UYO 2020 Online Course

UYO Bring Me Sunshine recording runner up in Make Music Day UK Competition!
July 11, 2020
October 1, 2020

UYO 2020 Online Course

Covid-19 profoundly affected all of our lives in 2020 and everyone has had to make extraordinary sacrifices for the safety of others. Cancelling the 27th annual UYO Residential Course and Concerts was incredibly disappointing to everyone however, in the true spirit of UYO, we chose to embrace the new challenge of hosting the course online and replaced our two public concerts with 14 recordings!

The search for UYO 2020 began last September when the original course repertoire was announced and application forms circulated.  138 musicians aged between 14 and 23 auditioned in December and 78 were offered places. 

The auditions were held over two days at Queen’s University in Belfast and candidates were asked to present a selection of orchestral excerpts and two contrasting pieces to a panel of professional musicians.

Late auditions were held online to fill the remaining 5 seats to complete the 83 strong orchestra who were due to be resident at Greenmount Agricultural College, Antrim.

When it became apparent in March 2020 that a residential course with 2 public concerts was not going to be possible due to Covid-19 restrictions we chose to offer our orchestra a ten day online course at a reduced cost.  By 16th August, 70 UYO members had signed up for the first online course in 27 years of UYO history!


Conductor – Daniele Rustioni

Daniele Rustioni is in demand worldwide as a versatile conductor of opera and symphonic music. In the 2017–18 season, Rustioni began his tenure as Principal Conductor of Opéra National de Lyon. Rustioni was appointed Chief Conductor of Ulster Orchestra in Belfast in January 2019 and he began his tenure with the Orchestra in September 2019. 

Rehearsal Conductor Daniel Palmizio began his musical studies at the Santa Cecilia conservatoire in Rome studying viola, and graduated from the Royal College of Music in London. Next season he will conduct the Orchestra Regionale Toscana, the Filarmonica del Regio di Torino and the Filarmonica Pescarese in a performance of Mahler 1st Symphony.

The tutors for 2020 were Ciaran McCabe (first violin), Caroline Pether (second violin), David Aspin (viola), Bozidar Vukotic (cello), Ronan Dunne (double bass), Meyrick Alexander (woodwind), Sue Dent (French horn), Leslie Neish (brass), Jonathan Herbert (percussion), Tanya Houghton (harp) and Ruth McGinley (piano).  Biographies are available on request.

To help with the added dimension of Zoom technology we appointed a team of assistant tutors – Paul McCusker (first violin), Maebh Martin (second violin), Alan McClure (viola), Andrew Nesbitt (cello), Rebecca Blaney (double bass), Andrew Douglas (woodwind), Conall McHugh (horn), Nathan Moore (brass) and a technical assistant for the piano, harp and percussion sections (Phil Tinney).  With the exception of one, all the assistant tutors were UYO Alumni and many are professional musicians in their own right and we were delighted to be able to welcome them back to support the tutors in what was a new way of working for almost everyone.

Course location and schedule

Holding such a complex course online demanded that we had a stable broadband connection, a quiet room and enough space to work safely while adhering to the ever changing Covid-19 restrictions.

We are indebted to Glandore with whom we agreed a contra deal to allow us to use one of their high quality offices in Arthur House in Belfast for the duration of the course.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with them and, when restrictions permit, we will be delighted to perform for them at corporate events.

The course followed the same dates as the original, beginning on 16th August and finishing on 25th August 2020.  Every activity was held using Zoom with UYO’s Administrator, Laura Salt, at the helm making sure that everyone knew what to do and where to be!

Over the ten days we held 44 sectional rehearsals led by our team of highly respected and experienced professional tutors.  The students worked hard as the tutors sorted out wrong notes and advised on topics such as articulation, bowing, style, rhythm, confidence and the art of listening to each other. They were a formidable team of enthusiastic and passionate musicians who led the Orchestra professionally yet sensitively through the process of performing online, learning new repertoire and advising how best to record their parts from home. There was much to learn from a technical aspect as well as the challenge of performing in front of others often through just a mobile phone.

As well as the sectional sessions there were 50 other activities including:


1-1 lessons

Soloist masterclass with Ciaran McCabe

Soloist/Tutor performances with Ciaran McCabe and Caroline Pether

Daily meeting and chat with Daniel Palmizio

Tutor Talk  – SMART practise with Les Neish

Tutor Talk “Are you sitting comfortably” with David Aspin

Tutor Talk – All about the horn with guest player Paul Klein

Tutor Talk & Introduction to Pellegrina Scheme with David Aspin

Talk with recent alumni re college & early career

Classes on orchestral excerpts, technique, repertoire

Daniele Rustioni (DR) Tutorials on Romeo & Juliet

Play Along from home to Romeo & Juliet recording with DR conducting

The “Daniele Lecture”

Romeo & Juliet extract recording by the full orchestra conducted by DR

Sectional recordings

Course Highlights Video

Compilation Video

Entertainment – Scavenger Hunt, Quiz, Bingo & Pizza Night

Fourteen recordings were made in total and were produced by local sound engineers Thomas Wall and Michael Kielty who spent many hours taking meticulous care to be able to present recordings of the highest quality and we are indebted to them for their dedication.

These recordings are available on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and will be on our website.

Harp & Piano Sections join together

Daniele Rustioni conducts Romeo & Juliet

Feedback from members, parents, tutors and friends on UYO 2020

“Thank you for the absolutely amazing course all at UYO ran this year. The girls have had lots of online engagement since lockdown …but I can honestly say you set the bar for all others. The girls were buzzing all week – it really felt like they were at a course and not just working independently from home. We wanted to thank you for all the work done and we look forward to next year and the auditions already!”

“We just wanted to let you and all the team at UYO know how grateful we are to you all for creating and delivering a most enjoyable, interesting, entertaining, informative and fun online course this summer.  Jamie really enjoyed the course and looked forward to each session.  All the planning and careful scheduling paid off.”

“Thank you for another stupendous year of UYO and for all your incredible hard work and innovative planning to allow it to happen. I’m so proud to have been a part of it!”

“The Ulster Youth Orchestra has turned my quarantine from foe to friend!” 

“Thank you so much to you both for making the course possible this year. I just wanted to say I really appreciated how much effort went into it, especially for newcomers like me, and I really hope to audition for next year and get to do it in real life all over again.”

“You delivered an amazing course online!! The whole team was amazing! I really didn’t know what to expect – but it surpassed all expectations! It was the real sense of togetherness that you managed to achieve online that amazed me. Cillian and Zoe both really enjoyed themselves – and I have to say we loved hearing the craic (from the other room) on the entertainment nights!!!”

Entertainment tasks!

The Welfare Team with Administrator Laura

“I wanted to thank you and all the UYO team for the musical memories of the last 10 days. After so much disappointment with all musical activities being cancelled over the summer, UYO really came to the rescue in our home. Nothing can replace the ‘face to face’ experience, but the course was a joy from beginning to end. Dearbhla has gained so much the 10 days and Ronan and Rebecca were brilliantly supportive, encouraging and fun.

Huge thanks for the mammoth effort that clearly went into the organisation of this course.”

“Moving from a live course to online was a bit of a shot in the dark for everyone involved, but UYO handled it so unbelievably well. Everything went so smoothly and I can only imagine how much work was involved behind the scenes. They were always on hand if WiFi didn’t work/ recording issues etc. With this being my first year, I enjoyed it so much despite not meeting anyone in person- if Greenmount is even better it must be fantastic.”

“The course was organised amazingly. It still felt like a normal music course and still had the sense of family and friendship.”

“Wow, just fantastic!! The course was so so well organised and clearly showed hours and hours of preparation and thought. Everything ran really smoothly, and everyone had a really brilliant time.”

We are incredibly proud of how readily our young players accepted the online format of the course and how enthusiastically they embraced the new way of making music.  It showed us how resilient they are as a group and how eager they were to learn, no matter the obstacles.

It was a huge disappointment not to be able to be together at Greenmount College and not to feel the thrill of performing on the stages of the Guildhall and the Ulster Hall, and nothing can ever replace those experiences, however we are satisfied that we provided our young people with an inspiring, valuable and enjoyable course to remember.

With a fair wind we will once again be able to perform together in 2021 and we look forward with optimism to better times for all.

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