Winds Of Change to resonate through the School Of Music

A five-piece woodwind ensemble might not be the first thing that comes to mind when the ordinary listener thinks of classical music, but a Cork-based crew of internationally-experienced players continues to showcase new and old work for the instruments. Downtown catches up with Ciara Glasheen-Artem ahead of their live stream for Cork Orchestral Society.
Winds Of Change to resonate through the School Of Music

Winds Of Change: A quintet from the Cork School of Music.

Music is a small world in many ways - living in any city’s music scene will, in short order, reveal any number of personalities who are working away in multiple capacities, whether they’re getting started and garnering experience, and working away with the grá for their craft in mind. It’s (relatively!) easy to come across people with similar influences, outlooks and ambitions, and that’s half the fun of it, really - trying new things and collaborating with like-minded people.

Ciara Glasheen-Artem: Similar dynamics fused.
Ciara Glasheen-Artem: Similar dynamics fused.

While the in-person perspective has sadly been missing on this for a while, it’s heartening to hear oboe player Ciara Glasheen-Artem talk about how similar dynamics led to the creation of chamber group Winds of Change, a quintet of woodwind players with experience in ensembles the world over, focusing on classical and contemporary pieces written for their configuration.

It starts out with friendship. And that’s a very strong starting place for a lot of groups. I don’t think it matters what type of music you’re performing

“Like many of the best smaller groups and bands that play together, either as classical musicians or bandmates, in a pop band or rock band, I think a lot of the time, it starts out with friendship. And that’s a very strong starting place for a lot of groups. I don’t think it matters what type of music you’re performing. I think that’s an undercurrent in a lot of really successful groups.

“It would have started out with three of us - Kieran Moynihan (flute), myself and Sinéad Frost (bassoon). We played in, and still play in, the Cork Opera House Concert Orchestra together. We decided that, you know, it would be nice for us to play some chamber music together, some smaller ensemble music, rather than just orchestral music. Conor Shiels, our clarinet player, he also started playing in the Concert Orchestra, and he came into the mix, then, at that point, as well.

“In 2018, we invited JJ Grace, who was a horn player, for our first concert. I played with JJ in the Colorado Symphony, and also at the University of Colorado. And he was delighted to make the trip to Ireland, as a performing and working holiday, so to speak. So he came and we rehearsed, and gave a couple of lessons.”

Chamber music - classical pieces written for smaller ensembles - might not be a familiar part of the sound of classical music to many, but it’s everywhere in the genre’s popular perception. Think of the string quartets that have broken into the charts, or covered favourite songs of yours over the years, for example.

This weekend, the quintet, sans Grace and with the help of a few friends (more on which later) have a special streaming gig, recorded at the newly-rechristened MTU Cork School of Music, happening as part of Cork Orchestral Society’s current online season and available for free streaming from Saturday evening. They’ll be playing the works of composer Francis Poulenc and Ludwig Thuille.

“The wind quintet is a well established genre, so to speak. And so I suppose, in some ways, you could say that we’re limited to playing music that has been written for our genre. And this time, we wanted to shift away from that slightly, have something a little bit more substantial and create a bigger, more interesting sound, with what we’re doing. So that’s why we’ve brought piano into the equation.

Sinéad Frost onthe bassoon.
Sinéad Frost onthe bassoon.

“Specifically, when we’re deciding on repertoire, I suppose there are particular works that are very popular in each genre, and works that would be quite well known, and the Poulenc Sextet is one of them. It’s a very important piece in the canon, so to speak, for wind quintet and piano, and as an ensemble, we hadn’t played it before. So it was one that we wanted to tackle as a group, together. And the other piece, the Thuille, is a very Brahmsian-type work that we thought would be a nice fit to provide just a little bit more

contrast in the performance as well.”

With the Covid-19 crisis happening from March of last year, a good amount of the ensemble’s lifespan has been spent within the restraints placed on live music by public health guidelines.

Ciara discusses how it’s been to negotiate the circumstances, as a group and individually, and how they’ve affected performers in the classical family of genres, sometimes overlooked in the overall conversation on live events amid the pandemic.

“I can only speak for myself, really, in this case, because I also lecture in the Cork School of Music. So all of my performance work last March, and I would have a fairly busy performing schedule, just evaporated into thin air. But I’m very lucky, I have a role as a lecturer in classical music.

“Hundreds of musicians, artists and performers lost 100% of their income, and it was absolutely devastating for a huge amount of the people working here, not only because of loss of income, but also what we do - working in the arts is so tied into who you are as a person.

Hannah Miller with her French horn.
Hannah Miller with her French horn.

“And when that’s taken away, it’s quite soul-destroying, to have your world collapsed. You no longer have an outlet, a creative outlet, to share your work and to share your artistry.”

The ensemble returned to the School of Music to record the performance, the site of their debut for the Orchestral Society’s 2018 concert series.

As any of the artists this parish has spoken with over the past fourteen months can attest to, it’s a different ball game to play to a camera than it is to feed off an audience, gauge their reaction and have a feeling for being in the moment.

“Obviously with Covid-19, JJ (Grace) was never going to be able to travel for this particular performance, so we were absolutely delighted to have Hannah Miller with us. I hadn’t worked with her before, but Conor, Sinéad and Kieran had. She’s an absolutely top-notch horn player, and we’re very lucky to have her. Ellen Johnson, and I hope most people are aware of her, is an absolutely incredible piano player and musician, and a recent graduate from the School of Music as well.

“For this performance, obviously, we couldn’t have an audience - we had to film this so that audiences will be able to watch at home, which is fantastic. But you’re trying to communicate with your audiences across distance and time, which is a much more challenging task than working with a live audience. You get feedback from an audience.

“And that feedback can be as small as just seeing them smiling or applause or anything - you can read what’s going on in an audience very quickly as a performer.

A lot of my colleagues have produced fantastic work online, but I know, we’re all looking forward to getting back to working with live audiences again

“Whereas when you don’t have that, you’re trying to predict how your audience is reacting to what you’re doing. Are they enjoying this? What can I do differently? So it’s a much more challenging thing. But I know a lot of my colleagues have worked extremely hard, and have produced fantastic work online. But I know, we’re all looking forward to getting back to working with live audiences again.”

Graduate and piano maestro Ellen Johnson.
Graduate and piano maestro Ellen Johnson.

On that note, the live sector has been making tentative steps to return to functionality, if not normal - and that’s a process that will take time too. While venues and agencies have put tours on sale for later in the year, festivals like Dublin’s Longitude hip-hop weekender have fallen foul of the logistical issues behind honouring announcements for summer this year.

When asked about the next step for the Irish arts in her opinion, Ciara strikes a hopeful tone.

“What I will say is that, for people working in the arts, and this is not just people working classical music, this is people working in every area of the arts - because of the world that we work in, and the creative nature of it, there’s no better group of people to recover from something like this.

“We have the skillset, we have the creative knowledge and imagination to make this work and to make sure that this comes back bigger and better than ever, actually.

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES: Flautist Kieran Moynihan.
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES: Flautist Kieran Moynihan.

“We’re often a round peg that people try to force into a square hole, and I think it’s important for government and any organisations providing funding and support to performing artists, that they listen to the artists to make sure that the artists are getting what they need, to ensure that the the industry recovers. But I think that we can grow and, and develop and learn from this experience as well.

Winds of Change’s next concert will be available to watch for free from 6.30pm on Saturday, May 15, on www.corkorchestralsociety.ie, and will stay online to watch on-demand.

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