On playing in the National Concert Hall for the first time…It had a big impact on me and it was a great experience. I remember the nerves and the fear of letting go of my bow and watching it sail into the audience! Aged 10 or 11, there’s always going to be a sense of amazement at the sheer size of the hall but there was a bigger sense of awe and pride that you were playing in your National Concert Hall.
Irish cellist Brian O’Kane enjoys a busy career as both soloist and chamber musician. Since winning first prize at the Windsor International String Competition in 2008, he has made his debuts with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra live on radio, the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ashkenazy and in recital at the Wigmore Hall. Brian is also a former prizewinner at the Royal Overseas League Competition, winner of the Accenture Bursary and a recent recipient of Ireland’s National Concert Hall ‘Rising Star’ Award. He has appeared as soloist with the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, Camerata Ireland, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Symphony Orchestra. He is also the son of Agnes O’Kane, the founder of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras.
I attended the 2011 Festival which I thought was fantastic. It was wonderful to see a continuous strength in Ireland’s youth music which, of course, is so fundamentally important to Ireland’s future cultural life.
How did you become involved with youth orchestras and the festival?
My mother Agnes O’Kane and eldest three sisters were involved with Dublin Youth Orchestras long before I was born so there was a certain inevitability that I would become involved with youth orchestras and the festival at some stage.
Can you remember the first time you played at the festival?
I can’t remember the specific year but I believe my first time playing at the festival was as a member of the Cork Youth Orchestra under Tomás McCarthy. I also remember playing at the festival with the Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra under Dr. Geoffrey Spratt and the Junior National Youth Orchestra under Gearóid Grant.
If you played there more than once, do you have a favourite festival?
Having grown up in Cork, I was very lucky to have the Vanbrugh String Quartet resident there. They had an equally inspiring chamber music festival in Bantry and having played there several times, the West Cork Chamber Music Festival would have to be my favourite!
What impact did the National Concert Hall have on you? Was it the first time you had played on such a big stage?
It had a big impact on me and it was a great experience. I remember the nerves and the fear of letting go of my bow and watching it sail into the audience! Aged 10 or 11, there’s always going to be a sense of amazement at the sheer size of the hall but there was a bigger sense of awe and pride that you were playing in your National Concert Hall.
Do you think this prepared you for future performances? How does the experience of performing then compare to now?
Of course but what it mainly achieved was a growing fascination in music and the simple enjoyment of making music with friends. That experience is no different now and as it’s my profession, I’m relieved that I still adore it!
Did being part of the festival and youth orchestras in general help the transition from amateur to professional?
Absolutely. There is an orchestral discipline that you naturally pick up whether it’s from the conductor, section principal or peers. For string players, it’s important to know how to play within a string section, how to lead a section and how to follow – skills which I began to learn in youth orchestras and still use today.
Are you still involved in the festival? If so, has it changed much since you played there?
Unfortunately not as my career doesn’t allow much time for non-playing roles. That said, I attended the 2011 Festival which I thought was fantastic. It was wonderful to see a continuous strength in Ireland’s youth music which of course is so fundamentally important to Ireland’s future cultural life.
What was the best thing about being involved in the festival?
There was always an incredible energy and excitement at the Concert Hall during the Festival so it has to be that! Playing in front of the Irish President and big audiences was always a thrill too.
As regards to the Weesp Chamber music festival in Holland; how do you find being an artistic director compared to a player? Did any of your experiences with the festival help with this?
My string quartet founded this small chamber music festival last year and we’re looking forward to our second festival next March. In this instance, being an artistic director doesn’t restrict our roles as musicians. It simply gives us licence to programme whichever music we like and to invite our friends to play it with us! That sounds ideal but having responsibility as both a player and director has its complications! Luckily, we have a wonderful team around us who can help with the inordinate amount of administration so yes, having experienced the administrative side of the IAYO Festival through my mother and Allin, I certainly had an idea of what was in store!