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Dublin International Chamber Music Festival 2024: Leonkoro String Quartet give an extraordinary performance

The group’s precise articulation created mesmerising delicacy in their opening piece

Leonkoro String Quartet

Castle Hall, Dublin Castle

Dublin International Chamber Music Festival traces its roots back to 1970, when a “Festival in Great Irish Houses” was held at Castletown and Carton Houses, promising music and poetry in “magnificent surroundings”. Tickets ran from 10 to 40 shillings, the equivalent of €10 to €40 today; the 2024 prices are €5-€50.

The festival has had multiple transformations beyond its many changes of name since then. And the adoption of its current name, in 2021, was a belated acknowledgment that great houses were no longer the focus and that it had narrowed its base to Dublin, often using spaces that were not actually houses.

Jump back to 2014, when the name was KBC Great Music in Irish Houses. Concerts were already taking place at Smock Alley Theatre, the National Botanic Gardens and the Waterways Ireland Visitor Centre. Prices ran from free to an inflation-adjusted €60 or so. But the repertoire on offer was exclusively devoted to works by composers who were male, white and dead.

This year’s festival opened with a concert of works by women, living and dead (Ruth Crawford Seeger, Kaija Saariaho, Juri Seo and Ann Cleare), had a lunchtime concert devoted to chamber and choral music by the Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen, an interview/performance by the American-Irish clarinettist Berginald Rash, focused on dealing with the classical music world as a black performer (everything he played was by black composers) and a piano concert including music by black women played by Irish women.


Musically, the hottest ticket was the Berlin-based Leonkoro Quartet. No less a person that John Gilhooly, director of Wigmore Hall in London, was singing the praises of this young string quartet in Dublin last month, when he was announcing next season’s Wigmore Series Dublin at the Royal Irish Academy’s new Whyte Recital Hall.

Even the opening chord of the Leonkoro’s opening work at Castle Hall, at Dublin Castle, on Friday was extraordinary. They started the first sequence of chords from Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte with the lightest, most fastidiously precise articulation, creating a mesmerising, floating delicacy through a kaleidoscope of shimmering, scintillating colours. The sound may sometimes have been on the cusp of audibility, but you wanted to hang on every note, every gentle collision and clash.

Shaw’s inspiration was a Brentano Quartet performance of Haydn’s Quartet in G, Op 77 No 2, and her music’s playful recursiveness and surprises of shape-shifting all sounded utterly magical.

The Leonkoro were no less rewarding in the evening’s two standard works, Janáček’s fiery, impassioned and volatile First String Quartet, inspired by Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, and the always strange and haunting String Quartet in C minor, Op 51 No 1, by Brahms, the first string quartet he deemed worthy of publication after writing more than 20 he chose to discard.

The Leonkoro will be back in Dublin, at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, playing Haydn, Berg and Ravel, on Tuesday, February 4th, 2025. Put the date in your diary now.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor