Home is an airport: My son took 100+ flights in his first year of life

Darragh Morgan is a classical solo violinist born in Belfast now living in London

Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Darragh Morgan, a classical solo violinist, who lives in London.

Where are you from?

I was born in Belfast, but half of my family come from Sligo, which also feels like home as my parents have a cottage there, in Ballintrillick, under Ben Whisken.

When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?

I left Ireland in 1992 after finishing school at St Malachy’s College, Belfast. I went to London to study violin on a scholarship at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

I knew various people starting that year at Guildhall as I had just previously been a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and had played with lots of them at The Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.

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Have you lived and worked in other places too?

I finished my studies at Guildhall in 1996 and moved to Hong Kong for a year as a Junior Fellow at Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. I left Hong Kong on handover day (July 1st, 1997) and returned to London. Between 1999-2001 I was Leader of what was then the Cyprus Chamber Orchestra (now Cyprus Symphony Orchestra) and commuted regularly between West Dulwich and Nicosia.

After I got married to Irish pianist Mary Dullea in 2001, I worked a lot in Frankfurt with Ensemble Modern (again commuting regularly from London City Airport), and throughout 2004 we took a sabbatical from London to live in gorgeous South Africa in the city of Durban, where I was Concert Master of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

Was it hard to establish a career as a violinist in London?

I was very lucky to get great opportunities in London while still studying there. For example, on a course at the Britten Pears Programme in Aldeburgh, conductor Oliver Knussen recommended me to London Sinfonietta.

One of my best friends from Guildhall has gone on to become one of the main recording contractors for Abbey Road studios in London for commercial work, so that also really helped. The musicians and composers I surrounded myself with in those early years after I left music college tend to still be my working colleagues today.

How did you get started there? Did you get a big break that opened doors for you?

While studying, I started playing lunchtime recitals at the many City of London churches. Those early concerts were a brilliant opportunity to try out lots of different repertoire and learn about producing a concert event.

What has been your most memorable performance?

That’s so difficult, there have been so many special concerts. Perhaps my first concert with Ensemble Modern – it was the week of September 11th, 2001, I’d just got married and started performing with ‘the mods’ as they are referred to in Frankfurt. We had to fill in an extra date that week for a New York group that couldn’t make it to a festival in Hamburg and there was a unique eerie atmosphere that evening, including a thought provoking speech, off the cuff, on stage, from our conductor to the audience about art over destruction.

Does your work involve a lot of travel?

Yes. I often joke that I stopped counting at 100 flights that my son had taken with us on tour during his first year of life. But travelling is exciting and enriching. Last year I performed in China, the US, Iran, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Fidelio Trio, my piano trio, has been performing over the past couple of seasons in wonderful countries that are emerging classical music industries – for example we gave an extensive tour of India. Also recently we have been to Thailand, Brunei, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. In Asia we often play in huge halls, bigger than the NCH, and that seems to be the norm there.

Do you get to perform in Ireland?

I'm really lucky to have great support and interest in my work from the music community in Ireland. It means I often get to come home to play in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. With my wife, Mary Dullea, I run a boutique festival in Co Kerry every August. Also, Fidelio Trio are artistic directors of an annual Winter Chamber Music Festival at St Patricks College, Drumcondra DCU. It takes place every December, and that feels always like a real home coming for us.

Are there any particular challenges you face in your work?

Funding for the arts. Running our own chamber ensemble, we are constantly trying to raise funding to support new innovative experiences. We actually feel that in Ireland, although things are tough for the arts, it is still so much better supported than in the UK.

Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

The classical music world is a little like a global village. I am always bumping into people I know, whether it be in airports or at festivals. Working abroad has provided me with a really wide set of friends and colleagues. Through these relationships, I have been invited to perform in lots of places, but I think it’s more about you the musician making the most of these opportunities, rather than whether or not there are more opportunities in Ireland or London. That said London is, along with LA, the leading recording location for film and TV commercial work and in this respect, I definitely have benefited from being based in London.

Where do you see your future?

Musicians are a little like nomads. We are always looking for new creative experiences, and my work in chamber music and contemporary music always introduces me to new people.

My children are in school here in London, so for the foreseeable future that’s where we’ll be. But we love exploring the world, so who knows where we could end up in the future. The other city I appreciate as much as London for its cultural openness to people is New York, so maybe there.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

I really miss the landscape of the west coast of Ireland. Having travelled the world, this part of Ireland still represents something special and unique. I also miss our accents.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experience, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about yourself and what you do.