The 20 Year Old Violinist From Meath Subverting Expectations at Europe’s Biggest Festival

Words: Dray Morgan

Whatever your opinion of Tomorrowland, the last word you’d associate with it is nimble. So that’s why it came as a surprise when an orchestra stole the show at the festival last weekend in Belgium. Dray Morgan headed to Boom to talk to the young Irish musician helping subvert expectations at the EDM festival.

It hasn’t aged well; it’s abrasive and obnoxious; it lacks finesse. These are just a few of the criticisms posed at EDM. The genre had its heyday in Ireland in the early 2010s and is considered a thing of the past for most people on the island at this point. However, in other parts of the world it’s still thriving. There’s no festival that embodies the spirit of EDM (for better or worse) than Tomorrowland. Whatever your opinion on the festival, it’s hard to deny the pure scale of the event in mainland Europe. It’s a true feat of engineering and people management and if you’re into the kind of music it showcases, it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Without fail, the festival sells out a 12 months in advance every year and sees EDM lovers from all corners of the world converge to aptly named Boom in Belgium for two weekends.

Tomorrowland 2023 Main Stage

For all its grandeur, it’s hard to ignore the voices of the critics. The detractors would say it’s style over substance, the culture often lacks depth and the sounds on offer are predictable.

These conditions set the stage for a genuinely skilled alternative offering to shine. Playing at the enclosed Atmosphere stage, an orchestra group called The Symphony of Unity performed reimagined versions of classic electronic tracks from various decades but also sprinkled in some signature Hans Zimmer. Their unique display drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, closing off the stage to any later comers.

The group consists of 50 of the most prestigious classically trained performers, including 20-year-old Julieanne Forrest from Navan. A far cry from the typical opera houses and grand theatres, it was an unconventional opportunity for the violinist and an unexpected inclusion for the festival.

Atmosphere Stage

Two years ago, Julieanne turned down studying Business and German at Trinity to pursue her passion at the Music and Arts University of Vienna.

“Since I was eight years old, I wanted to be a violinist”. she said as she explained the application process for one of the most prestigious music schools in Europe. Julieanne’s success has been on merit. In 2020, she was awarded a 5000 euro prize after winning Ireland’s top teen music talent awards

Julieanne joined the Symphony of Unity Orchestra by being one of seven competition winners., looking for exceptional musicians to participate in the festival. The competition, conducted by BMW, saw the group set up in Belgium a week previous to Tomorrowland, to take part in preparation before the show.

“When I was introduced to the opportunity, I was thrilled because I love electronic music,” Julieanne said as she explained her process throughout this experience.

After being selected, to join the process, Julieanne attended BootCamp in Terra Solis, Dubai. “It was nothing like I had taken part in before,” Julieanne said, “such an amazing experience and we were treated so well”. During her time in Dubai, Julieanne detailed the new experiences she had whilst filming content ahead of the performance.

“I had to look very serious and watch my body and hand movements whilst having to walk through sand in the middle of the desert”.

However, this isn’t Julieanne’s first endeavour on an international scale. Since moving from Meath to study music in Vienna, she has performed in a multitude of cities including London, Paris and New York.

“My appreciation for electronic music has definitely grown. The constant immersion in classical leaves you almost in a bubble, so it was great to break out of that and play songs I never would have before.”

But being barely out of your teens and travelling the world performing is anything but usual for a 20-year-old from Ireland.

“My friends are also here at Tomorrowland, so it’s a great opportunity just to be young and have some fun,” Julieanne remarked.

Julieanne’s performance alongside the orchestra merges two worlds which rarely intersect. The symphony added a touch of class to EDM whilst also exposing classical music to an audience which otherwise would have been far removed from it.

The prospect of hearing familiar scores in a classical fashion attracted one of the biggest audiences of the weekend. The 50-person ensemble made for the most unique viewing of Tomorrowland, where variety in sound was often hard to come by.

Going from the West Cork chamber music festival to Tomorrowland is a contrast in crowd and scale for Julieanne. However, the next date is far closer to Julieanne’s former work with her performing next at Sion Festival for classical music in Switzerland.

After a packed summer of travel and high-pressure performance, it’s back to reality for Julieanne, returning to college in Austria just in time for her twenty-first birthday.