A chamber orchestra performing classical music calls to mind violins, horns, timpani and cellos. Uilleann pipes are not usually part of the equation. But when the Irish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by South Africa-native Gérard Korsten, performs for the first time in Penn State's Eisenhower Auditorium Friday, Nov. 4, a 20-year-old piper will be the most tangible reminder that this chamber orchestra calls Limerick home.
Not many orchestras are based at a university, but the Irish Chamber Orchestra, on its first tour of the United States as a full, 38-member ensemble, is the resident orchestra at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.
American piano virtuoso Leon Fleisher gets star billing as guest soloist for Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 4 in B-flat Major. The work is written for the left hand only, which suits Fleisher well since he has spent much of his illustrious career unable to play with his right hand due to a disabling condition. Fleisher, a gifted and insightful musician, does wonders with one hand.
The orchestra is also scheduled to perform Franz Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 96 in D Major and Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major.
But perhaps the most intriguing piece on the inviting program is Termon, a composition by contemporary Irish composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. Termon, commissioned by the American Ireland Fund, commemorates the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Pádraic Keane, recipient of the Gradam Ceoil TG4 Music Award for Young Musician of the Year, performs as soloist on the uilleann (ILL-un) pipes.
What are uilleann pipes you ask? Some people used to call them union pipes, but that's fallen out of favor. The short answer is Irish bagpipes, but with a softer, indoor-friendly sound. The uilleann pipes differ from other bagpipes due to their tone and wide range of notes. It's not uncommon to hear the pipes performed by Irish folk bands. If you've heard the Chieftains, for instance, you're well acquainted with the sound of the pipes.
The concert is part of the Imagine Ireland/A Year of Irish Arts in America 2011 tour. Irish music is a vast and rich territory, but hearing the Irish Chamber Orchestra with young piper Keane is an excellent point of entry into Irish culture.
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are still available.
Coming to the concert? Fleisher and Korsten are scheduled to speak at Artistic Viewpoints in Eisenhower one hour before the performance. Artistic Viewpoints is free for ticket holders. Space is limited, though, so admission to the pre-concert talk is not guaranteed.