The Cat and the Fiddle: Gifted Irish violinist to join Vengerov in National Concert Hall

Kilkenny violinist Patrick Rafter.

WHEN the celebrated Russian violinist, Maxim Vengerov returns to the National Concert Hall in March, he’ll have company. Pairing with him in Bach’s double violin concerto will be a gifted young man from Kilkenny.

From a musical family, Patrick Rafter is one of Ireland’s rising classical music stars. His father, also Patrick, is a tenor; and his mother Maura, is a piano teacher who founded the Kilkenny Academy of Music.

Still in his twenties, Rafter has made impressive international debuts and collected a plethora of prestigious awards. When I speak to Rafter by phone at his base in Geneva, his mood is buoyant. It has just been announced that he is appointed on the panel of ‘Next Generation Artists’, an Arts Council initiative to promote the brightest and best of young Irish talent.

Vengerov spotted Rafter’s potential when the young man was a student in London and an invitation to study with the Russian wizard at the prestigious Menuhin Academy in Switzerland followed.

Rafter is full of praise for his famous mentor. “He is phenomenal- dedicated to a point that is unfathomable. I have huge respect for his work ethic. Even though he is technically brilliant, he is constantly striving for the perfect sound. I can’t wait to play the Bach double with him.”

Vengerov will also conduct the RTÉ NSO on the night. Swapping a bow for a baton is an activity that Rafter has also dabbled in in. “To be a great conductor, you need first to become great musician. I am holding back for the time being. I want this time in my twenties to be for the violin.”

It wasn’t always all about the violin for Rafter though. As one might expect for a proud Kilkenny cat, he knows how to wield a camán. “I was insatiable about hurling — I still am. I turned out for Freshford until one day when I was about 15 years old. It was a tough semi-final match and several of my team mates broke fingers that day including a friend who was a promising pianist. I I had a horrible decision to make but I knew that music was my true passion. But when I’m home, I still go down and shout for my brothers on the field.”

Although performances with the Rafter Family ensemble are less frequent with Patrick based abroad, the brothers have been known to turn up in their local pub with guitar and fiddle for a few tunes.

Rafter is looking forward to reuniting with musical friends for more intimate music-making at the third Ortús Festival in Cork. The chamber music festival run by cellist Sinéad O Halloran and violinist Mairéad Hickey has built up a following for its adventurous programmes. Rafter and O’Halloran first met when both were leading their sections in the National Youth Orchestra.

“I’m excited to be playing works that I haven’t had a chance to perform before. I just got the manuscript for a duet with Sinéad by Elaine Agnew and I can’t wait to get my teeth stuck into it.

“There is a sense of freedom in tackling new work and a freshness to experiencing a work when you first play through it.”

Recently, Rafter has formed a partnership with Belfast pianist Michael McHale. At the Ortús festival, the pair will collaborate on one of the most celebrated of all chamber music works with O’Halloran and Jessie Grimes on clarinet.

“It will be a joy to play Messiaen’s, Quartet for the End of Time. It is one of the greatest works in chamber music. Hats off to Ortús for programming less often heard works alongside the canon.”

Cathy Desmond

Patrick Rafter performs at the Ortús festival in Watergrasshill and Cork city, March 2-3. He is also a soloist in JS Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins at National Concert Hall on March 29

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