‘I went on stage, the piano was locked. And no one had the key’

Musical idols, dreams and nightmares of West Cork Chamber Music Festival performers

Irish soprano Anna Devin

Irish soprano Anna Devin

 

ANNA DEVIN, IRISH SOPRANO

First intense musical memory?

Seeing Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in the Gaiety. Regina Nathan was singing Susanna and I was about six. That’s when I fell in love with opera. I just absolutely loved it. I turned to my mum and I said I wanted to play Susanna. I must have done 40 or 50 Susannas by now. Childhood dreams come true.

Your musical idol, or the nearest you have to one?

Renée Fleming. I’m not really someone who gets fixated on specific people or idols. That’s just not me as a person. I don’t really understand fanaticism. Her voice and the way she performs, and the magic in her eyes, never cease to captivate me. I just adore her.

The composer you wish was better known?

My whole head has been engrossed in Mozart and Handel for the last year and a half. I spend my days learning Italian recitative. When it comes to the end of the day I don’t have any space to be listening to anything else.

If you had a musical time machine?

I think I’d have to go back and see a live performance of Maria Callas. She was really the first proper singing actress. It would be lovely to see what she was like as a person and hear what the sound was like, because she was a big risk-taker. I’d like to hear her Tosca. I’d also like to experience what it was like in one of Handel’s operas, how opera really worked in the composer’s time. People went in and out, they’d have a drink or some food and come back and listen to the ornaments. The attention was not on the opera singer all the time. I’d love to know what that would feel like.

Your idea of musical heaven?

In every piece that I do there are moments of amazingness. If you could bottle that feeling, that kind of music that just makes your heart sing, that would be my musical heaven.

Musical hell?

To have to listen to bel canto finales on repeat, over and over again. Actually, quite a lot of operatic finales, where they’re going on and on, and on, and on, as if they’re never going to get to the end.

BARRY DOUGLAS, IRISH PIANIST

Irish pianist, Barry Douglas
Irish pianist Barry Douglas

First intense musical memory?

When I was in primary school in Belfast. I heard a piano trio – piano, violin, cello – and that’s when I said to my mother and father: “This is what I want to do.” I was just turned four.

Your musical idol, or the nearest you have to one?

I guess overall it would be Carlos Kleiber. He conducted several concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, and then suddenly stopped. I was very privileged to be there. He showed me that we pianists should act a little bit more like conductors, read the score from time to time, and not practise so much.

The composer you wish was better known?

I’m a great fan of Kevin Volans, I’ve premiered two of his concertos. But I don’t know if you can get contemporary composers to be accepted by a large musical public. Krzysztof Penderecki is very accepted, but it would be great if he was on concert programmes a lot more.

If you had a musical time machine?

Liszt in Weimar, his final period, where everybody visited him, like Berlioz and Tchaikovsky. Also, he taught Emil von Sauer and von Sauer taught one of my early teachers, Felicitas LeWinter. So I feel I have a connection. I would especially love to have seen Brahms fall asleep when Liszt was playing. 

Your idea of musical heaven?

The final part of the first act of Die Walküre by Wagner, when Siegmund and Sieglinde declare their love for each other.

Musical hell?

In Monroe, Louisiana, in the university. I did the rehearsal, went to freshen up at the hotel, came back, and when I went out on stage the piano was closed. I tried to open it but it was locked. And no one had the key.

EMMA O’HALLORAN, IRISH COMPOSER

Emma O’Halloran, Irish composer
Emma O’Halloran, Irish composer

Your first really intense musical memory?

Seeing my dad performing in Kiss Me Kate with the Athlone Musical Society. It was the first time I’d seen a big musical theatre performance. I must have been about seven or eight.

Your musical idol, or the nearest you have to one?

Probably Missy Mazzoli. I think she’s incredible, not just her music but also the work that she does in general in supporting other composers. Her operatic works are amazing. That’s the path I want to go down. 

The composer you wish was better known?

I have a colleague at Princeton, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, who writes really, really interesting music. I think she’s most excited by trying things that can teeter on the edge of being terrible, but actually turn out to be very exciting, theatrical works. She’s fantastic. 

If you had a musical time machine?

I would like to have met Pauline Oliveros. I never got a chance to meet her or hear her perform her work live or chat with her. 

Your idea of musical heaven?

Being able to work with musicians who are excited to try things. Collaborating with performers is one of the most rewarding things for me. Having performers who are really excited to do stuff is an achievable musical heaven, but that’s my ideal.

Musical hell?

Probably being told what sort of music you have to write, where you have to write something to a brief, when there are lot of limitations around what you’re allowed to do. 

EMMANUELLE BERTRAND, FRENCH CELLIST

Emmanuelle Bertrand, French cellist
Emmanuelle Bertrand, French cellist

First intense musical memory?

Probably a recording by Maurice Maréchal which I heard when I was really young. It was on vinyl. The sound was so deep and large and generous. His last pupil, Jean Deplace, became my master in Lyon. I was maybe five years old when I heard this first cello sound. 

Your musical idol, or the nearest you have to one?

The goal in music is to disappear, not to be in front as an interpreter. Just let the music cross freely through the musician to the listener. There are so many fantastic musicians, not just one for an idol.

The composer you wish was better known?

I will play two in Bantry. Rita Strohl’s is fantastic, romantic music, so well-written. Her problem was that she was a woman. And Charles-Valentin Alkan. What a composer! A contemporary of Liszt and Chopin.Their music is like a gift from the past. 

If you had a musical time machine?

I could go to Bach or Mozart or Berg . . . Probably I would go to the birth of the cello I play, and then maybe I would visit Bach. For three years I’ve been playing a cello by Tononi, made around 1730, and the Bach suites were written just before that. I get vertigo when I think about it. 

Your idea of musical heaven?

As musicians we live in heaven any time we are totally in the music. That’s why we practise so hard. We are waiting for that miracle. And the best moment is when you don’t have to think about the instrument, and just let the music be.

Musical hell?

There is a recurring nightmare. You arrive on stage and you don’t know a single note of what you have to play. 

ANDREA TARRODI, SWEDISH COMPOSER

Andrea Tarrodi, Swedish composer
Andrea Tarrodi, Swedish composer

First intense musical memory?

I remember when I heard Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. I think I was seven. I listened to it on a CD. I have a condition [synesthesia] that means I hear colour in music. I remember I saw this golden, colourful rain when I listened to it. I had seen colours to music before. But this was extraordinary. I burst into tears. 

Your musical idol, or the nearest you have to one?

I can only choose one? Debussy was really important to me when I was a teenager. Then Lily Boulanger is also one of my favourites. And then Kate Bush.

The composer you wish was better known?

Definitely Lili Boulanger. I discovered her music when I was 26. I’d never heard of her before. I came across her on YouTube. Although she died when she was young, she wrote an incredible amount of amazing music.

If you had a musical time machine?

I think I would like to meet Mozart, and drink wine with him. That would be fun. 

Your idea of musical heaven?

I would like an orchestra of my own in a really large auditorium. Then I could always try out my ideas. I only use the piano or my computer. It would be amazing to be able to hear everything live. 

Musical hell?

I suppose somewhere where there wasn’t any music at all. 

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival runs in Bantry from Friday, June 28th, to Sunday, July 7th. Details at westcorkmusic.ie

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