News & Reviews
Mark retires from Defence Forces School of Music
Mark ends a 33 year career in the Defence Forces School of Music in February 2023 and looks forward to a continued career as music consultant, adjudicator, conductor and composer.
Virtual Band projects for St. Patrick's Festival 2021
Mark was invited to act as audio editor and producer for five 'virtual' tracks by St. Patrick's Festival. These brought Irish and international wind band members together in a series of performances highlighting the four provinces of Ireland and all around the world.
Virtual Christmas Carol by www.singireland.ie
Mark was honoured that Sing Ireland chose his 'Deck the Hall' in December 2020 for a virtual recording of choirs all around Ireland! This piece is now published by www.cailino.com.
New track by Mark Armstrong for Criunniú na nÓg - 13th June 2020
Cruinniú na nÓg is a flagship initiative of the Creative Ireland Programme’s Creative Youth plan to enable the creative potential of children and young people.
Over 100 singers from choirs and schools throughout Ireland, took part and formed a special virtual choir performance of Óró sé do bheatha 'bhaile arranged and produced by Mark Armstrong.
An Irish Blessing - RTE Choirs Virtual Choir
During May 2020, the three RTÉ Choirs combined, singing from their homes, to perform a setting of the Irish Blessing. With words attributed to St Patrick himself, in a beautiful setting by Victor C Johnson, it reminds us that there is love, beauty and hope to be found in even the most challenging of times. Audio Mix : Mark Armstrong, Photo compilation: Elaine Watters, Solo Clarinet: Gavin Bowen O'Connor, RTÉ Philharmonic Choir (CM David Young) ; RTÉ Cór Linn and RTÉ Cór na nÓg (MD Mary Amond O'Brien)
Ireland's Call - Virtual Band and Choir
In late March, Bands of Ireland in partnership with Sing Ireland put a call out for wind and brass band instrumentalists along with singers and choirs to form a virtual band and choir performing Ireland’s Call. Over a thousand instrumentalists and singers from across Ireland and every continent of the world came together in these difficult times to present the first virtual performance of Ireland’s Call. I was delighted to be a part of this project as arranger and producer.
The launch of the rebranding of The Association of Irish Choirs to 'Sing Ireland' took place in February 2019. The strategic plan for the association will support all the many and varied types of vocal ensembles which have grown over recent years in addition to the more traditional choral groups. As a member of the board of Sing Ireland I am very excited about this new direction for the association.
In September 2017 I had the pleasure of conducting a composite band of the Defence Forces in a new CD of Irish wind band music for the RTE Lyric label, Rhapsodic Winds. The recording was formally launched on Saturday 16th June 2018 at a concert in the University of Limerick Concert Hall which was broadcast live on RTE Lyric FM. The recording features Irish wind band music by T.C. Kelly, G. Victory, A. J. Potter, J. F. Larchet and many others. Click below for A. J. Potter's 'Finnegan's Wake'.
Thank you to all the performers who took part in the opening Gala Concert of the Cork International Choral Festival in City Hall on 18th April. The centre-pieces of the programme were performances of pieces for wind band, massed choirs (180 voices) and soloists by Bernard Geary (In Praise of a City) and Aloys Fleischmann (Clare's Dragoons arranged for symphonic wind ensemble, choir and baritone soloist by Mark Armstrong). For the rest of the week I was a member of the International Jury and enjoyed hearing some great Irish and international choirs!
I had a most rewarding session rehearsing Wesley College Dublin Senior Choir at the end of February in my arrangement of Óró Bhuachaillín which was written for the 'Choirs Can' project. Their conductor Helen Doyle has them singing beautifully and with real musicality. It was a great shame that the Inter-Schools Music Festival run by Wesley College could not take place that weekend due to the heavy snow.
In December 2017 I was invited to give a submission regarding the current usage of the Irish National Anthem to Seanad Éireann in my role as Director of the Defence Forces School of Music. As the anthem has fallen out of copyright it is intended to enshrine Amhrán na bhFiann in legislation and I was honoured to have been asked to provide a definitive arrangement for voice and piano for this purpose.
I am delighted to have joined the board of the Association of Irish Choirs. It is a very exciting time with a new strategic plan for the support of all kinds of choral activity throughout the whole of Ireland.
Huge thanks to Bernie Sherlock and New Dublin Voices for performing the premiere of a new Christmas Carol 'Love came down at Christmas' at their annual Christmas Concert. This new piece was performed in a programme which also featured a new commission by eminent Finnish composer Jaako Mäntyjärvi who was also present for the concert.
I was honoured to have been invited to guest conduct the Choral Scholars of University College Dublin - Ireland's foremost collegiate choir during the Winter season of 2017. Well done to the scholars for three excellent concerts and for winning best overall choir in this year's RTE Lyric FM 'Choirs for Christmas' competition for their performance of 'Our Christmas bells ring'
During 2017 I joined Bernie Sherlock as co-producer of their Christmas CD from New Dublin Voices 'Make we Merry' which was launched by Ellen Cranitch of RTE Lyric fm on 1st December. Bernie and her choir have always been pioneers of Irish music and this new recording consists of arrangements and compositions by Irish composers, some of which are receiving their first performance. For more details and to purchase the CD please click here.
'The sense of internal illumination, of individual lines being controlled by independent musical intelligence, contributed strongly to a sense, altogether too rare in the performances of large amateur choirs in Ireland, that these singers had real freedom of expression in this performance.They conveyed a real and sometimes thrilling sense of mastery, and they were under the command of someone who knew exactly what he wanted to do with it'. Elijah, Mendelssohn – Irish Times
‘Celebrating 21 years since he first took the conductor's rostrum of the National Concert Hall, Mark Armstrong led from the front in a highly charged and memorable account of Verdi's Requiem. The impressively unified contributions of more than 180 newly convened voices seemed to stem not from assiduous drilling or grooming, but rather from Armstrong's sure command of the music's emotional architecture and his absolute confidence that the chorus would respond to it. Whether plumbing depths of eternal uncertainty, or soaring to heights of terror, their singing retained a natural technical assurance that met the score's every extreme demand .............. there was constant alertness to Armstrong's fine balance of discipline and flexibility. In that ultimate musical wake- up call, the Tuba Mirum, the brass playing was sensational.’ RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Liverpool Welsh Choral Union Tallaght Choral Society – Irish Times
'Guest conductor Mark Armstrong was sympathetic to the work's difficulties, and tackled them head on. [the choir] were always alert to Armstrong's carefully timed gestures of encouragement. As you'd expect from Armstrong, who is the conductor of the Army No. 1 Band, the wind playing was well coordinated both in the Requiem and in the ... Haydn Variations. With two scores so rich in wood and brass combinations, this was a notable strength in a strong concert'.
Culwick Choral Society - Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem – Irish Times
'The conductor was Mark Armstrong whose handling of this all-English programme showed a subtle yet firm grip on how to get the best from [this] music ..... The RTÉ Concert orchestra responded suitably to his precise shaping and timing via well scaled expression ....... a winner, full of character'.
RTE Concert Orchestra – Irish Times
'Mark Armstrong's conducting produced natural shaping and an impression that the music was being allowed to speak for itself. That was one of the strengths in Mozart's Symphony No.38 'Prague''. The singing was impressive in its rhythmic vitality, clarity with words and control of dynamics. Everyone knew the music well and knew what was being asked of them.' Tallaght Choral Society - Irish Times
The orchestra was at its best in the Brandenburg Concerto, and the conductor not only chose excellent speeds, but kept the music tautly alive'. Irish Times
'Mark Armstrong conducted a nicely shaped performance which found the Irish Chamber Orchestra seductively elegant'.Pavel Nercessian, Pianoforte – Irish Press
'The RTÉCO and the Culwick Choral Society responded with vigour .......... ably conducted by Mark Armstrong who led his forces with a fair degree of theatrical flair'. Irish Times
'I do not recall such a beautiful and ideally performed Byrd Mass ......... ideally balanced and beautifully performed. Mark Armstrong showed himself to be a very fine and musical choir trainer and conductor and the whole concert was something to lift one's spirits'. Irish Times
Tallaght Choral Society conducted by Mark in the National Concert Hall Dublin
Defence Forces Band conducted by Mark during the state visit to Ireland of HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 2011