Biography

Colman Pearce (b. Dublin, 22 Sept. 1938).
Conductor, composer, pianist.

Pearce studied piano with Gerard Shanahan and competed successfully at festivals throughout Ireland. He was awarded the B.Mus (Hons) at University College Dublin 1960, and later studied conducting with Franco Ferrara in Hilversum and with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. At the invitation of Hans Waldemar Rosen he began to broadcast for RTÉ in 1961 as an accompanist and guest conductor with the RTÉ Singers. He auditioned with the RTÉ Light Orchestra in 1964 and was offered a contract as an orchestral conductor commencing in 1965. In this capacity he worked with the RTÉLO and, as assistant to Tibor Paul, the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. When Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1971 he conducted the RTÉLO (renamed the RTÉ Eurovision Orchestra for the event), and continued to conduct the Irish Eurovision entries until 1975. He also conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Munich Light Music Festival in 1969, and was subsequently a frequent guest conductor with that orchestra and the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.

In 1974 and 1976 he hosted his own television programme ‘Colman Pearce Presents’ with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra with whom he recorded ‘Ceol Potter’ (Gael Linn, 1974) comprising arrangements of Irish tunes by A. J. Potter. In the 1960s he conducted studio-recordings for radio broadcasts of three operas in the so-called ‘Irish Ring’ by Michael William Balfe, William Vincent Wallace, and Julius Benedict, and ‘Shamus O’Brien’ by Charles Villiers Stanford. With the RTÉSO he made a significant contribution to the modernist art music tradition through his conducting of works by contemporary international and Irish composers, including many first performances of works by Irish composers at the Dublin Festival of 20th Century Music. These include Seóirse Bodley’s ‘Meditations on Lines from Patrick Kavanagh’ (1972), and works by Eric Sweeney (1974), Brian Boydell (1977), and Gerald Barry (1978). He particularly championed the music of the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik .

In 1976 he co-founded, with the oboist Peter Healy, the 'Summer Music at Carroll’s' annual series, which flourished until 1988. With the specially formed Ulysees Ensemble, many premières and first Irish performances were presented in these chamber music programmes, which also featured many works commissioned from Irish composers.

In 1978, he was appointed Co-Principal Conductor, with Albert Rosen, of the R.T.É. Symphony Orchestra. In 1980 toured Europe with this orchestra, conducting widely acclaimed concerts. The programmes featured standard repertoire and works by Boydell, Potter and Gerard Victory and featured some of Irelands leading soloists – Bernadette Greevy, Geraldine O’Grady, Micheál O’Rourke and Philip Martin. In the following year (1981) he was appointed Principal Conductor of the R.T.É.S.O. on a three-year contract. In that year, he gave the première of Bodley’s Symphony No. 2, a critically acclaimed performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, and in September he conducted the Official Opening of the National Concert Hall, which featured the première of Bodley’s ‘Ceol: Symphony No. 3’ and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony.

In the years 1979-1981, Pearce conducted for the Dublin Grand Opera Society, and for the Wexford Opera Festival in 1981, he conducted Wolf-Ferrari’s ‘Jewels of the Madonna’.

When his tenure as Principal Conductor of the R.T.É.S.O. ended in 1983, he was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra (1984-1987), and then Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (1987-1999). In 1999, he was the recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in the State of Mississippi. Earlier, he had been made a Freeman of the City of New Orleans.

He continued as Senior Staff Conductor with the R.T.É. National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland (Subsequently named The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra), and made many recordings on the Naxos and Marco Polo labels of works by Bodley, Boydell, Buckley, Corcoran, Deane, Stanford, Victory and James Wilson.

A frequent guest conductor abroad, Pearce has conducted in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Korea, France, Sweden, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Israel, the U.K. and U.S.A. For Naxos/Marco Polo he recorded in 2002 two operas by the Spanish composer Leonardo Balada (with the Carnegie Mellon Ensemble) and orchestral works by Balada with the Barcelona Symphony orchestra in 2003. In 1998, Balada dedicated the movement ‘Echoes’ (from his Suite ‘Folk Dreams’) to Pearce, who conducted the world première of the Suite in Dublin the following year.

Pearce was appointed Principal Guest Conductor to the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2004 with which orchestra he toured the U.S.A. in 2009. He has been Music Director of the Glasnevin Musical Society since 1976 and continues to guest conduct both in Ireland and internationally.

Since the 1990s he has devoted more time to composition, and in 2009 was awarded a PH.D. for composition by St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, D.C.U. His compositions have been performed both in Ireland, Europe, the U.S.A. and Malaysia.

Michael Murphy