Macalla 1916 at the Barbican

100 years since the Easter uprising that would shape the future of Ireland, the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland made their London debut performance at the Barbican Centre on Friday 4th March with a new commission from composer and conductor Michael Rooney.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

It’s rare for a piece of music to be able to tell such a vast and significant part of history so well in such a short space of time. Running at just over 80 minutes, Macalla 1916 has managed to wonderfully condense almost 150 years of Irish history into beautiful and emotive melodies and orchestrations that are unashamedly Irish. And quite right too; Macalla 1916 draws on many significant historical events which have become a huge part of Irish – and European – history which has in turn shaped the Irish nation and its people to what it is today.

Uniting classical orchestral elements with traditional folk music, composer and conductor Michael Rooney leads this remarkably talented 55-piece orchestra from the 1847 Famine, through the First World War and the Irish War for Independence, to the present day. Each of the seven movements have a clear focus, guided by shifting changes to tonality and harmony as well as visual prompts, projected onto a screen behind the Orchestra. While the story is clearly about Irish History, much of the musical focus is on traditional Irish folk melodies – the eager listener will pick up on the well-known folk tune What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor.  In a final musical nod to the relationship between Ireland and Britain, Rooney quotes the Hornpipe from Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs during the final movement.

In keeping with the way in which traditional music is learnt and performed, the young musicians had no music before them, and instead performed the entire work from memory. This was also the Orchestra’s first performance outside Ireland, which, given the nature of the piece and the historical significance it represents, is a wonderful symbol for how far relations between Ireland and Britain have come in the past century.

Following an thoroughly enjoyable performance, the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland and Michael Rooney ended the evening to thunderous applause and two well deserved standing ovations. The unique blend of classical and folk music was expertly harnessed by the orchestra to a great effect. Perhaps more orchestras in the UK should incorporate six (yes, six) harps, several button accordions and some Uilleann pipes into their ranks?

Sadly the Orchestra aren’t due to return to the UK any time soon. Further performances of Macalla 1916 are scheduled to take place across Ireland throughout March and April 2016 – visit the Macalla 1916 website or head to nationalfolkorchestra.ie for more information.