Dublin-born (and Berlin-based) violinist David Tobin, a regular chamber music performer at the National Concert Hall, is bringing fellow artists Emma Wernig (viola), Stanislas Kim (cello) and Marie Rosa Günter (piano) to Drogheda this month as part of Drogheda Classical Music. Fans of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, they call themselves the Kahlo Piano Quartet. Making waves on the European chamber music scene since winning a gold medal at the 2021 Vienna International Music Competition, it’s great to see them perform in Ireland for the first time.
We caught up with David for a chat to see how he’s getting on and to hear about this new ensemble.
Like a lot of Irish artists working in classical music, David is now based in Germany.
Goldenplec: How long have you been living there?
David Tobin: Actually, I've been in Germany since I left school. So for nine and a half years now. I was in Cologne for seven years – I did my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Cologne – and now I'm two and a half years in Berlin.
Give us a flavour of the work you are doing there now.
Since I moved to Berlin into this flat, I think I haven't been here more than two weeks in a row, because I play a lot of orchestra guest artist positions, leading first or second violins with Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Heidelburg Symphony Orchestra and Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra. I also play a lot in Berlin with the Karajan Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic, it’s kind of like the Berlin Phil Youth Orchestra, taking people up to 30 years old. I also play a lot with Budapest Festival Orchestra, and we're doing a China tour next month.
You’ve also been giving concerts in Dublin for many years now. How did that come about?
I used to do yearly concerts in the John Field Room since I was, I think, 16 years old. My family are also musicians and we're based in Dublin, and we had concerts there every year. After maybe ten years of that Simon Taylor, the former CEO of the Concert Hall says, would you like to do a series? And I said yes, because I think the mixed programmes I developed were popular with audiences, and they came back every year. There was always a kind of mix, and I developed that idea and brought some of the best young musicians from around Europe to play. This year we have a four-concert series in the National Concert Hall, ‘Echoes of Europe’, and we sold every ticket within four weeks. The Kahlo Piano Quartet is coming for the last concert, on 9 November, the night before our concert in Drogheda, at St Peter’s Church of Ireland.
That sounds amazing. Can you say about the Piano Quartet? How long have you been working together?
It started in 2020; three of us actually had done a project before as a string trio, and it went so well, the musicians are excellent. The violist, Benjamin Beck, is principal violist of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra [Benjamin Beck will be replaced by Emma Wernig for this concert], Stanislas Kim is principal cellist of the ORCAM Orchestra in Madrid, and the pianist Marie Rosa Günter has made solo recordings of the Bach Goldberg Variations, just released, and the Beethoven Hammerklavier sonata, and she's a junior professor in the Hanover Hochschule, one of the best music conservatories in Germany.
2020 must have been a tricky time to get started – were you able to perform through lockdown?
I was lucky that I was based in Germany – we were able to do chamber music concerts from August 2020. Orchestral concerts were worst affected because of the amount of people on stage, but we played for a live stream, a couple of times we had distanced crowds, sometimes to a 70-person capacity. We were even invited on one of these cruise ships while Germany was in a total lockdown at the beginning of 21. There was 50% capacity, regular testing, and we just played concerts on a cruise for two weeks, playing Brahms in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean...
You must have got to know each other well?
I just love playing with all of them. From the first second it was music making at such a high level. There's no ‘is that in tune? is that together?’ Everyone is a wonderful musician, flexible, loves the music. There's no sense of just doing our job when we're playing.
Tell us about the music you’ll be playing here?
For sure, the Chausson Piano Quartet and Brahms Third Quartet are two of my favourite chamber music pieces, just absolute masterpieces. In between those we’re playing a piece by Lili Boulanger, D’un matin de Printemps [Spring Morning] for piano trio and that's a really wonderful piece as well.
I remember as a teenager I had a burning ambition to know every piece of music, and there was a period where every morning I would listen to a new chamber music work, and actually this Chausson quartet is one that stayed in my mind all these years. I only played it for the first time last year, and it's something I always wanted to do, especially the slow movement, just incredible music, beautiful French romanticism.
Have you performed in Drogheda before?
I think I have, but I would have been probably 11 or 12 at the time. I've been following the Drogheda Classical music series for many years now: I saw they had Johannes Moser playing a few years ago, when I was a student in Cologne and he was one of the cello professors, and then the next concert they would have Irish musicians, some of the best. In our concert it's kind of different in that we’re a mix of Irish and European players – I'm performing, I'm Irish, but the others are not! I'm very grateful to Pauline Ashwood for inviting us to Drogheda, and also to Gavin Ring for being so supportive since he's come into the position, he’s doing a wonderful job.
Kahlo Piano Quartet performs in the Kevin Barry Room, National Concert Hall, Dublin on 9 November (sold out), and at St Peter’s Church of Ireland, Drogheda on Friday 10 November – further details at droghedaclassicalmusic.com