Born and raised in Co. Offaly, violinist Mollie Wrafter is currently based in Manchester. She recently completed her performance degree at the Royal Northern College of Music there, studying with renowned violinist Leland Chen. Before leaving Ireland, she learned violin in Tullamore and Limerick, played in the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, and won prizes at Feis Ceoil, Midlands Feis and Féile Luimnigh.
In 2020, Mollie held the prestigious Irish Heritage Music Bursary (awarded to the most promising Irish music student at a UK institution) and was a finalist at the Birr Festival of Music, with her performances revealing a vivid sensibility and style, as well as a calm, steady self-belief.
It’s been a crazy year, one that calls for resilience, and more, especially for a committed chamber musician – “It’s been difficult for the last few months—it’s so much harder to find a place to rehearse, for a piano trio, given the fact that we need a grand piano and those aren’t ten-a-penny in student apartments in Manchester! We’re working with what we’ve got, and some venues have helped which has been really good.”
Staying in the English city for now, Mollie plays with a piano trio and a string quartet, as well as a local ensemble, the Manchester Collective, and continues to study with her teacher at the Royal Northern – “It’s such an important relationship, Leland has been instrumental in making me the musician that I’ve become, he is one of those rare musicians that you don’t come across very often…”
Any special musical highlight so far? “I won the Irish Heritage Bursary for Music (November 2019) and they hold their auditions in Wigmore Hall [in London]; playing there was just massive. Anyone I’ve ever admired has played there, and it’s such an amazing acoustic.”
“I think that’s something I’ll always look back on and pinch myself. When I finished playing the sound just stayed in the room for six or seven seconds, something way longer than I’d ever experienced before, and it was just magical.”
As well as solo work, Mollie enjoys the opportunities that come with playing in chamber groups. In 2017, during her second year in Manchester, she began a piano trio, Trio Deanach, with two friends: “We’ve grown as a group together, I owe a lot of my chamber music skills and experience to them, and it just feels like second nature playing with them now.”
"The calibre of music was so high that that was more interesting than the fact that it had been composed by women, and I think that’s an important distinction to make."
More recently, she’s joined a string quartet, the Treske Ensemble – “They had been playing together for five years and needed a second violinist, so I played with them and it just seemed to click, we got on really well, so I’ve played with them since the summer.
“It’s kind of funny having two completely opposite experiences, like you start an ensemble together and everything about the ensemble is like one-third of our own, and then this quartet is quite the opposite, it’s something I’m quite new to, but it’s good! There are good things about both of them.”
The Treske Ensemble is involved in an ongoing collaboration with English composer Edward Cowie, with a combined concert and recording project set for early 2021.
“We’re playing his ninth string quartet , which we’re going to record in April, and it’s a really interesting piece too—the plan is that we’re going to record his ninth quartet and the Dante Quartet are going to record his eighth, and then we’ll play the two quartets together at the same time and they will work as an octet, it’s a cool idea! So the CD will be the two individual pieces and the result of what happens when you play them together…”
Live concerts may be a memory now, but they are still there as something to work towards, even as performers become more attuned to other ways of reaching the public…
“The recording thing has been a learning curve for everyone. I know at the start of lockdown people were just getting to grips with this technology, that they didn’t particularly know how to use it, and you can definitely see that that has massively improved. But it’s important that we don’t let recorded concerts replace live ones when it will be possible to, it’s just not the same.”
As well as playing, Mollie has also curated chamber concerts, most recently ‘Music in Ireland’ in March, which featured music by Irish women composers including Ina Boyle, Joan Trimble, Áine Mallon and Linda Buckley, given at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester.
“I organised that with my friend Susie [Griffin]… she is from Northern Ireland and I’m from the Republic of Ireland, and we just felt like doing that kind of concert that was going to forge connections between composers but also be like an ‘island of Ireland’-kind of thing, it was interesting for us to talk about and think about in relation to music.
“The concert happened the day before lockdown started, and that made it all the more special I think, we were all feeling that we knew that this was the last time that we were going to be in that situation for, well, what’s turned out to be the rest of the year.
“I think something that became apparent as we were designing the programme, even just telling people about the concert and things, was that the calibre of music was so high that that was more interesting than the fact that it had been composed by women, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. There is such an emphasis on them all being female composers, when their work stands up regardless.
“In the times we find ourselves in right now, I think that discussion can happen broadly in a sense of diversity as a whole, and it’s a pretty pivotal moment for classical music, where something very interesting is going to happen—is going to have to happen. I’m looking forward to being part of it and seeing that develop.”
Playing new works, and the possibilities of playing and making new sounds is something that really grabs Mollie’s imagination. We talk about one of her solo pieces, ‘Pirin’, by Dobrinka Tabakova.
“I performed that piece for the first time when I was in Romania, and then a year later I played it at a course, in Dublin, at the concert hall. One of the tutors there was Maxim Rysanov, and the piece was actually written for him and he performed it at the course too, so that’s the closest I’ve come to being in touch with the composer, I think that’s pretty good though, as it goes.”
Named partly after the mountains of southern Bulgaria, ‘Pirin’ evokes ideas of landscape and sound, and we begin talking about how music and place feature in contemporary Irish music.
“Two composers are coming to mind when you say that. The first is Linda Buckley. I worked with her during the ‘Women of Ireland’ project and we played her piece, ‘Fiol’, and you can’t help but see some sort of nature in your mind when you hear her music. A lot of her music is very inspired by more of a glacial landscape—I think she’s amazing.
“And then the other is Sam Perkin, his music is so evocative of the environment that we live in, not so much in a physical sense but his music is so easy to relate to, and that is the real gold of contemporary music. Personally, I feel that the sounds composed in our time, living through the issues that we’re all facing at the moment, pack much more of a punch.”
Looking to her own future, postgraduate study in Belgium or the Netherlands beckons, and after that she’s optimistic about being back in Ireland: ‘I am a home-bird, and there’s potential to have a really interesting career in Ireland—so I am excited to get involved with the contemporary music and chamber music scenes at home… that’s the plan anyway, who knows!’
For more details, and upcoming performances, visit Mollie’s website: molliewrafter.com