What would we ever do without music?

In our Person to Person column, Pianist Finghin Collins chats to us ahea dof his performance at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, which continues until July 7
What would we ever do without music?
Finghin Collins

TELL us about yourself;

There are those who say that my entire life is a vacation. Basically, I get paid to do what I love doing — making music. The piano is my instrument of choice, but it might as well have been the clarinet or the cello, it is the music I love over and above the instrument.

I love all types of classical music, from opera to string quartets, orchestral music to piano solo repertoire. The vastness of the repertoire, stretching back over centuries, never ceases to inspire and intrigue me. My favourite repertoire is from the late 18th / 19th centuries — from Haydn and Mozart through Beethoven and Schubert through to Brahms and Chopin. I also play music from before and after those periods, and regularly commission and perform works from contemporary composers.

I travel a lot for my work, which I love. I travel mostly within Europe, but occasionally further afield to the States, or Asia, or, as happened in 2016, to Australia. That was amazing!

I play alone, I play chamber music with other insturmentalists and singers, and I also play concertos with orchestras. It is this enormous variety of activity that keeps me stimulated and invigorated. I don’t teach, but I am very involved in organising and programming concerts. Back in 2006 I started a new piano festival in New Ross, Co. Wexford, and since 2013 I have been Artistic Director of Music for Galway, programming an extensive season of concerts throughout the year. That work complements very well my principal work as a performer.

Where were you born?

In Dublin in the late ’70s. My parents, however, are not from Dublin; my father is a very proud West Corkman, from just outside Dunmanway, and I have lots of uncles, aunts and cousins in the West Cork area. My father has kept close ties to his West Cork roots, despite not having lived there since the mid-60s. He has done very extensive research into the family history and one of his favourite things is to travel around West Cork visiting all sorts of relatives to talk about the old times, the distant cousins and all the social connections that link us all. Truly, you can take the man out of West Cork, but you can’t take West Cork out of the man!

My mother is from West Waterford, from a much smaller family, but her sister still lives there, just outside the lovely town of Lismore. But I am Dub, through and through, and despite my many travels, and three years of study in Geneva, and not counting a very brief stint in Paris, I have always lived in Dublin. It’s a wonderful city, not too big, not too small, loads going on, well connected to the world and near the sea. If only it wasn’t so expensive!

Where do you live?

As I said, the capital is my principal base, but about 15 years ago, in desperation about property prices in Dublin, I purchased a small, old farmhouse in southern Co. Kilkenny. The idea was to purchase, renovate, sell in five years then buy in Dublin. But I grew more and more attached to my little country bolthole, developed a nice garden and social life, set up the piano festival in nearby New Ross with the help of some enlightened allies, and so the thought of moving away and selling up became less and less attractive. A few years later, very grateful for a busy career, I was able to purchase in addition an apartment in Dublin. This mix of city and country life is really lovely, and I am very fortunate in this regard.

Family?

I come from a (fairly) normal but wonderful family; I am the youngest of four children and had a very happy childhood, nourished, loved and encouraged. I am still very close to my parents and siblings and the proud uncle of eight marvellous children / young adults. As for having a family of my own, that was never something I was very interested in. I just instinctively knew it wasn’t for me.

Best friend?

I don’t have one best friend. I have lots of best friends; some of them in Ireland, and some of them in different parts of Europe. Some of them I don’t speak to for a few months, but we just take up where we left off and it is as nothing has ever changed. Others I am in touch with on a nearly daily basis, because they also happen to be work colleagues. I am fortunate to work with amazing people.

To have people to confide in, to share secrets and concerns, is one of the joys of being human. It’s so important. I have friends for gardening, friends for dinner parties, friends to go on holidays with, and friends just to spend quality time with. And of course, friends to complain about other friends to! That’s important too, and so human.

Earliest childhood memory?

My siblings were watching TV (I used to stand in front of them to stop them watching it) — I wanted my mother to read books for me. I remember walking into the kitchen with a pile of books and asking her to read for me. I suppose I was about three.

Person you most admire?

Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn. All of them were dead at my age but the music they wrote in their short lives will live and move us as long as there are humans to hear it.

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

I think the current incumbent is doing a pretty good job. What a huge responsibility. I would like to see the back of the Universal Social Charge. As far as I understand things, it was brought in as an emergency measure during the financial crisis, and was never meant to be a long term measure. It is a crude instrument of taxation and I don’t like it, not one little bit. I am happy to pay my fair share of taxes and to contribute to the roads, hospitals, concert halls and so on, but crude instruments are never an elegant solution to anything.

Speaking of concert halls, my hope is that the recent debacle around the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) will not aversely affect government spending in other cultural projects (such as the National Concert Hall / the original NCH).

This country needs better cultural infrastructure for music. We have lots of small urban theatres, but not enough chamber music halls (the acoustic requirements are so different). On my travels, I am constantly reminded of this dearth of venues.

Dublin needs a proper 400 seater chamber music hall. Galway needs a proper 300 seater chamber music hall, which could and should co-exist alongside dance studios, workshop spaces, music teaching rooms and administrative offices, serving many diverse cultural needs. Our overall spend on culture and the arts is far too low, and this must be addressed.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

A few years ago I went with one of my best friends (see above) to Croatia. We started in Split and worked our way down to Dubrovnik, via the island of Korcula. It was just amazing. The towns around Split (Trogir and Sibenik) were breath-taking in their beauty. The famously turquoise, limpid waters of the Adriatic, with their stony beaches, were heaven to swim in. The beauty of Dubrovnik made me weak at the knees.

Favourite TV programme?

I watch very little TV. The last TV series I really engaged with was Downton Abbey. I tend to consume news and current affairs online or on the radio. The radio is wonderful, because you can do so much as you listen, be it ironing, shaving, packing, eating breakfast, driving. The TV keeps you hostage. And I feel there is not enough quality TV programming.

Favourite radio show?

Callan’s Kicks on RTÉ Radio 1. The man is a genius. I never miss a show, mostly listening back on podcast on my phone.

Best book you read?

That’s a very hard call, to pick one book from so many years of avid, not to say occasionally feverish reading . If I have to pick one, it would have to be A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch (whose centenary is approaching this summer). I think I have read it three times, and I would happily read it a fourth time.

Favourite song?

Impossible to answer. There are too many.

One person you would like to see in concert?

The pianist Girgory Sokolov. I saw him once in Switzerland; his performance of Beethoven’s monumental Hammerklavier Sonata was amazing.

Morning person or night owl?

Basically a night owl. I hate getting out of bed in the mornings. I can be quite productive late at night. But as I get older, I try to sleep a bit less, to enjoy my time on this amazing place, this miracle, we call Earth.

Your proudest moment?

There have been many, but playing at the BBC Proms in London for the first time back in 2008 was pretty amazing . I’ll never forget the feeling walking out on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in front of all those people, into that electric atmosphere, knowing that my performance was being broadcast to many more hundreds of thousands of people. It was daunting, but very exciting, and I’ll never forget it.

What makes you happy?

Being in, on or near water (I love swimming, and one of my dreams for the future is to have or part-own a boat). Bringing to fruition a project into which I have invested time and energy. Giving small gifts to friends gives me as much pleasure (perhaps more) than it gives the recipient.

Small random acts of kindness are definitely to be encouraged. I travel a lot for my living and still love it. Setting off a journey is always a liberating experience; there is the feeling that anything can happen, even if I am returning to a place I know very well, to play pieces of music I have played many times in the past. Every performance is a new creation, full of potential, as is every journey. Coming home of course is wonderful too, and putting the clothes in the machine gives unalloyed pleasure.

Above all, music makes me happy. What would we do without it? As somebody once said, life without music would be an error.

How would you like to be remembered?

As somebody who was kind and considerate. Hopefully not as somebody who was bossy and impatient. Perhaps it will be different things for different people, something between those two characterisations. I seek to be myself. As the man said, all other people are taken. And life’s too short to try to be something or someone you’re not.

What else are you up to at the moment?

I’m learning Spanish. Languages are my second passion in life. They complement my travelling perfectly and there is very little more satisfying than being able to engage with people in their own language when you travel. I already speak (rusty) Irish, French, German, Italian and (rusty) Russian. I’m doing Spanish at the Cervantes Institute in Dublin and the experience is quite wonderful. The teachers there are really terrific.

Finghin Collins will be performing at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival which continues until July 7. Full information from 027 52788 or www.westcorkmusic.ie

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