We know the Score
Setanta Perform in the Mercedes arena Berlin
An Unforgettable Choral Experience
Choir practice finished for Setanta on 30th May 2018, some months after a hugely
successful concert with the R.T.E. Concert Orchestra in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dundalk. Úna
thought she was heading off for a well-earned rest for the summer. But it was not to be.
Some choir members heard that plans were being made for a performance of The Armed
Man: A Mass for Peace in Berlin in November to mark the end of World War 1 and Sir Karl
Jenkins himself was to be the conductor. How could such a concert go ahead without Setanta
choir being part of it? A meeting was arranged in Byrne’s on Hill Street to see how many
were interested in taking part and 22 brave, enthusiastic choir members set their sights on
Setanta had performed The Armed Man previously but never in it’s entirety so there
was some learning to be done. Full scores were ordered and using CDs new pieces were
learned. We hadn’t time to devote to practices as we were also preparing for our Cabaret
Concert in the Crowne Plaza on 21st October so most of the learning was done on our own,
including a piece in German.
Flights, hotel rooms and buses to and from the airport were booked. Details of our
height and passport numbers were collected and sent to the organisers and of course a new
WhatsApp group, Setanta in Berlin was formed. We were ready! It had been a great team
effort to get us this far with everyone playing their part. A huge group of us, including our
supporters and some family members, landed in Berlin on Wednesday 31st October ready for
an historic concert for peace, in a city which had practically been at the centre of two world
wars. Most of us stayed in the InterCity Hotel in the former East Berlin, which was 10
minute’s walk to the concert venue, the Mercedes-Benz arena.
Our first rehearsal was at 1pm on the day of our arrival in the Verti concert hall. We
worked with two amazing conductors, Nicol Matt and Alexander Koller, who brought out the
very best in the almost 3,000 choristers. Who would have thought that car brands could
sound so beautiful? All together now “Mercedes, Suzuki, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, Renault,
Volvo, Volvo, Volvo.” After the rehearsal there was some confusion over the distribution of
lanyards which were deemed necessary for security purposes. The lanyards were sorted after
more chaos the following morning and finally we got inside the Mercedes-Benz Arena and
rehearsals began with Sir Karl himself taking the baton for the evening rehearsal.
We had a full dress rehearsal on Friday with choirs and the magnificent World
Orchestra for Peace. The concert began at 8pm in a packed Arena. The first half of the
programme featured music associated with war and peace including John Williams’ theme
music for Schindler’s List and a brand-new work by Sir Karl, Lamentation, a lament for
Syria. The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace formed the concert’s second half. It was a thrill
and an honour to be part of the 3,000 choristers from 27 countries who sang together in the
name of peace. During the performance a specially commissioned war-archive film
reinforcing the narrative of the work was projected onto five screens-the build up to war, war
itself and the consequences of war. Since it’s premiere to mark the new millennium it is
estimated that a quarter of a million choristers have sung this Mass for Peace in over 2,000
performances worldwide. This particular performance, for peace, in my opinion, must surely
be one of the most memorable.
A crew from TG4 was in Berlin to record the lead up to the concert and the concert
itself. During a break between rehearsals on Thursday afternoon there was an organised but
informal and lively gathering of choristers outside the Arena and close to the Berlin Wall.
Choirs sang songs representing their own country. Setanta, along with members of other
Irish choirs, sang Molly Malone while proudly waving our tricolour. People spoke of what
being part of this concert meant to them and all of this was recorded by TG4. Some members
of our choir were interviewed ‘as Gaeilge’ before and after the concert by Caitlin and we were
thrilled when some of our interviews were part of TG4’s broadcast of the whole event on
Christmas Eve. Maith sibh Setanta!
In between rehearsals some time was spent in the restaurants and bars in the almost
completed area around the Arena with L’Osteria, a lovely Italian restaurant proving to be a
very popular venue. A few Setanta members returned home on Saturday but those who
remained had a chance to visit the city of Berlin. Some of us managed to meet Sir Karl and
his wife on the street and we think he might have recognised us from our previous encounter
with him in Carnegie Hall. He was even heard to say ‘C’mon the town!’ He possibly spotted
some of our basses waving a Dundalk scarf at the end of the concert on Friday evening! The
remainers were thrilled to hear on Sunday evening, just before we left Berlin, that Dundalk
F.C. had just won the FAI cup. It was a good weekend, maybe even a great weekend! One
thing is certain. We will never forget it.
These few memorable days in Berlin demonstrated for me the power of music. How
it can unite people and nations and strengthens the bond between them.