Greg Caffrey on his new work for string quartet

Greg Caffrey’s new work for string quartet borne back ceaselessly into the past will be premiered by Galway's ConTempo Quartet on 23 November at Galway Music Residency’s Music and Musings concert at the Mick Lally Theatre, Galway.

The Music and Musings series, in association with CMC, features performances interspersed with conversations with composers and performers, and is chaired by CMC’s Linda O’Shea Farren.

This is Greg Caffrey’s fourth string quartet and the piece is commissioned by the Galway Music Residency and Galway City Council Arts Office for performance by Galway's ConTempo Quartet. CMC asked the composer a few questions about the commission:

The note on your piece refers to the first string quartet - Towards a better place - which was written after the Good Friday agreement. To what extent have the current political events (for example Brexit) informed the writing of the piece?

I should point out that although the titles of my first and fourth quartets elude to the political climate that pertained at the time of writing each, I wouldn’t consider either of the works as representing any kind of political discourse as such. First and foremost they’re pieces of music. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that the pieces were informed to some extent by what’s happening politically, though not just the political inaction and stalemate in the North of Ireland, but perhaps also the threat of a looming Brexit cliff edge, or indeed a seeming global deterioration in leadership and statesmanship. But none of this has anything to do with music!

This idea of composers mining the musical past to create something new that you talk about in relation to this piece - does this inform all of your work?

Composers often fall into two categories, those who insist on reinventing the wheel and those who fit a new set of prototype tyres to a new wheel design. I think the past is important as long as you can let go when it’s important - as in politics!

What is it about the string quartet that you’re drawn to?

I’m bound to give a standard answer here - the combination of homogenous sounding instruments of different registers. It’s also such historically important means of making music, offering such an intimate range of expression and innovation from Haydn to Stockhausen. Perhaps it’s the very human element of the string instrument and its approach in performance that is attractive. Tiny shifts of finger movement create massive degrees of change in sound.