This week's Lyric Feature, Stranieri, tells the stories of some of the foreign musicians who were recruited into the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra 70 years ago in the immediate post-war era. Producer Olga Buckley sets the scene...

Auditioned in over 30 cities all over Europe in the late 1940s, 50s and 60s, the documentary follows the stories of several of these virtuoso musicians and their families, before and after they joined the RESO.

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Listen to The Lyric Feature: Stranieri 

One violinist, Domenico Galassi, was a German Jew, with an Italian surname, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during WW2 and was forced to play music to the officers while they dined. He was operated on without anesthetic while he was in the camp for a lung condition, and they removed lower ribs. He joined the orchestra in the 1950s and made Ireland his home, leading the orchestra for several years and often playing solo pieces on major works. His widow Deirdre Ryan Galassi and daughter Timara Galassi share his fascinating story.

Bassoonist Dieter Prodohl and timpanist Kure Goedicke
on a train to Cork for a RESO season concert, circa 1962

Professor Corinna Salvadori Lonergan from Trinity College Dublin, came to Ireland in 1948 aged 8 with her brother, mother and father. Both of her parents were musicians; her mother Ines Cecchini played violin and her father Novemo Salvadori played trombone. None of them had a word of English when they arrived, and they thought they were coming to Holland, as Ollanda and Irlanda sounded the same to their travel advisors Thomas Cooke in 1947. Her father was auditioned in Rome along with another virtuoso violinist, Renzo Marchioni. Corinna tells a great story about how her grandmother Nonna used to send condoms in the post wrapped up in newspapers. After a while, the condoms were intercepted and confiscated by customs. Her father Novemo Salvadori had fought on the Russian front and was the only man from his unit to come home alive. He was the lead trombone player in the orchestra, where he had to work with Germans and former enemies from wartime. Prof Salvadori Lonergan also recalls the strangeness of the food and the rows in the orchestra and how difficult it was to adjust to life in a very socially restricted Ireland in the 40s and 50s.

There are so many things that these foreign musicians and their families went through that still resonate with immigrants and refugees today in Ireland - strange food, language difficulties in communicating about their basic needs, coming from war-torn regions and coping with post-traumatic stress.

Arthur Nachstern was another amazing violinist who was the first person recruited to the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra. Born in 1911, he had escaped the Russian revolution with his parents first, and later left post-war Poland. He ended up in a refugee camp in England in the 1940s. His widow Evelyn talks in the documentary about him and all that he went through. Nachstern was a child prodigy in Odessa and later played and dined with Prokofiev in Poland. Evelyn also talks about how she met Arthur only twice before she married him - they were married for 47 years and their daughter is the ballet dancer and choreograher Ingrid Nachstern.

Slovenian Victor Malirsh was the French horn player, recruited from Yugoslavia - he was followed around by a special branch officer for a year after he arrived, for fear he might be a communist. His daughter Andreja (the current harpist in the orchestra) tells how he was so proud of playing the horn solo in Sean O’Riada's iconic piece Mise Éire. The ink was still wet on the page when O’Riada handed it to Victor, she recalls. Her late father Victor Malirsh taught in the Royal Irish Academy in Westland Row for 60 years.

These highly talented musicians made the country a richer place culturally and opened the country up to new food tastes, languages and ways of looking at life. They brought glamour and colour to a very dull inward looking Ireland at the time.

There are so many things that these foreign musicians and their families went through that still resonate with immigrants and refugees today in Ireland - strange food, language difficulties in communicating about their basic needs, coming from war-torn regions and coping with post-traumatic stress. They were looked on with suspicion when they got here by church and state, with some politicians calling them aliens - others argued that Radio Eireann should not be hiring ‘foreigners'.

The gender pay gap also makes an appearance in the documentary, as Professor Corinna Salvadori Lonergan’s late mother was astonished to learn that she would be paid less than her husband in the orchestra and that she had no entitlements to holidays or a pension, as she was a married woman and the marriage bar applied.

Victor Malirsch and Student

These highly talented ‘Stranieri’ made the country a richer place culturally and opened the country up to new food tastes, languages and ways of looking at life. They brought glamour and colour to a very dull, inward-looking Ireland at the time. They also raised the standard of music education and performance to a level that would not have been possible without them, and they brought the work of talented Irish composers to the world. The decision to recruit the musicians by then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs P.J. Little was an inspired one, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to recruit the cream of European musicians in the immediate post-war period into the fledgling Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra - which went on to become the national treasure that is the National Symphony Orchestra.

The Lyric Feature: Stranieri - RTÉ lyric fm, Sunday 11th November 2018 at 6pm - listen to more from The Lyric Feature here