CELLIST Kate Ellis has an admirable reputation as an instinctive and technically brilliant musician. A quiet determination to commit herself to playing music she really enjoys without putting up boundaries has led to a busy freelance career.
“From the time I was ending college I decided I was only going to play with like-minded musicians I wanted to play with,” Ellis explains. By then she was already playing with the Crash Ensemble, Ireland’s premier new music ensemble, which specialises in tackling a wide variety of often demanding new music with flair. Its line-up includes some of the country’s leading musicians.
She was also collaborating with interesting artists from other musical backgrounds. “Within my first few weeks of arriving in Dublin I was walking on the street, carrying my cello on my back, when I had a lady come up to me. She asked would I be interested in meeting with a friend of hers. It was actually Adrian Crowley’s wife!”
Singer-songwriter Crowley, one of a string of exciting musicians she came to work with, secured an Arts Council grant in 2001 to record an album with Ellis and drummer Thomas Haugh, produced by the legendary Steve Albini.
Recently, Ellis has been involved in hosting the hugely successful Kaleidoscope Nights, a regular Dublin event which she conceived and co-curates with violinist Cliodhna Ryan.
“I think the drive with Kaleidoscope is primarily to perform with people who I think are amazing, and give them an opportunity to show what they can do to an audience who wouldn’t normally see most of that music.” Offering a juicy mix of world, classical, jazz and experimental sounds in relaxed non-traditional venues, “we play to everyone from students to 70-year-olds,” she says.
Her current spell as musician-in-residence with Cork Opera House contributed to the standout Reich Effect festival in August. Ellis met Mary Hickson, chief executive of Cork Opera House, when Hickson began managing the Crash Ensemble in 2004. Hickson had been managing the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin when she gave Crash a home in the theatre, where they remain today. Ellis and Hickson became firm friends.
“Mary moved back to Cork a few years ago,” says Ellis. “But we stayed in contact and I was doing a few concerts in UCC so we saw each other. Then last year she got the job in the Opera House and she started talking to me about a Steve Reich festival and that was the birth of the Reich Effect.
“Next she started talking about making me musician-in-residence! I see my role there as bringing music into the Half Moon Theatre, so I am running a concert series with several guest musicians for each concert.”
For the current installment in the series on Saturday night, Ellis will perform with three of her favourite collaborators, multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi and vocalists Laura Sheeran and Linda Buckley.
“Linda is from the Buckley clan from the Old Head of Kinsale, a composer-in-residence with RTE, a lecturer in Trinity and an amazing singer. We’ll be playing a piece of hers which she’ll be singing in.”
Francesco Turrisi came to Dublin in the mid-2000s. “He’s primarily a jazz musician but he also studied early music and a lot of his working life has been spent playing harpsichord with L’Arpeggiata.”
A pianist and accordionist, Turrisi is also an exceptional percussionist. “He plays a lot of Italian drums and he’ll be playing the Rek, a North African tambourine-like drum. The piece we’ll play of his is quite Balkan-style.
Laura Sheeran, says Ellis, is an incredible singer and songwriter. “She has music pouring out of her bones. She’s from Galway and was one of the first people to crowd-fund an album in this country.” Sheeran also sings with the group Fovea Hex, a cult music project who performed at the personal invitation of director David Lynch in the gardens of the Cartier in Paris. “For the gig we’re going to play a medley of five of Laura’s pieces. Two are songs and the other three are tracks she released on EP about a month ago. She’s also going to be playing a musical saw.”
What is Ellis’ recipe for a successful night? “Everyone has to have fun. I suppose it’s about sharing something with the audience, letting them have an experience.”
* Saturday, December 3. 8.30pm.
Half Moon Theatre