Cork musician honoured to receive Arts Council grant

As she prepares to perform her first live concert since lockdown, we chat to Aoife Burke, who recently received a Next Generation Arts Bursary from The Arts Council
Cork musician honoured to receive Arts Council grant
Aoife Burke.

Tell us about yourself:

I was born and bred in Cork city. I attended Scoil Bhride Eglantine Girls’ NS on the Douglas Road and went on to Christ King Girls’ Secondary School. Music has always been a part of my life — from as long as I can remember, there has been lots of singing and playing at home (mum and dad are both very musical). I began learning the cello at the age of four with Phil Buckley through the Suzuki Method, an initiative which was part of an Educational Outreach Programme implemented by the Cork School of Music across various primary schools in Cork city.

In my teens, I decided to pursue a career in music, and at the age of 18, I moved to Manchester in England to start my undergraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music. I undertook an Erasmus exchange at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany, for my third year and I returned home to Ireland after graduating in 2014.

I am now based in Dublin, where I lead a multi-faceted freelance career as a classical cellist, which encompasses anything from performing solo recitals to orchestral work and recording sessions. I really enjoy my work, but there is no denying that it can be extremely demanding, both physically and mentally.

The nature of the work can be precarious, too, as is more evident in the current situation than ever, and the hours which freelance musicians work are often erratic and unpredictable. However, I have been afforded really spectacular opportunities by my line of work, especially in terms of travelling and seeing the world (I’ve been on many tours around Europe, to the USA and to Asia).

Where do you live?

Dublin, although I’m not so sure how much longer I’ll be there, given the impact of the pandemic on the arts sector. The entertainment industry came to a halt almost overnight on March 12, and I worry that the light at the end of the tunnel is a while away for us yet.


My immediate family consists of my mum, my dad, and my two younger sisters, Ãine and Cliona. I’m very close to my first cousins on my Mum’s side, Gavin and Amy, and my maternal grandmother, Maureen Garvey.

Best friend?

I couldn’t choose just one! I am very lucky to have such wonderful supportive and mad friends.

Earliest childhood memory?

I remember eating boiled egg, tomato and onion sandwiches with my grandparents in Fota Wildlife Park. They had a campervan, and I was their first grandchild, so we had some fantastic day trips! I also remember my aunt and godmother Fiona reading The Borrowers to me, and painstakingly fashioning a furnished Borrower-sized house out of a shoebox, thread spools and other bits and pieces; I must have been three or four.

Person you most admire?

My grandfather, Ted Garvey, who was a true gentleman. He taught me to play chess, to speak Irish, to love music, the beauty of dry wit and the importance of a few choice words!

Where was your most memorable holiday?

We spent some glorious summer holidays down in West Cork and Kerry when I was growing up. The weather was almost always, inevitably, desperate, but we went swimming in the sea in the rain anyway and played heated games of Monopoly.

Favourite TV programme?

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I got into series like Normal People and Unorthodox during the lockdown.

Favourite radio show?

Evelyn Grant’s Weekend Drive on RTÉ’s Lyric FM.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

Mick Flannery’s Alive, which was recorded at a sold-out Cork Opera House gig last year. The proceeds from the album are to be shared among the band and crew, all of whom have lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mick’s some man for one man.

Favourite song?

Recently I’ve been listening a lot to Anna-Mieke’s new album Idle Mind. Her song Warped Window featured in the television adaptation of Normal People, and I recently recorded a new arrangement of that song with her and three others for an RTÉ feature to be broadcast later this month.

On a totally different note, I can’t wait to do a national tour of Beethoven’s third and seventh string quartets at the beginning of October with my quartet, the Banbha Quartet. 2020 is the 250 th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, so the National String Quartet Foundation have programmed all 16 of his string quartets this year. They’re absolute masterpieces, in the truest sense, and some of my favourite works to listen to and to play. We’ll be giving concerts in Manorhamilton, Portlaoise, Dublin and at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork on Saturday, October 3.

One person you would like to see in concert?

The pianist Mitsuko Uchida.

Your proudest moment?

I was recently selected by The Arts Council as one of 23 recipients of a Next Generation Artist Bursary, which is awarded across all art forms. It couldn’t have come at a better time, because all of the concerts, recordings, festivals and tours I had lined up for the last five months were cancelled or postponed. I feel very honoured and privileged, as well as having a sense of responsibility too, to affirm the Arts Council’s endorsement of the work I have been doing these past few years, and investment in my artistic potential at this stage in my career.

What makes you happy?

Tea and chats with my family at the kitchen table at home!

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who was dedicated to their art and to bringing people together through music. And also perhaps as someone who didn’t sweat the small stuff, though I think I have some work to do yet on that one.

What else are you up to at the moment?

I’m trying to savour the time that the pandemic and resultant restrictions have afforded me, especially when the weather is good. I’ve been going for walks and hikes and swims. I also got into baking sourdough bread during the lockdown. As a musician, it felt so different and exciting to create something visible and tangible with my hands!

My first concert with a live audience after the lockdown will take place on Saturday, August 29 at 1pm at the Triskel Arts Centre, so I’ve been preparing for that, too.

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