West Cork Chamber Music and CMC string quartet-writing workshop

Deirdre Gribbin and the Vanbrugh Quartet

Deirdre Gribbin and the Vanbrugh Quartet. Photo Shane Scollard, Cork County Council Arts Office

Young composer Sinead Finegan reports on the recent workshop which she attended with the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet and composer Deirdre Gribbin. The workshop was held on 8 February 2013 at the Cork School of Music as part of the 2013 West Cork Chamber Music Festival Young Composers Bursary Scheme, and was also attended by young composers David Collier, Galen Mac Caba, Seán Doherty, Hollas Longton, and Darragh Kearns-Hayes.

Composer Deirdre Gribbin, along with the musicians of the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet, held a workshop in conjunction with the Contemporary Music Centre to help develop works for string quartet being written for this year’s West Cork Chamber Music competition.

As this year’s competition celebrates the 240th anniversary of the famed collector of Irish music, Edward Bunting, each work bore some relation to his music, either taking his themes as the basis for the piece, or using them as an inspirational touchstone. My own work was a combination of two of Bunting’s melodies, alongside one of my own composition, which had been done in a style reminiscent of Bunting’s airs.

The morning started out with a very constructive session during which Deirdre Gribbin requested the quartet to play extracts from various works from Beethoven to Janacek, which she had selected especially for their relevance to our goal of excellent quartet-writing. As well as touching on the importance of line and register, this session of excerpts was an excellent way of distilling all the different tone colours a quartet can produce into a small space of time. Many of the techniques demonstrated here, from sul pont to col legno, had been put to use in our own pieces by the end of the day.

Members of the Vanbrugh Quartet. Photo Shane Scollard, Cork County Council Arts Office

Members of the Vanbrugh Quartet. Photo Shane Scollard, Cork County Council Arts Office

Unfortunately, I had the difficult task of following on from this snap-shot of excellent string-writing through the ages, with my own work-in-progress! Myself and each of the other composers had the invaluable opportunity of hearing our works performed in front of an audience. This in itself led people to re-evaluate certain aspects of their scores, and re-shape their music. When coupled with the advice of Deirdre Gribbin and the excellent musicians of the quartet, this led to a thorough evaluation of each piece that cleared up any difficulties with scoring and helped people to enhance the strong points of their pieces and re-work anything that wasn’t satisfactory after the first hearing.

Then came a frantic lunch hour, when all the composers worked away on their pieces, trying to incorporate as much feedback as possible before scores were handed back to the musicians and re-performed that afternoon. This was the crucial element that made the day so valuable: hearing feedback put into practice is infinitely more effective than simply noting it for another day’s work. In my own case, the most beneficial advice I received turned out to be the simplest: don’t be afraid to give the ideas in your music space to speak for themselves; nor be afraid to use silence as well as sound to make your point.

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