ELLA Van Poucke’s career took a big leap forward last July when she emerged as the “Golden Star” of the prestigious Premio Chigiana held in Siena in Italy, writes Cathy Desmond.
The roll call of former winners includes the biggest names on the international concert scene such as Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov and Austrian pianist Andreas Schiff.
At only 23, the win established the Dutch cellist’s standing among the top rank of classical musicians of her generation.
Although young, she is well used to the big occasions and has the rare privilege for a teenage musician of having had a concerto written specially for her. She has performed the work by Finnish composer Uljas Pulkkis with major orchestras in Germany and the Netherlands.
Born into a family of musicians in Amsterdam, Van Poucke has played all over the world since her debut in one of Amsterdam’s grandest halls at the tender age of 10. Later this month, she arrives in Cork to join the roster of performers for the third Ortús Festival, a weekend of music events dedicated to music for small ensembles directed by Cork School of Music alumni Mairéad Hickey and Sinéad O Halloran.
“There is something very special about the atmosphere at the [Amsterdam venue] Concertgebouw but equally I enjoy playing in smaller more intimate venues that suit the smaller forces of chamber music. I loved playing in the church in Bantry when I came to the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in 2016.”
Van Poucke struck up a friendship with Mairéad Hickey when both were studying at a music academy in Kronberg, Germany.
The Cork violinist has been to Amsterdam to perform with Ella and her brother Nicholas, a concert pianist at the festival the siblings themselves direct.
For the Ortús Festival, Van Poucke will join musicians in Kinsale, Cobh and Cork city to play quintets by Brahms and Shostakovich with Ellen Jansson on piano. There are a clutch of works for flute and strings, with Cork native Fiona Kelly bringing her flute to the party.
Among the more unusual works programmed is a rarely heard string trio composed by a little known Czech composer while he was interned in Terezin near Prague, one of the few concentration camps that permitted musical activity.
Gideon Klein was later deported to Auschwitz and died in his twenties but passed his manuscripts to a girlfriend who survived to preserve them for posterity. “The middle movement has elements of Russian folk music that are very appealing,” says Van Poucke.
As well as a busy concert schedule which includes a return to Bantry this summer, Van Poucke is recording her debut CD, the Schumann piano & cello duos and concerto.
Although dedicated to classical music, Van Poucke has her ears open to the sounds of music from around the world. “My mother is Cuban and last year I was very excited to visit Havana for the first time. I listen to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club. They really brought the sound of Cuban music to an international audience.”
Mairead Hickey has introduced her to Irish music. “When I was in West Cork, it was fun to sit with a beer listening to Mairead playing Irish music at a session in the local pub. It is such a different form of expression. I loved the freedom of it.”
Pressed for advice to aspiring young musicians she says, “You have to figure out what your strengths are and commit to it wholeheartedly. There is no room for fear in the concert hall.”
- The Ortús Festival runs from Friday, Feb 23, to Sunday (25) with concerts in Cork, Kinsale and Cobh. Several of the musicians will be giving a free performance at the FarmGate Café in the English Market in Cork on the Monday afternoon at 3pm. www.ortusfestival.ie