Before making history in Hollywood, top conductor Eimear Noone is “coming home” with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra
Eimear Noone will make a piece of musical history next week when she becomes the first woman to conduct the orchestra at the annual Oscars ceremony – but first she’s taking up the baton for a concert with a difference at Qatar Foundation.
Ahead of her orchestral assignment at the 92nd Academy Awards in Hollywood, the Irish conductor and composer is in Doha to steer Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra through a program of music not by Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart – but from video games.
And far from being niche or unconventional, the sound that will fill Qatar National Convention Centre’s Al Mayassa Theatre on January 31 at Video Games Live is, according to Noone, “the music of the moment”.
“If you’re going to connect with people through what’s current, what the zeitgeist is, this is a great way to do it,” she explains.
“It shows people that the orchestra – a musical machine that is hundreds of years old – is as relevant and current today as it ever was. Video game music is just a different context for an orchestra, for a different audience. And it’s an amazing event – not just a concert, but an experience.
“It brings together people who are passionate about video games, and it’s actually very emotional for them. When people play a video game, it can encapsulate a particular period of time for them or make them remember a particular person. But more than anything, it’s an orchestra serving its audience, because this is the music of 2020.”
Noone – who led Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, a Qatar Foundation member, when it performed at the UN Day concert in New York in 2019 – is known for her award-winning work on video game music. And she says: “Throughout the history of music, composers have collaborated with creators of other media – opera, ballet, intermezzi for plays.
You bring the whole world of sound from the video game together with the orchestra – and when you’re up on stage, it all makes sense.
“Today, composers collaborate with creators of films, video games, and every aspect of visual media. It expresses an emotion or creates a world that is attached to people’s imaginations. And, for a conductor, that means it’s just as important to know its background and the world it comes from as it is to know what fans want and expect.
“You bring the whole world of sound from the video game together with the orchestra – and when you’re up on stage, it all makes sense.”
Noone believes having a diverse, imaginative range and repertoire reflects how an orchestra must cater for everyone. “It’s not a good idea to say an orchestra only belongs to the classics, because video game music is the music of this time, just as the classical music we know today was the music of its time,” she says.
“What we have now is just the classical music that survived, the best of the best. We have to give everything its chance to be heard, to breathe, and to live in its time. There is room for everything.”
I love the orchestra’s attitude, the standard of their playing, the smiling faces, and the diversity.
At the Oscars next week, Noone will lead the orchestra in excerpts from the five scores which are nominated for Best Original Song, including tracks from Toy Story 4 and Frozen II. “I’m really looking forward to it – I’ve met most of the composers before and the scores are really, really good,” she said.
“I’m excited to perform this music, and many of the musicians in the orchestra are people I’ve worked with throughout my career. But the part I’m looking forward to most of all is the rehearsals, getting stuck into the music, and then just to being in the room on the night.”
But if conducting at the Oscars is special, so, according to Noone, is working with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. “It’s like coming home,” she smiles. “On a musical, personal, and intellectual level, I absolutely love them.
“I love the orchestra’s attitude, the standard of their playing, the smiling faces, and the diversity. They have an incredible leader at the helm in [executive director] Kurt Meister, and it’s just a unique orchestra – it has the best of so many cultures and nationalities, an openness of mind and spirit to different genres, and such a fresh and exuberant approach to music.”
And whatever music she conducts, Noone is “endlessly fascinated” by it. “I’ll never know everything about music because it’s not possible,” she says.
“But I just love the music. When I conduct, it’s like seeing a score in front of me in three dimensions, and I’m at the center. It’s like living, sonic, virtual reality.”