and literary gems for the choir but I have to admit, having loved everything on the program and being an avid fan of early and renaissance music it was Michael's arrangement of The Derry Air (Danny Boy) that brought a tear to my eye. The arrangement has a beauty of understanding that could only come from the heart of a true Irish man.
Danny Boy is a tough one to tackle as most Irish people can't decide whether they love it or hate it. Mostly we're sick to death of it! Suffice it to say, it has taken Michael 25 years - he says himself - to tackle that particular monster and let's just say he charmed it into submission.

When Russell, John, Joey Ray Hall and I arrived in Dublin to being working with the group they chose this arrangement as a warm up and had all of us in tears - soft eejits that we are! It was such a joy to share the arrangement with Blizzard's resident über genius, Chris Metzen, who despite the last name is actually one of "my people" and was thus affected in the appropriate manner for a true Paddy.

After experiencing the weird vibe in Dublin over the last few days and noticing how many of our young people are simply missing after hundreds of thousands having emigrated; after reading more about how our elder statesmen's unpatriotic greed has indebted us for generations; it was this world-class group of Irish artists that reminded me of my pride as an Irish woman.  As usual, it is our artists that represent our true nature and replenish our flagging souls.

I will have more about all of this - photos etc - in later posts when I finally get to share some of the absolute joy we experienced on recording the D3 soundtrack.

You can learn more about Anúna here.


I received an email today from choral group SACRA/PROFANA's director Krishan Oberoi, including a link to the video below.

I got the opportunity to work with this fabulous group at our SOTG Comic Con performance with the San Diego Symphony. Their energy and enthusiasm was infectious and they sang their hearts out for us.

Krishan has a great vision for the choir and when we worked together they had just shot the video for his arrangement of Marroon 5's Payphone.

Although very different musically, like Anúna, this is a group out there in the world pushing the envelope and bringing their own brand of joy to thousands. I also love the fact that they don't limit themselves to any particular genre and are at home - and fabulously happy - in whichever genre they choose to inhabit.

Of course I get a great kick out of hearing "proper" choral singers singing "THE F WORD" (as we call it in the US; In Ireland we just say it) in a terribly proper way.

Adam Levine would be so proud!

Now does sing-swearing fall into the category of sacred or profane then Krishan?

It's like Schönberg's sprech-gesang only... so much more wholesome.

You can learn more about Sacra/Profana here.

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