Magnificent Seven Classical Artists

2015 is set to be a busy year for flautist Eimear McGeown, composer Ryan Molloy, baritone Ben McAteer and others – here's what to look out for

Ben McAteer, Baritone

The young Newry baritone Ben McAteer came of age in NI Opera’s recent production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Playing the birdcatcher Papageno, he delighted audiences with his endearing acting skills, and showed he had the stamina and concentration to carry a role convincingly in his first professional opera production. 

McAteer's oaky voice has huge potential, and he is set to sing more big Mozart parts next season. Meantime, he has had important cover roles at English National Opera, a company he undoubtedly has the talent to do mainstage work with in the future. McAteer is one of the finest rising singers in Ireland, and one to keep firmly on the radar.

Eimear McGeown, Flautist

Flautist Eimear McGeown is one of those rare musicians who truly understands both classical and Irish traditional music. The two came together in her major label debut last September, when she duetted with pianist Barry Douglas on his Celtic Reflections, which included two of McGeown’s own compositions.

McGeown will release her own Celtic Crossover album in America this summer, and will tour the East Coast with the Celtic Invasions showcase. In October 2015, she travels to South America as featured soloist with Douglas's Camerata Ireland, in a year which should see her international profile rise considerably.

Mark Chambers, Sestina Founder

Mark Chambers spotted a niche, and has filled it ingeniously. To a core of talented young Northern Irish singers, he has added a flexible team of professional instrumentalists, from contacts made during his own distinguished career as a counter-tenor. The result is Sestina, an ensemble specialising in baroque music, which has already brought a number of fresh, stimulating presentations of music by Purcell to Northern Irish audiences.

Their next project is just as ambitious: three performances in April of Monteverdi’s magnificent Vespers setting of 1610, in Armagh, Dublin and Belfast’s Ulster Museum, performed on historically accurate instruments of the period. One of the unmissable events of the current season.

Ryan Molloy, Composer

A string of recent premieres and new commissions means Pomeroy-born Ryan Molloy is a composer in demand at present. Among his forthcoming works are a song cycle based on Seamus Heaney’s poem 'Clearances', a new piece for double-bass entitled 'Bodhrán', and a work for a large traditional Irish music ensemble as part of the Meitheal festival this July in Limerick.

In the autumn, the American pianist Alexander Bernstein will record an album of Molloy’s piano compositions, the first CD devoted exclusively to his music. Add a day job lecturing at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and a busy 2015 is in prospect for one of Ulster's most exciting writers.

Courtney Lewis, Conductor

Most conductors can only dream of conducting ensembles like the Minnesota Orchestra or the New York Philharmonic. Belfast-born Courtney Lewis, still only in his early 30s, has already held an associate conductorship at Minnesota, and last year took up a similar position with the New York orchestra.

These are heady achievements in a profession which is notoriously hard-edged and unforgiving, and Lewis has also recently bagged the music directorship of the Jacksonville Symphony in Florida. Not since Hamilton Harty has a conductor of Ulster origins blazed such a brilliant trail in the orchestral firmament, and watching Lewis’s career develop further will be fascinating.

Carolyn Dobbin, Mezzo-Soprano

Carrickfergus-born mezzo-soprano Carolyn Dobbin has spent the last few years learning the opera business in Lucerne, Switzerland, an experience which will hugely benefit the future development of this highly gifted singer. A cameo appearance in NI Opera’s recent staging of Richard Strauss’s Salome sharpened the appetite to see her in a much larger part. 

Big companies are also beginning to take notice of Dobbin’s ripe, powerful vocalism. 2015 includes auditions at the prestigious Vienna State Opera, the Met in New York City, and London’s Covent Garden. These are richly merited opportunities, and could easily become the springboard to major international exposure.

Greg Caffrey, Composer

Northern Ireland has long needed a professional ensemble capable of playing modern and contemporary classical music, and in Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble it now has one. Belfast-based composer Greg Caffrey is the founder, and already the group has sharpened its claws in a series of cutting-edge concerts of music by Bartok, Feldman, Ligeti, Donatoni and Irish composers.

More, funding permitting, will follow. Caffrey’s own music will be featured on four different CD releases this year, and new works will be premiered in Italy, Scotland and Austria. His children’s opera, The Chronic Identity Crisis of Pamplemousse will also be finished, and will hopefully get a hearing locally.