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Ailbhe McDonagh has earned international recognition as both a soloist and chamber musician. According to Fanfare Magazine, “she plays with flawless technique, faultless intonation, and a strong yet meltingly sweet tone”. Ailbhe has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Yale Norfolk Festival, and the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. She has given performances for the Irish President at Áras an Uachtaráin, appears regularly on national television and radio, and her recordings have been broadcast worldwide.
Her latest album entitled 'Bach: Complete Solo Cello Suites' was released on the Steinway & Sons label in 2024 and is the first recording of these works, composed by JS Bach, by an Irish cellist.
As an accomplished chamber musician, Ailbhe collaborates with the acclaimed pianist John O’Conor, with her sister Orla McDonagh, and with violinist Lynda O’Connor. She is a member of the Ficino Ensemble and the traditional Irish music crossover group Trio Elatha.
Ailbhe's debut solo album, ‘It's a Cello Thing’ (2012), was named CD of the Week on Ireland’s national classical music station, RTÉ Lyric FM. Her 2020 album, ‘Skellig’, was featured in the Irish Examiner’s Top Albums of the Year.
In 2021, Ailbhe released ‘Beethoven: Complete Cello Sonatas’ with John O'Conor on the Steinway label. Classical Music Sentinel states "McDonagh and O'Conor coalesce perfectly, as if propelled by the music's undertow, and echo each other's expressive mien with dynamic balance" and proclaims it as one of their Essential Recordings. AllMusic gave the album 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Ailbhe is also an established composer with over 250 published works and commissions to her name. Her debut orchestral work 'Irish Isles Suite' was recorded and released by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in 2023. Her much anticipated violin concerto the 'Irish Four Seasons' is due to be released in 2024.
She is a widely commissioned and celebrated composer with a breadth of works written for orchestra, chamber music and solo instruments. Some notable commissions include her String Quartet No.1 for the Appalachian Chamber Music Festival, USA, an eight hand piano work for the opening of the Whyte Recital Hall at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, a piano trio for the Via Columbani, a piano duet for the Dublin International Chamber Music Festival, and a solo cello suite supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.
Her String Quartet No.2 was commissioned by the National String Quartet Foundation of Ireland and premiered by the Ficino Ensemble during their December 2023 national tour. The work, also called the "Lore Quartet" was featured by The Strad magazine as their "Premiere of the Month".
Other works include her very popular cello and piano piece Skellig from the album of the same name released in 2020. Valentia for cello and piano was composed for her 2022 national tour of Ireland with pianist John O'Conor. The cello quartet Cellango was recorded for a Music Network cello quartet tour in 2021. Her violin and cello piece Calary Tango was composed for Music in Calary series and was premiered by violinist Lynda O'Connor.
She has released several collections of her pedagogical music through London-based publishers Boosey & Hawkes, notably the popular book series ‘It’s a Piano Thing’ (2017) and ‘It’s a Cello Thing’ (2021). Ailbhe has also composed pieces for violin, viola, double bass, guitar, harp and ukulele which feature in the Boosey & Hawkes 'Grade by Grade' series.
Her compositions have been featured in the syllabi of leading music institutions worldwide including ABRSM, Hal Leonard, RCM Canada, London College of Music and RIAM Local Centre Examinations.
Ailbhe has been a member of the strings faculty at the Royal Irish Academy of Music since 2010. She is also in demand as a masterclass instructor.
Ailbhe performs on an Andrea Postacchini cello from 1833.