Tuesday 12 November 2019

Mamma Mia! It's ABBA . . . with strings attached

Ten years ago, four Romanian musicians landed in Galway and never left. They make up the ConTempo String Quartet. They are Bogdan Sofei (1st violin), Ingrid Nicola (2nd violin), Andreea Banciu (viola) and Adrian Mantu (cello).

Formed in 1995 when they were students at the Music University in Bucharest, they have toured the world extensively and won 14 international prizes. So how did they end up in Galway?

Composer Jane O'Leary, of the Galway Music Residency, says: "We decided to get an ensemble that would live in Galway. We wanted a unique model where people could get to know the musicians as individuals."

So 10 years ago they held a recruitment process and had a terrific response from ensembles all over the world. Five groups were asked to audition, and ConTempo was invited to take up the residency.

"It's huge for Galway. They have been out there playing for schools and young musicians. They have reached an awful lot of people, people who have never seen a string quartet up close," says Jane.

The quartet has developed hugely over the decade, both musically and personally – the members are now married to each other. Adrian is with Andreea and Bogdan wed Ingrid, and each couple has two little girls. They are now all permanent residents and Irish citizens and live on the outskirts of Galway.

Adrian sees my amusement at the cosiness of their situation. "Yes, we were trying to imitate each other and this is how we became the ABBA of the string quartet!" he says.

He acknowledges that life in a string quartet can be difficult as you will always have four different ideas. For the first two years of the residency they were also performing concerts abroad and flying about a 100 times a year. They then slowed down and settled in Galway where they soon felt part of the community.

Adrian went through some tough times in his teens. "I was 16 and my colleagues were 14 during the revolution back in Romania and 2,000 people were killed. I could easily have been killed," he says.

"With communism, there was only one idea, but music kept our minds free, because with music you always need another opinion."

There is no other residency like this. It is the longest programme of its kind, and for it to have survived and still be thriving is an achievement that all involved are proud of.

And so, the celebrations begin. A three-day 10th birthday festival will kick-off on Wednesday. Award- winning Irish pianist Isabelle O' Connell will open with ConTempo with a world premiere of a newly commissioned work by Dr Karen Power. Leading Irish accordionist Dermot Dunne and Argentinian guitarist Ariel Hernandez will play on the second night. The final night will see ConTempo and the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet join forces to perform the Mendelssohn Octet in E Flat Major.

See www.thegalwaymusicresidency.ie and www.contempoquartet.com

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm

Irish Independent

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