Life as a musician: I have no 'normal' weekends 

Cellist Aoife Burke tells us how she likes to spend her weekends — when she gets time off
Life as a musician: I have no 'normal' weekends 
Classical cellist Aoife Burke.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work:

I was born and bred in Cork City. I attended Scoil Bhríde Eglantine Girls’ National School on the Douglas Road and went on to Christ King Girls’ Secondary School. At home, I have two younger sisters, Áine and Clíona, and a husky-collie cross, Milí, who is the light of our lives!

Music has always been a part of my life — for 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 following my undergraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, I returned home to Ireland.

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 hours which freelance musicians work are often erratic and unpredictable, and even on days off there is always practice and preparation to be done for upcoming projects.

However, I have been afforded really spectacular opportunities by my line of work, especially in terms of travelling and seeing the world.

For instance, in 2014 I performed with the European Union Youth Orchestra at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, and I’m looking forward to a tour of China with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra just after Christmas.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

I often work on a Friday night, but when I am free I love going to the cinema followed by an early night.

Do you enjoy lie-ins or are you up with the lark?

Lie-ins, without a doubt, although they are something of a luxury! It wouldn’t be unusual that I wouldn’t get to bed ‘til late, for instance, after a concert, and have to get up early the following morning to travel, or for a chamber music rehearsal perhaps.

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the importance of sufficient and regular sleep, and worrying myself that the statistics don’t bode well for my lifestyle!

Classical cellist Aoife Burke.
Classical cellist Aoife Burke.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

Due to the nature of my work, I don’t really have weekends, as such. I take days off as and when they come.

This week, my only day off is Thursday, but I have a lot of practice to do for next week, so I will spend most of the day learning new music or catching up on emails and general administration.

In that way, it can actually be quite difficult not to let work creep into every day, but then I have the luxury of having a weekday or two off sometimes!

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

I would probably head to Paris — I’ve never been! I would bring my boyfriend with me. He’s also a musician and our schedules have a handy knack of overlapping a lot of the time, so finding a few days when we’re both free can be tricky.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

I live very close to the sea in south Dublin, so a walk on the beach or along the waterfront is where I like to go to unwind a bit when I have the time.

Do you like to catch up with family and friends at the weekend?

As a musician, my weekends are usually spent working, at least in part, but a lot of my friends don’t work at the weekends, so I try to make the effort to meet up or Skype them. I’m always in touch with my family — they keep me sane and grounded!

Do you have any hobbies?

I try to engage with other branches of the arts in my free time, by attending exhibitions in the National Gallery, or at the Crawford Art Gallery, or going to plays in The Abbey or The Everyman.

Do you like to entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

I don’t really have a preference, as long as I’m among friends! I enjoy cooking when I have the time, and I suppose if I had to pick a signature dish it would probably be chana masala — I’ve probably served it to every one of my friends by now!

We have so many places to eat out in Cork, where are your go-to spots for lunch or a special meal?

My favourite place to eat in Cork at the moment is Miyazaki — that beautiful little Japanese restaurant at the bottom of Barrack Street.

The food is incredibly fresh and wholesome, and it’s very reasonable. I go almost every time I’m down in Cork.

I like The Sandwich Stall in the English Market for lunch, too, and Market Lane for coffee and a mini chocolate cup.

I recently did a food trail of Dublin where the guide reluctantly acknowledged that Cork is the food capital of Ireland. ‘Course we all know it’s the real capital too…!

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

There is no ‘normally’ really, I suppose! It depends what kind of a week I have, whether I have to do a lot of travelling, or whether I have a lot of notes to learn.

Last Sunday night I was travelling back from a matinée performance of Margherita at the Wexford Festival Opera, and next Sunday night I will be doing a recording.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

It could be 5am, it could be 11am!


Aoife Burke is performing at the Triskel Arts Centre on Saturday, December 2, at 1.10pm, in the third concert of the Spotlight Chamber Music Series with Mia Cooper, Brendan Garde, Cian Ó Dúill, David Kenny and Alex Edmundson in works by Bach, Mozart, Stanford and Ligeti.

The final concert in the series is on Saturday, January 20, 2018, featuring Ioana Petcu-Colan, Siún Milne, David Kenny, Cian Ó Dúill and Aoife Burke in works by Mozart and Schnittke.

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