West Cork Chamber Music Festival String Quartet Workshop


I’m just home from the convolutedly titled West Cork Chamber Music Festival String Quartet Workshop, a workshop of string quartets in progress with 5 other composers. Our venue for the day was the jaw droppingly beautiful Cork School of Music, full of cavernous hallways and generously proportioned rooms and most importantly very reasonably tasting coffee. We were also luck enough to have the company of the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet to play through our pieces, with the composer Deirdre Gribbin leading the workshop.

The workshop opened with Vanbrugh playing through examples from Beethoven, Britten and Janáček with Deirdre point out important features of the music and talking us through how these ideas could be applied when writing for the quartet. Pulling out phrases from different pieces and having them played using different string techniques, such as sul pont, as harmonics or pizzicato, showed the variety of sounds that can be achieved and how these sounds can be combined to create interesting textures.

There were six composer there, including myself , and the quartet played through each of our pieces with both Deirdre and the players asking questions and offering comments. I brought along a piece I had rewritten for string quartet and it was useful to hear it in played as it highlighted some of the aspects of the composition which I hadn’t considered. Having the players dissect the notation, ask for clarification about details and to describe the musical intent was an eye opener. It forced me to re-examine the compositional choices I had made and think about how to present my ideas to make my intentions clear to the players.

It was a pretty intense–with a workshop, then a rewrite and another workshop, along with a pretty tiring drive to and from Cork–but an excellent day overall. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will be spending some time revising my string quartet based on the hearing it played. Thanks to Deirdre Gribbin, my fellow workshopees and the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet for their help throughout the day and the West Cork Chamber Music Festival and the Contemporary Music Centre for organising the workshop.