Cathy Desmond.

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Four become five for short trip home to Cork

The Cork couple from the renowned Carducci Quartet are looking forward to playing with Julian Bliss on their Irish tour this week, writes Cathy Desmond.

Four become five for short trip home to Cork

The Cork couple from the renowned Carducci Quartet are looking forward to playing with Julian Bliss on their Irish tour this week, writes Cathy Desmond.

Mention a successful Anglo- Irish partnership in Cheltenham and one might expect a discussion on horses and jockeys to follow.

Famous for its racing festival, the spa town is also the home of a couple from Cork who make up half of the internationally renowned classical ensemble, the Carducci Quartet.

When I speak to violinist Michelle Fleming — whose husband Eoin Schmidt-Martin is also in the quartet — by telephone at her Gloucestershire home, political turbulence is causing some concerns about a post-Brexit UK for musicians that spend much of their time working in Europe.

In the meantime, the couple are looking forward to a trip home with the Anglo component of the string quartet, Matthew and Emma Denton and leading British clarinettist, Julian Bliss. The quintet will perform a string of dates starting in Cork at the School of Music where it all started for Fleming and her husband Eoin Schmidt-Martin.

“When it came to making quartet playing our careers, the Vanbrugh Quartet who were quartet in residence at UCC when we were students were such an inspiration to us. We never imagined then that one day we would be like them. ”

So how was this unique Anglo-Hibernian alliance forged? Moving to London in 2003 “with an empty diary” , Fleming originally from Bishopstown, got her start within a month, when a mutual friendintroduced her to an emerging string quartet in need of a replacement second violinist.

The trial went well and when the viola chair became vacant two years later, Eoin Schmidt- Martin who was just finishing a post-grad course at the Royal Academy of Music was invited to join the ensemble.

“Carducci is a poet that all Italians study at school and the town of Castagneto in Tuscany took his name when he became famous. The other two members performed there when their student quartet started out 21 years ago.”

An unusually close knit ensemble composed of two husbands and wives, the quartet has enjoyed a stable line up for more than a decade, a big plus factor for any professional quartet. International success has followed with a clutch of coveted prizes, a bevy of acclaimed recordings and the quartet run their own music festival in Gloucestershire. Both couples have also become parents.

“Our kids are ten and seven now. It does take a lot of forward planning but we have amazingly supportive families and now the children are older, we take them with us when school isn’t in the way.”

The quartet have recorded twoalbums with their touring partner for this trip, clarinettist, Julian Bliss.

We love working with Julian. He has had stardom since he was a kid but he is so down to earth. He is a technical wizard and can play anything. We feel we play well with him.

The programme includes a quintet by Brahms and a new work with a quirky title, ‘Gumboots’, by David Bruce.

“We play a lot of contemporary music and we were immediately drawn to this piece.

"The piece was inspired by gumboot dancers in South Africa. In the brutal conditions in South Africa under Apartheid, black miners were chained together and wore Gumboots or wellingtons while they worked in the flooded gold mines, because it was cheaper for the owners to supply the boots than to drain the floodwater from the mine.

“Apparently slapping the boots and chains was used by the workers as a form of communication which was banned in the mine.

"The first movement produces this amazing haunting atmosphere. In the second there are five dances that have these fascinating rhythms. The contrasts draw you in. It is a fantastic piece. We love playing it.”

The Carducci Quartet and Julian Bliss play: Cork, CIT School of Music, Thursday, Mar 21; Sligo, The Model, Mar 22; Wexford, National Opera House, Mar 23; Kilkenny The Parade, Mar 24

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