Recalling the contribution of the RDS to the arts

Recalling the contribution of the RDS to the arts Phoebe White

A long-standing friend invited myself and two other close acquaintances to lunch at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) recently – outside of course in accordance with Government regulations. But the sun shone and the company was convivial.

As might be expected the conversation was never far from music and we recalled the RDS’ contribution to the arts over the years. We reminisced on the weekly recitals ‘during the season’ and the wealth of wonderful artists the RDS brought to its platform.


Alas, these are now only memories but what is particularly current is the RDS’ annual music bursary. Established in 2003, this major €15,000 award is given to a young musician who shows not only particular talent but who, in the opinion of the judges, will best use it in furthering his/her music career.

The bursary is closely connected to Feis Ceoil with the winners of its major senior competitions  – Morris Grant Bursary for piano, Gervase Elwes Cup for voice, McCullough Cup for woodwind, Senior Brass Recital for, naturally, brass and the Aileen Gore Cup for strings – qualifying for the bursary auditions.

The 2021 award recipient is 24-year-old Dublin violinist Phoebe White, who already has a considerable portfolio of prizes to her credit and has been playing the violin since she was three.

Initially, Phoebe studied at the RIAM with Fionnuala Hunt before moving to the Jacobs School of Music in the University of Indiana where she completed her bachelor of music degree. Back in Europe she has been preparing for her masters at Berlin’s University of the Arts.


In between Phoebe took third prize, as well as giving the best performance of a piece by Bach, at the Young Musicians’ Competition in Tallinn, Estonia when she was ten. At this year’s digital Feis Ceoil her programme included Beethoven and Ysaÿe. Phoebe plans to continue studying in Berlin.

While Phoebe’s success is very interesting in itself it has another dimension to it in that her younger brother, Killian, won the RDS bursary in 2018 when he was 18. The first cellist to be awarded the €15,000, he used it to continue his studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse in Paris. Killian had been a winner in Tallinn when he was eleven.

Phoebe was leader of the Irish National Youth Orchestra between 2013 and 2015 while Killian led the cello section in 2016. Both of them were winners of Camerata Ireland’s Flax Award at the Clandeboye Festival in Co. Down.

The siblings founded the Ophelia Quartet along with close friends Colma Ní Bhriain, violin who studied in Bremen and Séamus Hickey, viola who is a graduate of Amsterdam’s Conservatory. The quartet made a sensational debut at the 2019 West Cork Chamber Music Festival.

The experienced jury for this year’s bursary comprised Irish Chamber Orchestra CEO, Gerard Keenan; former head of music at BBC Northern Ireland, David Byers; professor of piano at TU Dublin Conservatoire, Pádhraic Ó Cuinneagáin and artistic director of Westport Chamber Music Festival, Catherine Leonard. Brian O’Rourke, former general manager of the RTÉ NSO acted as chairman.