ORTÚS, a lively new chamber music festival, will brighten the last days of February in Cork. The participating musicians are young, building their careers across the globe, but returning home to give something back to the community.
Festival directors, violinist Mairéad Hickey and cellist Sinéad O’Halloran, have brought together their group of comrades from student days for a three-day programme in Youghal, Cork and Cobh. It will include a new work by young Cork composer, Sam Perkin.
How did the Ortús Chamber Music Festival come about? Isn’t it difficult to organise when you’re based abroad? “Yes, we are both studying in Germany at the moment,” says Hickey, “and, really, you’re kept so busy that there is hardly time to think. But, you know, we all grew up playing together, here in Cork, and now, suddenly, we realise we’re round the world in different countries and don’t have the opportunity to play together any more. We wanted to do something about that, have some of our fantastic young musicians return to play for their own.”
Bringing the music back home? “Exactly that. Our vision is to provide a platform for those who are launching their careers internationally to come back and perform together,” agrees O’Halloran. “We are really excited, too, about sharing our musical experiences with young people in local schools, which is a big part of the festival.”
They are hoping to attract a much wider age range to the festival. “We’re trying to bring classical music to a wider audience and change the viewpoint of younger people, who tend to think it’s just for the older set,” says Hickey. “We want to see people our age, or younger, in the audience and our ticket prices reflect that.” It took some organising, and pulling around of diary dates, but, finally, the team of six — the two determined founders, plus Siobhan Doyle (violin), Martin Moriarty (viola), Ed Creedon (viola), and Chris Ellis (cello) — will come together for the inaugural Ortús Chamber Music Festival, from Friday to Sunday, February 26-28.
The programme will include timeless masterpieces, together with lesser-known gems from the chamber music repertoire, but a highlight will be the premiere of Sam Perkin’s new composition, ‘Pause’. Written in commemoration of the 1916 Rising, it will have a special focus on Corkman, Thomas Kent. “It is scored for string quartet, electronics, voice, and audience,” says composer Perkin. “I asked Mairéad Hickey to record ‘The Foggy Dew’ (a song from the Rising) on fiddle for me, and then slowed down the recording by about 800%. This was then blended with the live quartet, guiding the audience time to think, to pause and reflect.
Even the trains of Cork’s Kent Station are echoed subtly in the music, through Perkin’s craft — and that’s why they are giving a special, extra performance of ‘Pause’ in that very location on the Saturday morning of the festival. Towards the end of the piece, says Perkin, the audience are fully included in the music, “but I won’t say exactly how. I would like to keep that a secret until the performance!” A new chamber music festival is cause for celebration. That it is organised and performed by the musicians of tomorrow is assurance that Ireland’s passion for music is as strong as ever. Whatever they put in their heads at Cork School of Music, it must be powerful stuff.