Preview: String Quartet Festival, Greenwich


By Kay Lockett

In a marriage of music and science, fragments of DNA will be conveyed in sound underneath the bows of the Cutty Sark.

The Smith Quartet will be performing a concert, with music based on genetic science, in a new performance space as part of 2013 Royal Greenwich International String Quartet Festival, hosted by Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Composer Deirdre Gribbin has been working with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, to use music to help non-scientists understand the principles behind the DNA code.

She has produced a piece of music - Hearing Your Genes Evolve - that she describes as an emotional and personal response to re-interpreting the fragments of DNA from four people on the Genomes Project.

Gribbin said: "We want to know about what makes up our genetic profiles, but the science theory behind it is often difficult to understand. A central aim of my work is to make the science more meaningful to a wider audience.
"Debate about genetics has particular relevance for me. In 2006 my son was born with Down Syndrome. My research has given me a clearer understanding of the science behind his genetic profile.

"I was inspired by the four-letter alphabet of the genetic code, and the triplet patterns of letters that encode the 20 amino acids.

"A musical system represents the four bases associated with DNA. I interpreted mutations and changes in the pattern as new blocks of sound."

This year's festival brings a range of string quartet music through concerts, competitions, talks and masterclasses.
Concerts cover the evolution of the string quartet from Haydn, through the genius of Mozart, with a special emphasis on the works of Beethoven.

The Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival takes place from April 11-13 at the Old Royal Naval College, with concerts at Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich and St Alfege Church.

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Picture by James Keates, courtesy of Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich