Pianist Douglas inspired by a gospel-singing cop

Thu Mar 3, 2011 5:34am EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Some musicians, like Mozart, have an overbearing parent pushing them. Perhaps only one, Northern Irish piano virtuoso Barry Douglas, would credit a gospel-singing policeman from the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

It happened after Douglas, 50, a Belfast native who spent a fair amount of his teenage years being beaten up by Catholics because his father was Protestant, and by Protestants because his mother was Catholic, met an RUC policeman who sang in a church choir and helped Douglas identify his latest assailants.

"He was Protestant and he said one thing which made a huge impression on me. He said all of the fighting was a complete waste of time. Why don't people realize that we have more in common on this island than not? Why can't we just get together and have a united Ireland?"

That looked like an Emerald City pipedream at the height of the Protestant-Catholic bombings, shootings and violence of the 1970s and 1980s "Troubles" in the British-ruled province.

But a year after the 1998 Good Friday accord started Northern Ireland on the path to a reasonably stable peace, Douglas, by then established in the top ranks of pianists after winning the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow in 1986, got a chance to practice what the policeman preached.

In 1999 he founded Camerata Ireland, an Irish-based, not-for-profit organization which brings together young Irish musicians from Northern Ireland and the southern republic for training, performing and an ambitious touring program.

The orchestra has performed in Europe, South America and China and will travel to the United States for a fourth tour and a Carnegie Hall debut this month following a concert on Thursday (March 3) at St. Cecilia's College in Derry/Londonderry.

"It was post the ceasefire and people saw and smelled that something was happening, so it came at the right time," Douglas, in an interview, said about the orchestra's early days. "It kind of took on a life of its own and it gained that interest which it might not have had I done it 10 years later."   Continued...