Interview: Ensemble Music

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It seems a fair assertion to say that Trinity Orchestra — best known for its renditions of compositions by somewhat unexpected artists (Daft Punk and Gorillaz amongst them) — would not exist without the expertise of the “Two Robs”: namely Rob Farhat and Rob Kearns, both of whom helped run the orchestra during their time at college. Fast forward through a couple years post-graduation, working for the Web Summit and Riverdance, respectively, the Robs decided to try their hands at something of their own — and thus, last month, Ensemble Music came to life.

“I come from a classical music background,” Farhat explains over coffee, “I studied classical piano very seriously in the Academy of Music — I did a full-time course there for a year, but decided it wasn’t for me. The classical music world is very stuck in the past […] It’s not the musicians, but the establishment itself looks down on other kinds of music.”

He adds, after some consideration, “What I find with our generation is that people who are into music aren’t necessarily into classical music, and it’s not the music that puts them off — it’s just the presentation.” This is precisely what Ensemble is trying to get away from, Farhat says: “Basically all the music that we’re working with has some sort of classical background, but we’re putting it in non-traditional spaces. We’re using visuals, or making the events BYOB where possible.” This was the case with the company’s launch last month: a mini-festival held in Smithfield’s Block T, there was something particularly surreal about watching masses of twenty-somethings mill around in a warehouse, beers in hand, listening to the refined stylings of the likes of Téada Orchestra.

Ensemble has other aims too though, as is apparent from the vast array of musical talents outside the classical genre showcased at their launch: the captivating star quality of soulful singer Loah; the madcap funk of Zaska; the intriguing swathes of atmospheric sounds from Overhead, The Albatross. “We’re trying to provide support for unusual pop music,” Farhat explains. “Barring a few exceptions, bands in Ireland that are doing something a bit different don’t get the support that they deserve.” He goes on to hypothesise that this is because — in a post-U2 world — the Irish music industry is constantly looking for another “next big thing”, and so the success of more unusual Irish artists like My Bloody Valentine remains a rarity. “There are lots of really great small labels who are supporting interesting music,” Farhat concedes, “But they don’t have much money and tend to be run as a side-project by musicians themselves.”

Addressing this void in Ireland’s music system was something that Farhat had always been interested in, but Ensemble aims to go beyond even this. Their recent production of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale showed yet another side to the brand, and ambitious theatrical performances are something Farhat alludes to more of in the future — including the involvement of some relatively established Irish bands. Indeed, Ensemble Music might one day just become “Ensemble”, Farhat muses: “Every year we’d like to add another layer to the company — eventually we’d need our own venue, but also we’d like to apply our model to other forms of art — the issue we’re trying to address isn’t unique to music; it’s the arts in general in Ireland.”

Sticking to music for now, with an event every week for the rest of 2014, Ensemble might just be the most innovative, exciting thing going on in Ireland’s burgeoning music scene.

Photo: Christopher Arnold.

Originally published in tn2 Magazine.

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