Monday 16 July 2018

Romanian musicians Bogdan Sofei and Ingrid Nicola - Plucking at the heart strings

Romanian musicians Bogdan Sofei and Ingrid Nicola have settled in Ireland, and are part of a celebrated string quartet

Ingrid Nicola and Bogdan Sofei are part of the celebrated RTE Contempo Quartet. Photo: Arthur Carron
Ingrid Nicola and Bogdan Sofei are part of the celebrated RTE Contempo Quartet. Photo: Arthur Carron
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Ingrid Nicola clearly remembers the moment her relationship with Bogdan Sofei almost came a cropper. The violinists from Bucharest were studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and had borrowed some top-quality, expensive instruments from the academy to perform at a concert in Brussels. Bogdan carried the luggage while Ingrid had the precious violins, and as they headed from the airport to get their train, they stopped to look at one of the Belgian chocolate shops en route.

When they arrived at their destination, panic ensued when Bogdan noticed that Ingrid only had one violin and his "priceless" Gagliano was missing. "I had no idea if it had been stolen or left behind at the station, and in that moment, I was paralysed," says the warm and friendly Ingrid. "I could see myself working a few lifetimes to pay for it. It was the longest train ride back and my legs were like jelly. We went to the chocolate shop and asked the lady inside if she had seen a violin and she said that someone had found it outside and handed it in. I always say that if we got through that, our relationship could survive anything."

Ingrid and Bogdan are two chatty 40-year-old musicians, who were born a month apart and grew up on opposite sides of Bucharest. She is the eldest of Gabriel and Gabriela's two daughters, and her mum was a Romanian and Russian language teacher, while her late father, who passed away in 2001, was an engineer. She was in secondary school when the revolution of 1989 arrived and remembers queuing for food and how everyone was made to live in very tall apartment blocks, all very close to each other. "We only had two hours of TV daily and 10 minutes of cartoons per week," she recalls. "The good thing about not having so much TV was that I went to lots of opera concerts with school or my parents. I was seven when I started learning violin and I liked it."

Bogdan's parents, Ion and the late Doina, were veterinarians who worked in a research institute. He has an older sister, and started playing violin at five. He went to a school for musically-gifted children from the beginning - Ingrid joined at secondary level. They met at 14 and Bogdan still remembers what Ingrid was wearing. "I was walking behind her as we were leaving school but somehow I had this idea that the girl in front of me in her denim skirt was going to be my wife," he says.

Ingrid recalls how she and Bogdan were always looking at each other in class, and his face and skill at the violin appealed to her. At 17, she asked him if he would play in a string quartet with her, which meant they were constantly rehearsing together. Their first quartet did well. Then in 1995, they started a new one with Adrian Mantu and Andreea Banciu, also a married couple, with whom they still play today as the RTE Contempo String Quartet. They went to Vienna to perform at their first concert in 1995, where Ingrid and Bogdan finally got together.

"We left the keys in the room so we were locked out after the show," says Ingrid. "That was the night we really got together under the Viennese moon and it was very romantic. I can count on Bogdan 100pc, which gives me security. He is very intelligent, deep and romantic, and although he can be stubborn, he is very calm and balanced."

Ingrid and Bogdan got married in January 2000 in Romania, on a day that was minus 15 degrees. Their string quartet became hugely successful, winning many international competitions and playing for Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles and Pope John Paul II. They came to Ireland to take up the position of ensemble-in-residence at NUI, Galway, in 2003, and in 2013, they became the RTE resident string quartet for three years.

The RTE Contempo Quartet are also part of New Airs, an album and ongoing independent musical production combining classical and Irish rock and pop music by composer, producer, and arranger, Glen Austin. With a combination of their string, bodhran, electronics, and visual effects, they perform Glen's new arrangements of iconic songs by U2, Kodaline, The Script, Snow Patrol, Enya, Thin Lizzy, and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It has been very well received and they are looking forward to performing in concert this summer.

Ingrid and Bogdan love living close to Connemara, and have two adored girls, Elsa (9) and Karina (4), both of whom are musical. Bogdan says that while Ingrid can be too passionate and energetic at times, they complement each other. "What I find amazing is that I could never say I'm bored next to Ingrid after all these years," says Bogdan. "She has a very volcanic character and I'm more balanced, so we find our way together. I like that she has the same freshness in her look as she had 20-something years ago in her denim skirt."

The New Airs album is available from HMV, Tower Records, Claddagh Records and iTunes. There are concert performances at Carlow Arts Festival on June 17 and Triskel Arts Centre Cork on the 18.

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