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Leading lights let orchestras shine

The Irish Times
July 24, 2012

Photograph: Travis Anderson

This weekend Courtney Lewis proved himself a talent to watch out for,,,

There was maturity aplenty on show on Friday, too, when the Belfast-born conductor Courtney Lewis, who lives in the US, made his début with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. Most of the audience, I suspect, were drawn to the concert by the presence of soprano Claudia Boyle, whose contribution ran to seven arias, to which were added two overtures and a major symphony.

For my money there were two arias too many in the evening, with Boyle not quite finding her form in her opening pairing of Da tempeste il legno infranto from Handel’s Giulio Cesare and O zittre nicht from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. She hit her stride in Verdi’s Caro nome, delighted in the acrobatics of Thomas’s Que voulez-vous (from La cour de Célimène in which she starred at last year’s Wexford Festival), brought great pathos to Bellini’s Ah! Non credea mirarti, and rollicked through Bernstein’s Glitter and be Gay.

She was at all times well supported by Lewis’s attentive and stylish conducting. If you haven’t registered this young conductor’s name, do so now, because it’s likely you’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the future. His work on Friday showed him to be, by some distance, the best young Irish conducting talent I’ve heard in more than two decades.

The list of his successes in the US is clearly no accident. He is founder and music director of Boston’s Discovery Ensemble (which introduces classical music to inner-city school children and brings fresh repertoire to experienced listeners), associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra and a Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

What made his work with the NSO stand out was the sheer centrality of his approach. The music was the focus, his control of the orchestra just a means of bringing it to life. He made Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony glow as the exciting masterpiece that it is. In fact, he conducted it so well, it is surprising it has taken so long for RTÉ management to have got him in front of an orchestra in Dublin.

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