Making waves in music world

Ahead of a musical world premiere in Cork this week, COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to two talented young men, Cork composer Sam Perkins and percussionist Alex Petcu about learning musical instruments from a young age, battling tinnitus and building their friendship through music
Making waves in music world
Alex Petcu. Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

WITH a friendship forged through music, it is only fitting that prominent Cork composer, Sam Perkin, has dedicated his latest composition to another leading Cork musician, percussionist Alex Petcu.

The new work, 365 Variations On A Gesture, was commissioned by the Irish Chamber Orchestra and has been funded by the Arts Council. This piece, for percussion and string orchestra, will be performed at the CIT Cork School of Music on Thursday, September 28, as well as at the National Concert Hall tomorrow, September 27, and at University Concert Hall, Limerick, on Friday, September 29.

Sam, 31, from Tivoli, a graduate of the Cork School of Music, has just finished studying at the Conservatoire in Lyon in France where he completed a post master’s degree.

“It’s like a practical doctorate where you create a concert,” says Sam. “Mine was all about language.”

At just five years of age, Sam taught himself to play a small electronic keyboard which prompted his parents to send him to music classes. He says he has been very lucky in his career, having had about four good commissions in the last few years.

His recent work includes a new composition for American violinist, Miranda Cuckson, which was performed at this year’s West Cork Chamber Music Festival.

There are more reasons than one why Sam has composed 365 Variations On A Gesture. The ‘gesture’ in the piece refers to waves. Sam has an obsession with them. Listening to wave sounds also helps with his tinnitus, which is a perception of noise or ringing in the ears. It is a particularly difficult condition for a composer.

“Lots of people who have tinnitus listen to waves and static sounds to help cover the tinnitus at night, going to sleep. In a way, I wanted to compose a piece that I can listen to going to sleep to cover up this really bloody annoying tinnitus. You can’t get rid of it. You just have to find ways to deal with it.

“The whole piece is comprised of waves. I collected loads of different waves and wrote down all the different possibilities that I could do with them. Waves (including sound waves) are fairly fundamental to everything. Being near the sea completely covers up the tinnitus.

Sam Perkin
Sam Perkin

“I would never have predicted that I’d get tinnitus. I had it six years ago for few months and over the last year, it’s there almost all the time.”

Unlike Sam, Alex, 30, comes from a musical family. His much lauded Romanian father, Adrian Petcu, is now retired from teaching violin at the Cork School of Music. His mother, also Romanian, is Ruxandra Culan, who teaches violin part time, and his sister, Ioana, plays the violin with the Ulster Orchestra.

Adrian followed Ruxandra to Cork in the 1970s where she had a job in a string quartet which later became the RTÉ String Quartet in-residence.

Alex was born in Cork and, like Sam, attended the Project School and Ashton secondary school and later, the Cork School of Music. His recent appearances as a soloist with the RTÉ Orchestras and as the star recitalist at the National Concert Hall, are some of the highlights of his career. His debut album, Alex Petcu: In Time was released on the RTÉ Lyric FM label.

Alex, steeped in classical music growing up, also does some drumming. He finds classical music easier to learn than other forms of music but also likes playing rock music, jazz and Cuban rhythms.

Sam has written for Alex in the past.

“The two of us were thinking of ideas and I suggested a piece for percussion and string quartet. It’s hard to describe 365 Variations On A Gesture. It’s all sorts of different waves. You can imagine sound waves, light waves and waves for the sea. The piece is quite abstract. I did physics at UCC and waves are a big part of physics as well as being important in music.”

Originally, Alex only intended playing music as a hobby.

“As it happened, at college, any money I made was through gigs here and there. I was kind of semi-professional. I ended up swapping the physics for the music. I wanted to give it a go to see what it was like. I decided that if I wasn’t working in music by the time I was thirty, I’d pack it in and get a real job. I have struggled about what I should be doing at a certain age. But now I know there are no ‘shoulds.’ Music is going well at the moment. Physics is related to everything. Music can all be worked out mathematically.”

Because Alex is a year younger than Sam, “we didn’t talk much at school. I didn’t know he was writing music until we both went to the Cork School of Music.”

Now, these talented musicians are great friends whose individual musical talents complement each other.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra will perform in Cork on September 28 at the CIT Cork School of Music, at 8pm.

The ICO performs in Cork as Cork Orchestral Society, celebrating its 80th season opens its season with a programme that recognises Cork’s rising stars.

The night will feature the world premiere by Sam. It’s an exciting new work for percussion and string orchestra which he has dedicated to Alex Petcu, another Corkonian — who is the featured soloist on the night. Perkin’s exciting new work features alongside Elgar’s much loved Serenade for Strings and Brahms illuminating First Sextet.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by the celebrated Hungarian maestro, Gábor Tákacs Nagy, founder of the famed Tákacs Quartet.

Tickets cost €25 / €22 / €15 / €10 / €5, see for more

More in this section

Sponsored Content