First-generation Irish-American cellist Úna Fionnuala O'Riordan was born in the Chicago suburbs and began playing the cello at 4 years of age, after hearing a string instrument demonstration in her kindergarten class. When her family moved to the Washington, D.C. area, she continued her musical education and went on the attend the Interlochen Arts Camp as an Emerson Scholar. Her experiences at Interlochen, plus the opportunity to perform for Mstislav Rostropovich at the 1992 Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony, encouraged her to seek a career as a professional musician. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music with Distinction from the Eastman School of Music, where she was named an Arts Leadership Scholar.
As a recipient of the Eckstein Grant, Úna did her graduate studies at the Northwestern University School of Music, and performed with the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra as the concerto competition winner. While completing her master's degree, she was also Co- Principal of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, working under the batons of Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez. A fellowship recipient at the Aspen and Meadowmount music schools, she has performed both orchestral and chamber music in major concert halls across the United States, Europe and Asia, including Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Her principal teachers include Hans Jørgen Jensen, Pamela Frame, Alan Harris, and Loren Stephenson, and she has performed in masterclasses for Janos Starker and Yo-Yo Ma, among other esteemed pedagogues.
Since her appointment to the DSO in 2007, Úna has enjoyed performing chamber music all around Michigan, on series such as Pro Mozart, Classical Brunch in Birmingham, and Enescu, as well as at the Universities of Michigan and Wayne State, and Kerrytown Concert House. As a member of the contemporary music ensemble New Music Detroit, she has performed at Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAD), the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), and the Bohemian National Home. Passionate about music education, Úna has been on the faculty for the DSO’s Power of Dreams String Project, and regularly coaches both chamber music and cello sectionals for the DSO Civc Program. In 2011-12 Úna has been the cellist for the Fusion Project, a series of school presentations fusing music and photography inspired by the city of Detroit.
In her free time, Úna is a passionate traveler and enjoys photographing her adventures, including a recent trek to Machu Picchu in 2011. Úna performs on a cello made by Carl Becker and Son, 1954.
Where were you born and/or raised?
Born in the Chicago suburbs, but moved to Great Falls, Va (outside Washington DC) when I was 9yrs old
When did you join the DSO?
I joined in 2007, after 4 seasons in the Oregon Symphony
Do you participate in other ensembles outside the DSO?
I am also a member of the contemporary music collective New Music Detroit. Our 5th Strange Beautiful Music marathon is set for September 15, 2012 at MOCAD!
Do you teach anywhere publicly or privately?
What persuaded you to choose your instrument, and at what age did you start playing?
Playing the cello was completely my idea -- at 4 years old. My kindergarten class had just been introduced to the stringed instrument family. I I was just totally drawn to the deep, beautiful sound. Though no one in my family was serious about music, it was always part of everday life. Some of my earliest memories are of dancing around the living room to Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire and Simon and Garfunkel tunes. Apparently, I'd sit at the piano and bang out the notes of familiar songs. So my announcement to my parents that I'd like to take cello lessons wasn't much of a surprise.
When you are not practicing or rehearsing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
When I have a lot of spare time, I love to travel and photograph new places. Recent highlights: Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Peru. Most of the time, though, I'll unwind with a book or an episode of Mad Men, spend time with friends, grow veggies on my patio, and go for a ride on the bike or hike. This summer I'd like to explore Northern Michigan and the U.P. with my camera and bike.
Which musical achievement are you most proud of and why?
Winning this job. Talent only gets you so far. Years of hard work got me here.
What’s your most memorable DSO moment?
My very first rehearsal with the DSO was on tour in Dublin, Ireland. Our guest conductor (who was a very large man) had just arrived from the airport, and his bag was lost. Conducting an orchestra is definitely a workout, so by the break his shirt was completely drenched in sweat. He conducted the second half of rehearsal shirtless, except for a little white towel around his neck and black suspenders holding up his pants. I don't blame him, but the image will never leave my mind!
What is your favorite orchestral piece?
Hands down, Daphnis and Chloe, Suite No.2, by Maurice Ravel. It begins with the most stunning musical sunrise you'll ever hear, and ends with a 5/4 meter dance that is incredibly thrilling.
If you could have participated in any past musical event, what would it be?
I would love to have played in the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1913, at the Thèâtre des Champs-Elysees in Paris. The combination of Stravinsky's raucous score and Nijinsky's provocative choreography of fertility dances and sacrificial rituals incited a riot that not even the police could contain -- and that is awesome.
Do you have any unusual or hidden talents?
My sneeze has been known to disrupt rehearsals.
What’s your favorite Detroit restaurant or hangout?
My Detroit favs are Eastern Market saturdays, Roast Happy Hour, and Astro coffee.