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May 2019
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2002-10-22 Echo Award Glory For Celtic Tenors

"I wanna thank God, my green homeland of Ireland (cue tears), the Dalai Lama (cue handkerchief), and everyone who bought our album (cue full breakdown)." This was my planned speech for the award ceremony on October 13. I had, of course won the Tiny Tots piano trophy at the age of 6, 1st prize in a raffle at Calry Hall - a set of bath mats - numerous Feiseanna awards in Dublin, as well as runner-up in the Millenium Young Composers Competition, but this Echo Award seemed that little bit special.


Televised on the ZDF Network all over Germany, Switzerland and Austria, -Echo der Stars was one of the highlights of my career to date. It was staged on a lavish set at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, a building totally destroyed in the Second World War, but reconstructed to its former splendour 25 years ago. The evening was hosted by Senta Berger, a beautiful 61 year-old star of German stage and screen, and kicked off with the first award-winner, Nigel Kennedy, or Kennedy as he sometimes prefers. He arrived onstage dressed as a tramp, Aston Villa colours war-painted on his face, and Kylie in her case! His decision to appear as a tramp came late in the day, causing the record company a lot of headache trying to locate the right tramp costume on a Sunday afternoon with all the shops closed.


Nigel took Kylie out of her box, and wowed his audience with Kreisler. Then he was whisked away in his helicopter for a full concert in Koln. Angela Gheorghiu is seen by many as the modern-day Callas. She had been expected to sing Casta Diva from Norma but changed her mind, as is a soprano's prerogative, deciding instead to give her audience a folk song from her Romanian homeland. Seemingly, we were privileged she had turned up at all. About a year ago on a trip to New York, I was fortunate to see Der Rosenkavalier at the Met, and was blown away by Marcelo Alvarez, an Argentinian, singing the role of the Italian Tenor. He was the next Echo Award recipient, and has one of the most God-given tenor voices of his generation, as well as being an incredibly affable gentleman.


There followed the most virtuosic piano playing I have ever witnessed live, by the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, who gave his audience a flawless interpretation of Liszt's Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto. He arrived and left with his Mammy and never really seemed to quite settle on Planet Earth on his journey down from Planet Liszt!


A lifetime achievement award was given to Maurizio Pollini, Claudio Abbado won the Conductors Prize and the young Russian trumpeter Sergei Nakariakov showed us all why he more than deserved his award, as did Chloe Hanslip, the 14 year-old Guildford-born violinist.


The final award of the evening was for "Klassik ohne Grenzen" (Classics without boundaries) and was given to three excited young(ish) Irishmen. We were understandably a little nervous in such exalted company when that fanfare announced our arrival on that enormous stage.


After our four minute showcase, I gave a one-liner speech auf Deutsch, no time for tears and the show was over. Most of the other prize-winners joined us onstage for the final curtain-call. Then it was off to the after-show party where some of the finest performances had already begun. There, I learned that divas don't enjoy small-talk, but adore compliments. I learned that some performers continue to perform when they leave the stage and inhabit their own special little worlds, whether it be a world of adulation and endless compliments, or a world of non-stop finger exercises and cascading semiquavers. But what happens these alternative worlds when it's time to hang up your larynx, keyboard or fiddle?


A week or so before this award, I had sung at my lawyer's wedding in Dublin. He and his new wife honeymooned in Bali. As I sat watching the news, 28 floors above Frankfurt, I watched the sickening tragedy unfold in that exotic holiday destination. Immediately I sent a text to the newly-weds. A reply came back in seconds saying there was no need to worry - they had left the bombed club 20 minutes before the blast! Maybe there is something to be said for inhabiting a separate little musical world of adulation, "luvvies" and cascading semiquavers!