Bittersweet performance at West Cork event

Bittersweet is how violinist, Catherine Leonard describes the feeling she anticipates when she and pianist, Hugh Tinney will perform the last event in the West Cork Music’s Concert Series at Bantry House on Saturday.

Bittersweet performance at West Cork event

Because of financial pressure on arts events, the Bantry-based West Cork Music organisation will focus its attention on its three summer festivals — the West Cork Chamber Music Festival (WCCMF), Masters of Tradition and the West Cork Literary Festival.

One of Ireland’s leading violinists, Leonard points out that the WCCMF “is now so huge and international that I can completely understand why it’s no longer viable to have concerts throughout the season as well. The funding isn’t there.”

For Leonard, who was taught violin and piano at the Cork School of Music, her career really started in West Cork. Before she went abroad to further her studies, she played at the first WCCMF in 1992. “I was a young violinist back then who was also receiving master classes in Bantry. Francis Humphrys (director of West Cork Music) gave me opportunities to perform there in various capacities.”

Leonard studied in the US, in Salzburg in Austria and in Amsterdam. “I spent seven or eight years studying. As a violinist, you could keep on studying but I stopped when I had my Masters at the age of 27.”

Leonard’s niche is chamber music. “There’s no conductor. It’s an intimate coming together of musicians and I love the fact that it’s democratic.”

In the 1990s “someone at one of the Bantry festivals thought it would be lovely if Hugh Tinney and myself teamed up.” The duo performed together for a while and then went in their separate directions.

“Five years ago, we re-activated our partnership and I haven’t looked back since.” Over the years the duo toured extensively, both in Ireland and abroad. In the spring of 2010 they performed to great acclaim on a tour of Los Angeles and the US West Coast.

Leonard and Tinney have started their own chamber music festival in Westport. It ran for the first time in September and will be an annual event spread over three days. “There aren’t many festivals with a musical duo as the artistic partnership. We’re really excited about the Westport Festival of Chamber Music.”

The other major change in Leonard’s life is that she returned from America in June having lived there for several years. “I definitely had a grá for America for a long time. For the best part of the last decade, I had a very privileged position as principal violinist of a chamber group (Camerata Pacifica). It was the perfect position for me to grow as an artist and to get through a lot of repertoire. We played about 50 concerts a year. I had fabulous colleagues.”

But Leonard came to a point where she had to make up her mind as to whether she would continue living in the US for the rest of her life.

She decided to return to Ireland and although born in Cork, she lives in Dublin as that is where her family is.

Leonard says she has “left a little musical legacy behind in America. I left on a high and I’m very happy to be back in Ireland.”

When Leonard and Tinney take to the Bantry House stage, they will perform Beethoven’s Sonatas for Violin and Piano No 2 and No 4 as well as Brahm’s Sonata No 1 in G major and Faure’s Sonata No 1 in A. It should be a memorable evening.


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