WHEN the acclaimed UK-based Carducci String Quartet embarks on an Irish tour this month, their Cork date, at the Cork School of Music, will be a sort of homecoming for half their number. Violinist Michelle Fleming and viola player Eoin Schmidt-Martin cut their teeth with the Cork Youth Orchestra and Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra. Childhood sweethearts, Schmidt-Martin, from The Lough, and Fleming, from Bishopstown, are married, as are the quartet’s founders, violinist Matthew Denton and cellist Emma Denton, who also met in youth orchestras, but in Gloucestershire.
“They met in the National Children’s Orchestra when they were about 12,”says Schmidt-Martin. “They stared playing in groups together as kids, in the same way that myself and Michelle, when we were teenagers, started playing in chamber music groups in the Cork School of Music. And so, then, they were always playing together, because they lived nearby to each other. And then, over the years, they obviously became more accomplished and around the time that they were in music collage in London, they decided they want to be a proper string quartet.”
The Carducci Quartet has been in existence for 22 years. Fleming was invited to join 16-years-ago, when the original second-violinist left. When the viola player departed, in 2005, Schmidt-Martin was invited to join, the year he graduated from the Royal Academy of Music.
Even though Carducci is a high-end chamber music quartet, it appeals to young audiences. The Carducci Music Trust was set up to support their work in schools and with young musicians.
“One of the things that we do, in terms of inspiring the next generation and getting them into music, is that we do a lot of trips into schools, where we give workshops and we perform to kids, just to give them that kind of live music experience,” Schmidt-Martin says.
“We have our own trust, that we have people donate to, and we use that money to go into often primary schools and just give them an experience of live music. I think what we always find very interesting about their response is that they’re not kind of prejudiced against different types of music, in the way that a lot of more informed audiences are,” he says, noting a split in audiences, in terms of a preference for either the classical composers or the more contemporary, modernist composers. Children, Schmidt-Martin notes, are equally accepting of both new and old classical music.
“People develop these kind of preconceptions about what the music is going to be like, whereas kids, they’re just totally open and you play something and it could have been written 200 years ago or it could have been written two weeks ago and they are equally enthusiastic and just love hearing music. They don’t put any labels on anything and they just enjoy it. So, through those trips, we’re trying to get kids enthusiastic, so that then, when they get into their teenage years, I think what often happens is then, suddenly, classical music becomes a little uncool,” he says with a goofy laugh, “when you’re in your teens. And so, the idea is that maybe, having given them that good first experience, they’ll, maybe, be inspired to play an instrument, or, even if they’re not, that they’ll still think, ‘I remember that classical quartet that came in. That was really fun and I really enjoyed the music.’ Just, basically, opening their eyes to the possibilities that classical music is not stuffy and formal and it’s music for everyone,” he says.
One person who took to classical music at an extraordinarily young age is Julian Bliss: he began playing the clarinet at the age of four. Now one of the world’s finest clarinettists, Bliss traverses the worlds of jazz and classical, and he even designed his own instrument. Bliss was 18 when the Carducci Quartet was asked if they would play with him at a concert. “We just got on really well with him,” says Schmidt-Martin. “Despite his incredible talent and facility on the clarinet, he’s an extremely down-to-earth, friendly guy. So, over the last ten years or so, we’ve collaborated frequently with him, because we love playing with him. He’s a precocious young talent. Having been a child prodigy and having gained, in a very short space of time, the experience that seasoned professionals would only dream of, he’s travelled all around the world, performing with great orchestras and the whole lot, but none of it went to his head. He’s very much about keeping his feet on the ground.”
Bliss is accompanying Carducci on their Irish visit and the clarinet quintet will be playing work by Haydn and Brahms, alongside contemporary composer David Bruce’s Gumboots. “I can’t recommend it highly enough, as a piece of music,” says Schmidt-Martin. “It’s really fantastic.”
Cork Orchestral Society presents Carducci Quartet and Julian Bliss, Curtis Auditorium, CIT Cork School of Music, Thursday, March 21, 7:30pm