Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Partner of Irish Chamber Orchestra since 2012, Jörg Widmann’s exceptional artistic achievements on the international stage and his outstanding service to the University of Limerick make him an exceptionally worthy candidate for the award of honorary doctorate. In 1995, under the guidance of Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and John Kelly, Chief Executive of ICO at that time, Irish Chamber Orchestra relocated to the University of Limerick as Artists-in-Residence at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. Twenty-seven years on, ICO has a reputation of being a world-class ensemble and is regarded as one of the finest chamber orchestras in Europe. While many artistic partners have made valuable contributions to ICO’s mission over the years, none has contributed more to the elevation and transformation of the international profile of ICO than world-renowned composer, conductor and performer Jörg Widmann.
Jörg Widmann’s first appearance with ICO in 2008 catapulted the orchestra onto the European stage. Four years later, when he joined ICO as Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Partner, Widmann was enjoying international celebrity status following the great success of his first opera, Babylon, which played to capacity audiences for months in Munich. With his impish showmanship and extravagant interpretational displays, Widmann quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with at the helm of ICO, one of Ireland’s most colourful and diverse ensembles. Such was the strength of the bond and the synergy between him and the orchestra that his tenure was extended from three to ten years.
In 2021, as Jörg Widmann moved on to the next period of his career as one of the world’s most prolific composers, clarinettists and conductors, he reluctantly stepped down from his role as ICO’s Principal Guest Conductor and Artistic Partner. Over the past decade, in addition to bringing unprecedented international success and acclaim to ICO, Widmann raised the profile of the orchestra at a local level, growing a large, loyal audience for the ensemble’s concerts. Audiences have experienced Widmann’s extraordinary music and virtuosity as a performer at memorable ICO recitals in the University Concert Hall, and several prestigious ICO performances have been recorded at the venue.
Jörg Widmann is no average composer. His CV includes more than 20 album releases, 50 compositions and 17 prestigious international awards. He is an acclaimed soloist and conductor and one of the world’s most frequently performed living composers. Widmann demonstrates visceral power, high energy, droll wit, hyper-emotive Romanticism and sheer daring in his music. Such qualities have won him numerous high-profile commissions and countless performances by leading soloists, chamber ensembles and major orchestras around the world. A much sought-after virtuoso clarinettist and dynamic conductor, he has performed his own works and those of other composers with a host of great artists, including Daniel Barenboim, Mitsuko Uchida and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
Born in Munich in 1973, Jörg Widmann began studying clarinet at an early age. He went on to study piano and conducting at institutions including The Juilliard School in New York City and the University of Music in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 2001, at the age of 28, he was appointed as a professor of music at the University of Freiburg, where he taught clarinet for the next 14 years. Since 2017, he has held the Edward Said Chair in Composition at the Barenboim-Said Akademie, Berlin.
Under Jörg Widmann’s 10-year artistic leadership, ICO has been one of UL’s most effective and high-profile ambassadors, flying the flag on the international stage in support of the university’s ambition for excellence in artistic and educational practice and its commitment to the project of internationalisation. The orchestra’s vital contribution to the educational mission and artistic life of UL is underpinned and motivated by both its core belief in the power of music as a positive force in our lives and its commitment to supporting the development of future generations of Irish and international musicians.
Also under Jörg Widmann’s leadership, ICO carried UL to the most prestigious concert venues in the world, including the Konzerthaus in Berlin; the Cologne Philharmonie; BOZAR, Brussels; De Singel, Antwerp; Reitstadel, Neumarkt; Carnegie Hall, New York; Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires; Sala São Paulo; and the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. In 2019, when ICO performed at Carnegie Hall, those who attended a UL Foundation-hosted event joined the capacity audience to witness, first-hand, Widmann and ICO taking New York by storm. The reviews were superb. Edward Sava-Segal of Bachtrack wrote:
“Overall, as rendered by the ICO under Widmann’s precise baton, the music sounded fresh and full of energy. . . . Widmann relied more on leader Katherine Hunka, focusing on his clarinet playing and charming the listeners not only with his devilish technique and tremendous dynamic range, but also with humor . . . and the ability to bring an almost vocal quality to the melodies. . . .”
In recent years, the exceptional artistic synergy between Jörg Widmann and ICO has enabled the orchestra to secure two recording contracts with prestigious international music labels, Alpha Classics and Orfeo. The publication of six CD recordings significantly elevated the profile of ICO and hugely broadened the dissemination of the artistic output of the orchestra through radio airplay across the world. These critically acclaimed albums were recorded at the University Concert Hall.
Jörg Widmann ranks as one of the most compelling and prolific musicians of our generation. In constant demand around the globe, he routinely sheds new light on canonic music works in performances with major orchestras. He collaborates closely with leading composers on performances and recordings of their works and continually adds to his own vast catalogue of acclaimed compositions. For the past decade, ICO and UL have hosted one of the greatest composers of the 21st century. Through their exceptional local and international achievements in the last ten years, Jörg Widmann and ICO have co-authored one of the great UL stories.
Chancellor, I present to you Jörg Widmann and ask that you confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.