How Music Brought me from Ireland to Cleveland

My wife Noeleen and I moved to Cleveland from Northern Ireland in February of 2015. I am in Cleveland for the next few years as Managing Director of Apollo’s Fire-The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.    


End of Proms concert.  (We were unsure when to start the encore because they just kept applauding…!)
End of Proms concert. (We were unsure when to start the encore because they just kept applauding…!)

I saw the job advertised on a web site called Musical Chairs which advertises both playing and administrative positions throughout the world. After making my application I met with the orchestra’s founder and artistic director Jeannette Sorrell in London in May of 2014. We got on really well and after several hours of skype interviews and a visit to Cleveland I was offered the job last October. After a prolonged process to secure a visa we eventually made it across the pond and to the coldest winter ever so I am told.

Since starting the job, I am incredibly impressed with the standard of the orchestra. They gave three major debut concerts this summer at Tanglewood, the BBC Proms in London and at the Aldeburgh Snape Proms. All extremely prestigious venues and the concerts were all sold out and in receipt of great reviews.  

Aldeburgh concert
Aldeburgh concert

My Background: 

I was born in Scotland but have spent the bulk of my working life in Belfast where I was co-principal trumpet of the Ulster Orchestra. Prior to joining the orchestra I freelanced in London and enjoyed a busy and varied couple of years which involved a combination of guesting with orchestra’s covering for people in West End Shows such as Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar and some work in the theatre. The theatre work included a world tour with the Old Vic Companies production of Hamlet with Derek Jacobi in the title role.

Photo: Currents
Photo: Currents

In 1999 I co-founded a chamber orchestra with pianist Barry Douglas. The orchestral management work became too much and so I left full time orchestral playing and became the orchestra’s CEO. I left the orchestra in 2012 and was working for myself until moving to this job in Cleveland.

I still play the trumpet a bit but mainly jazz which is a great way to relax if I am not on a golf course!! 

Cleveland’s Unique Music Scene:

Moving to Cleveland has been a revelation to us. There is so much going on and everyone seems incredibly supportive of the arts. The economic downturn back in Northern Ireland has seen some savage cuts in arts budgets. My old orchestra has not been immune to these cuts and has had to and still is fighting for adequate funding.

Cleveland, I know, has had its bad times and is now on the up and up.

Crucially the arts have remained cherished throughout this time which is fantastic.

Apollo’s Fire enjoys the 3rd largest baroque audience in the U.S. surpassed only by the much larger cities of Boston and San Francisco. Add to this the support for the Cleveland Orchestra, ballet, the theatres at Playhouse Square, The Museum not to mention a thriving jazz scene and it became clear very early on after our arrival what a great cultural hub Cleveland continues to be.

And All that Jazz…

One of the first night spots I was take to was Night Town and because of the variety of musical groups and of a very high quality it has to be my favourite. I have been able to play along with their resident pianists on a Friday or Saturday night which has been great fun. 

Photo: Nighttown
Photo: Nighttown

World-Class Music Around the World:  

If I were to compare the music scene to back in Europe it would be that what we have here in Cleveland can rival any place in the world for variety and equally importantly quality.

I am working with one of the finest baroque orchestra’s in the world and we are increasing our global profile. My ambition is to see Apollo’s Fire   become as well known as the Cleveland Orchestra. Apollo’s Fire will have its 25th anniversary season in 2017. It has grown into something really special and compliments its much larger contemporary. You would have to go to London, Paris or Berlin to have access to such diverse artistic quality.  

More than Music:

I have toured extensively all over the USA but I have never lived here on a permanent basis. People are very warm and friendly, extremely generous in their support for the arts and while more than a little daunted by the weather on our arrival in February the spring and summer months have been really fabulous.

Anyone thinking of moving to Cleveland should give it a go. There is so much on offer here and we have only just touched the surface of a really vibrant city.

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