Me & My Money: ‘I’m still a little sceptical about the ‘Celtic Phoenix’

Peter Whelan, founder & artistic director of Ensemble Marsyas

Peter Whelan: will perform on Friday September 8th in  St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, Co Louth, as part of the Drogheda International Classical Music Series.

Peter Whelan: will perform on Friday September 8th in St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, Co Louth, as part of the Drogheda International Classical Music Series.


Are you a saver or a spender?

I’m a saver at heart, but I have learned to accept that any savings will be decimated every few years with the purchase of a new musical instrument. 

 Do you shop around for better value?

Mostly not. I do my research and know that quality costs more. Years of buying cheaper suitcases that fall apart on the airport carousel have taught me that. 

What has been your most extravagant purchase and how much did it cost?

I bought a bassoon from a German company called Heckel, which is the Mercedes Benz of the bassoon. There was a seven-year waiting list and it set me back more than a year’s salary. This is still much cheaper than good string instruments.  

What purchase have you made that you consider the best value for money?

The aforementioned bassoon, because it has appreciated in value and because it becomes better the more I play it, which is not the case with inferior models of bassoon. As a musician, you need the very best material to feel at the top of your game when playing in the great concert halls across the world.  

How do you prefer to shop – online or local?

I buy most of my music and books online, but I really regret the closure of most of the classical music retailers. I still find it gratifying to buy a hard copy of a CD recording. I miss the experience of holding the artwork and reading the sleeve booklet.  

Do you haggle over prices?

Mostly not, as it feels embarrassing, but there are times when buying second-hand or antique instruments when it is expected or necessary.   

Has the recession changed your spending habits?

Not particularly. Unlike many in my age group I was lucky not to have been stung by the collapse of the property bubble, but I am still a little sceptical about the ‘Celtic Phoenix’. 

Do you invest in shares?

No, I don’t.  

Cash or card?

Card always. It makes it easier to keep tabs on travel expenses when I’m touring. I find that I generally carry less cash in my pockets these days.  

What was the last thing you bought and was it good value for money?

I bought a painting from an up-and-coming artist called Colm Mac Athlaoich. Colm designed the covers for my last few CDs, and I visited an exhibition of his recently in Dublin where I fell in love with one of his paintings. I had to have it. Does this make it good value for money? I think so, and it’s important to support artists you believe in.  

Have you ever successfully saved up for a relatively big purchase?

Not really, but I have successfully paid the bank back for big purchases.  

Have you ever lost money?

If I have, I’ve blocked it out of my memory.  

Are you a gambler and if so have you ever had a big win?

Not very, but I almost always win money on scratch cards! 

Is money important to you?

Not particularly, as long as I am comfortable and can make music I am happy. If I wanted to be rich I would not have become a musician. 

How much money do you have on you now?


in conversation with Tony Clayton-Lea