“It’s pretty exhausting,” he said in an interview last week. “Now we are seeing the fruits of our labor. We just did our seventh concert out of 49, all with packed houses and standing ovations.”
The Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in the 1800s but disbanded with the start of World War II. Gleeson found musicians playing in Irish orchestras and throughout Europe to reconstitute the orchestra in 1997.
The orchestra is on its first tour of the United States, stopping at the Givens Performing Arts Center in Pembroke on Tuesday.
Major European orchestras aren’t foreign to Gleeson. He was selected to the European Community Youth Orchestra where he traveled Europe playing festivals in Salzburg, Edinburgh and Lucerne under some of the biggest names in conducting like Maestros Herbert Van Karajan, Claudio Abbado and Leonard Bernstein. The youth orchestra was the first act of the newly elected European Parliament. The adventure was well funded and had Gleeson flying around Europe as a percussionist at a young age.
“I was 15 or 20 out on the road playing during that period,” he said. “Where do you go from there? I spent a few years playing in London and I basically got bored with it.”
After traveling to Vienna to study and begin his concentration on conducting and composing, he came to America. Gleeson won a green card to the U.S. as a result of a bill passed in the late ’80s that was sponsored by Senator Donnely. For Gleeson it was a chance to go someplace he hadn’t experienced before.
“I picked L.A. on the map,” he said. “I enrolled in UCLA film scoring programs and became good friends with Don Ray (the faculty member in charge of the program). We took the same program and brought it to Ireland. We’ve been training Irish composers to writing for movies.”
As well as writing scores for movies, Gleeson took up the challenge to start a major orchestra from scratch and convert it into an international brand.
“The idea of the Dublin Philharmonic came about prior to 1997,” Gleeson said. “It was the only capital city in Europe that didn’t have an orchestra carrying its name abroad. We moved to fill that niche.”
The orchestra is touring the country playing 49 dates, which is more than any other orchestra this year, said Gleeson. They play three different programs, but the one they will play Tuesday night will feature Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, op. 80 as well as six arias from the classical period to the modern. Gleeson prefers the later romantic composers, some of whom are reflected in the program such as Gustav Mahler.
The program will feature six arias sung by soprano Celine Byrne, an Irish opera singer who has received awards and performed at prestigious events including for Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican and is coming off a six-week tour with Jose Carreras.
An opera is basically a play that is sung. Although all of an opera is sung, the aria is a more complex part that expresses emotion that an opera has built up from the plot. Byrne will sing arias from selected operatic works with the orchestra as part of the program. The arias start with one from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro,” and ends with an aria from Alfredo Catalani’s “La Wally.”
The program ends powerfully with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 — a piece written in 1811 as Beethoven’s hearing was failing. His frustration grew as his hearing slipped, but his musical mind didn’t lose a beat. He continued writing even after he was completely deaf, even writing what are considered by some to be his most influential and praised works like his Symphony No. 9 which includes “Ode to Joy.”
“I think Beethoven, if he were alive today, would be a rock ‘n’ roll equivalent,” Gleeson said. “It really was today’s equivalent of headbanging rock from the ’70s. It’s wonderful to do.” In addition to his touring duties, Gleeson is also still writing a percussion solo for Evelyn Glennie, a full-time professional, solo percussionist. But with his busy schedule, that piece might not be finished until next year.
It has been an uphill battle to take an orchestra that was built from scratch.
“The last eleven years have been slow and difficult,” he said.
But the next two years will show whether his work has paid off or not.
If you go ...
The Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra plays the Givens Performing Arts Center in Pembroke on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12-$30. Student tickets are $5 and faculty and staff tickets are $15.