Writing about the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition bursaries last time round, I ran out of space before alluding to another competition – the Top Security Frank Maher Classical Music Awards – held in October.
This has been an annual event since its establishment in 2001 by Emmet O’Rafferty, Chairman and CEO of Top Security, in honour of one of his teachers at Castleknock College – Vincentian priest Fr Frank Maher CM.
Reminiscing about Fr Maher some time ago Mr O’Rafferty spoke of him being “a mentor of talent in many areas of school life”. These covered a diversity of disciplines ranging from rugby to classical music.
Born in Dublin in 1929, Frank Maher began his studies at Castleknock in 1940. He entered the Vincentian novitiate in 1947 and was ordained priest in 1955. His first appointment took him to St Patrick’s College, Armagh where, besides his teaching duties, he was a member of the city’s orchestra.
Returning to Castleknock in 1958, Fr Maher spent the rest of his life on the college’s teaching staff. He died on March 19, 1998 and is buried in the community grounds in Castleknock. For many years he had been music director of the college liturgies and it has been said “he demanded a high standard from the boys and usually got it”.
Open to sixth-year secondary school students, the competition in his honour usually takes place in the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin’s Kildare Street and is quite a convivial affair for those attending. Mind you, the contestants may not necessarily agree, as any public performance can be fraught with its own tensions and anxieties.
However, this year circumstances were markedly different as the dreaded Covid-19 meant the event taking place behind closed doors forbidding the supportive presence of family and friends.
The six young musicians chosen for the final round played before a jury panel consisting of Gerard Gillen, emeritus professor of music at Maynooth University, Kerry Houston, head of academic studies at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama and the doyenne of our pianists, Veronica McSwiney.
This eminent trio conferred the €5,000 award on 17-year-old violinist, Julieanne Forrest, a final year student at St Peter’s College, Dunboyne, Co. Meath and a pupil of the highly regarded Fionnuala Hunt at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. Ms Hunt’s own distinguished career includes periods as leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, the World Orchestra for Peace and several other prestigious ensembles.
Commenting on her success, the delighted Julieanne said she was “thrilled and grateful to Top Security and will be putting her prize money towards the purchase of a new violin”. She hopes to audition for a college place in either Austria or the US in 2021.
Each of the other finalists received individual bursaries of €300. They were pianists Lukas Bespalovas (17), Breifne College, Cavan and Iedida Condria (17), Sandford Park School, Dublin; violinist Helen Rutledge (18), St Angela’s College, Cork; violist, Kevin O’Loughlin (17) also Sandford Park School, and cellist, David Blake (17), Gonzaga College. Dublin. I wish all six well in their future careers.