December 4, 2022 – The Sitkovetsky Trio
Sam Perkin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in composition from the Cork Institute of Technology’s Cork School of Music and an Artist Diploma from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon, France, where he was awarded the Prix Salabert for composition. He has since written for leading orchestras, ensembles, and soloists such as the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Vanbrugh Quartet, the Fidelio Trio, and Finghin Collins. In 2017 he composed Language for contemporary violin specialist Miranda Cuckson, exploring the inner workings of different human languages, and in Waves (2016–18) he “attempted self-cure for tinnitus” as one of his projects for the Irish Chamber Orchestra. His many fruitful collaborations with that ensemble began in 2015 with his luminescent Nimbus for string orchestra.
Based dually in France and Ireland, Perkin serves as composer-in-residence with the Crash Ensemble, Ireland’s leading new-music ensemble. His first major work for that group, Grey Area (2017–19), forges a novel combination of the world of street skateboarding with contemporary music. In Alta, another inventive work of 2019, Perkin collaborated with Finnish northern lights specialist Unto K. Laine to incorporate recorded sounds of the aurora borealis. Emerging from the pandemic in 2021, the Luminosa Orchestra premiered his Visualization, in which musicians “bathe” everyone in the vicinity in “invisible music,” inspired by the sonic meditations of Pauline Oliveros. Most recently, in July 2022, his hybrid new symphony Children in the Universe for ensemble and halo track was premiered by the Crash Ensemble at the Galway International Arts Festival.
Perkin composed Freakshow in 2016 for the Fidelio Trio on a commission from the leading Welsh music festival Gwyl Gregynog to mark the centenary of the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916, when close to 2,000 activists were arrested and imprisoned in the Welsh camp Fron-Goch for six months. Perkin explained: “Freakshow is inspired by the research of Welsh
journalist and broadcaster Lyn Ebenezer, whose book Fron-Goch Camp 1916 explains how the camp became known as the ‘University of Revolution’ because leading figures such as Michael Collins were imprisoned there.
“One anecdote in particular fired my imagination: the story of the Circus of Rats which acts as a portal to the absurd world of this macabre Suite. One of the prisoners at Fron-Goch used to go to great lengths to catch these rats and to put on a show for his fellow inmates. From an oblique compositional perspective and through a macabre lens, I decided to write a set of miniatures dedicated to the stars of the ‘Freakshow.’
“Building on themes of captivity and spectacle, the seven movements in
the work explore seven different stories. One such story is that of the two-headed nightingale, conjoined twins who were sold to the circus when they were very young, then went on to learn five languages, dance, and play music. They eventually went on to tour the globe and achieve stardom due to their famous waltzes and vocal duets. I conveyed this musically by composing a warped waltz that shifts slightly out of and back into time.”
Other stories include The Living Skeleton as the third movement and The Gentle Giant, a tribute to the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow, as the fourth. The fifth movement deals with the Ovitz family, Hungarian Jewish actors/traveling musicians most of whom were dwarves and who were horrifically experimented on by Nazi “doctor” Josef Mengele. The sixth features Li Yeng, “The Basket Lady of Weijing Province,” a famed contortionist who dazzled audiences on world tours from 1880 to 1910 with the Circus of the Electric Antlers—an avant-garde troupe far ahead of their time in using psychedelic mushrooms and loudly amplified tape loops of electric guitar. The suite concludes with The Armless Fiddler, the story of Carl Unthan, who had no arms and instead played the violin with his toes.
Says Perkin, “What I really enjoyed in this piece was composing for instruments in a slightly different way than I usually would, being sarcastic, macabre, humorous, something a bit different to how I usually write. How do you make a violin sound sarcastic? Sul pont, pizz, arco? It’s not really that simple; it’s more based on the gestures, the musical gestures, there’s something deeper to it than just an effect. That’s something I really explored in this piece.”