Saturday 17 March 2018

Melodies of the heartstrings

Musicians Andreea Banciu and Adrian Mantu come from Romania, but their two 'Connemara girls' have perfect Irish accents

Food of love: Romanians Mantu and Andreea Banciu came from Bucharest to Galway in 2003, and are now half of the RTE Contempo Quartet. Photo: Andrew Downes
Food of love: Romanians Mantu and Andreea Banciu came from Bucharest to Galway in 2003, and are now half of the RTE Contempo Quartet. Photo: Andrew Downes

It was nothing personal, but Andreea Banciu's parents weren't thrilled when she fell for Adrian Mantu in 1990. She was 15 and he was 17, and both were attending a school for musically gifted students in Bucharest. Her parents, Mihai and Carmen, were strict about boyfriends as they wanted her to concentrate on her studies. Andreea is grateful to them for that now, because it helped her to achieve what she wanted in the end.

"Living in Romania in communist times could be quite difficult, so many parents sent their children to study the arts as a way of escaping the nightmare," says Adrian, now 41. "I was 16 when the revolution started, and could see people with knives and guns outside. I wanted to go out and look but my father kept me inside the house, which probably saved my life as there were around 1,000 people killed, mostly teenagers, because they were the only ones crazy enough to think they could change a regime. My older brother was forced to leave the country in 1988 because he made jokes about the communists. He went to Germany and still lives there."

After Adrian spotted Andreea at school, the tousle-haired cellist did his best to attract the attention of the beautiful viola player with his prowess on the football field. She wasn't impressed, but she was taken by his musical ability. "We had to form chamber groups at school, and I invited Andreea to join my own quartet," says Adrian. "I began to make more effort around the way I dressed, and I read lots of books to try to impress her."

Adrian walked Andreea to the bus or metro after school and brought her flowers, and she eventually thawed and agreed to become his girlfriend. While they confined their relationship to school, initially, her parents eventually got to know Adrian and ended up liking him. Andreea's parents were both translators, and her dad is also a poet. He was offered a job in Italy when she was 16, and her mum left with him, but Andreea and her brother wanted to stay in Romania to study, so their aunt looked after them.

While at university, Adrian and Andreea formed the ConTempo String Quartet, with another couple, violinists Bogdan Sofei and Ingrid Nicola. Known as the ABBA of classical music, the quartet became hugely successful, winning many international competitions and playing for Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles, and Pope John Paul 11, among others. Recognised as one of the world's top string quartets, they came to Ireland to take up the position of ensemble in residence at NUI, Galway, in 2003, and have since settled there and had families. In November 2013, following a competitive tender process, they were announced as the new RTE resident string quartet for three years. They are enjoying the opportunities that being the RTE Contempo Quartet has brought, and are looking forward to performing three concerts of Schubert masterworks at the forthcoming Galway International Arts Festival with guests from the RTE National Symphony Orchestra.

Adrian and Andreea were married in 2000 and have two daughters, Clara, 6, and Sophia, 4. "Adrian calls them his Connemara girls and they have Irish accents," says Andreea, now 39. "On Clara's school report, it said her best subject was Irish. She started piano when she was three years and 10 months old, and has done two exams and got distinctions in both. She has been playing cello for seven months now and is doing well. Sophia started piano two months ago, although we have to bribe her with sweets to practise. She tries to copy Clara all the time - my mum says she will be stealing all of her sister's boyfriends when they're older too."

The four members of the RTE Contempo Quartet are passionate and have an artistic temperament, and say that while they get on very well together, they frequently argue in rehearsals. "We fight and get grumpy, but now that we have kids, we've realised what's important in life," says Adrian. "Andreea and I used to take our arguments home, but we have matured now, and are too busy anyway with the children. When you have kids, everything changes. They turn your life upside down, but in a nice way and we love being with them."

Andreea says that it's very special to share what you love most with your partner, and know that he understands your musical passion. "Adrian has a very artistic and creative personality and always has good ideas," she says. "I never get bored with him because he's spontaneous and funny and full of surprises. He has no patience at all, though, and I would like him to realise how lucky we are for what we have and to appreciate that more."

Given that Adrian and Andreea travel a lot for work, they are very grateful to their relatives and neighbours, who give them so much help with the girls. Andreea's parents live in Rome but visit often, and Adrian's mum Cornelia spends several months per year living with them. His dad, Eugen, was a professional footballer in his youth. He died in 2009 while playing football with Adrian in Galway. "He had a heart attack and died in my arms after he scored a goal, and I still have the shoes that he was wearing," says Adrian.

Adrian says that Andreea is young at heart, spirited and a perfectionist. She's very honest and will give it to you straight, but at least you know where you stand with her. "We feel like we're still those teenagers after all these years," says Adrian. "We're lucky because when we play, it's like rediscovering each other and falling in love all over again."

The RTE Contempo Quartet performs three lunchtime concerts of Schubert masterworks at the Galway International Arts Festival in Aula Maxima, NUI Galway next Friday,

Saturday and Sunday at 1pm, with guest artists including Leonard Elschenbroich, cello, and RTE NSO musicians John Finucane, clarinet; Bethan Watkeys, horn; Hilary Sheil, bassoon and Dominic Dudley, double bass. Tickets €18-€20.

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