Two Americas United

Clare Hammond performing Argentinian composer Claudia Montero’s new piano concerto with conductor David Brophy and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Image: Andrew Downes, courtesy of Galway International Arts Festival

Two Americas United

In the second music review from our new Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme, Jake Morgan attends a special RTÉ Concert Orchestra concert that celebrated the cross-fertilisation between North and South America.

In a pre-concert interview on RTÉ Lyric FM, conductor David Brophy explained the context of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra’s recent programme at the Galway International Arts Festival:

When I was thinking about the programme … at the time there was lots of brouhaha about President Trump and his wall. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do a programme that celebrated the great things in North America and the great things in South America and actually, the cross-fertilisation between both parts of America. 

Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, Bernstein’s Overtures to Candide and West Side Story, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Moncayo’s Huapango and Piazzolla’s Libertango, I was intrigued by how the programme captured the spirit of both continents – and in particular the cultural overlap between the two.

Copland’s Fanfare sounded patriotic and extravagant, featuring proud-sounding brass. Libertango was full of rhythm, passion, dance and close modal harmonies. Bernstein’s works contributed a frenetic energy to the atmosphere and murmurings of approval swept the tent on the opening of Rhapsody in Blue.

Two continents
The highlight of the concert, however, was the world premiere of Latin Grammy award-winning composer Claudia Montero’s new work, Concierto en Blanco y Negro (Concerto in Black and White). As the title suggests, the work explores contrast within music but also refers to ongoing social and race issues on the two continents. David Brophy and Claudia Montero have known each other for many years and decided that this composition, performed on the night by British pianist Clare Hammond, would resonate with the premise of the concert.

Typical of Montero’s style, and similar to her violin concerto, Concierto en Blanco y Negro is accompanied by string orchestra only, consists of three movements and has Argentinian flare. It begins with the first of two central themes: a stealthy, chromatic pizzicato motif – James Bond like – that gradually builds in intensity.

This tense theme is contrasted by a second, lush-sounding melody with a brighter tonality. The piano keeps the piece moving by exploring thematic variations and transitioning between the two. Amid the tutti sections, the piano contributes elaborate ornaments and arpeggios – but Montero runs the risk of reiterating the themes once too often.

The second movement is gentle and emotive, fluctuating in dynamics yet remaining delicate.

The piano duets with solo cello (Yue Tang) and the suspensions in harmony create a yearning effect that longs for resolution. Eventually, it shifts ethereally to a major tonality.

The third movement contains the most variation, shifting dramatically in tempo, articulation, modality, timbre and dynamic. The influence of Latin dance rhythms can be heard prominently here and the interplay between the piano and string orchestra is dance-like itself. It also features a prolonged cadenza that showcased Hammond’s extraordinary ability (combined with Rhapsody in Blue, she actually performed two piano concertos in the one night). Her musical expression was especially evident during the cadenza.

Montero herself was in attendance and the audience responded to the performance with an ovation for composer, soloist and orchestra. The Recording Academy 
have requested the composer submit the work for shortlisting in next year’s North American Grammy awards.

The entire programme was carefully crafted. As an encore, Brophy encouraged the audience to shout ‘Mambo!’ during the West Side Story piece – a fun way to finish the concert, echoing with the ethos of this popular orchestra.

Videos with thanks to @rte_co, @Edillonleetch and @JoanneMurphy_. 

For details on the RTÉ Concert Orchestra’s upcoming concerts, visit

This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in Galway City. The Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Galway City Council and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with five new writers – Vincent Hughes, Shannon McNamee, Jake Morgan, Dylan Murphy and Julie Seagrave  – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the city. 

This is one of two schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Clare County Council  – supports four new writers to cover musical life in Clare County. See the first music review from the Clare scheme here.

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit 

Published on 28 August 2017

Jake Morgan is a composer and conductor from Galway who specialises in music and audio for film, theatre and video games. He studied contemporary composition and sound design at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Windmill Lane Studios, and recently completed a Master's degree in Composition for Screen at the University of Edinburgh. Jake took part in the Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme in 2017/18.

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