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Darragh Morgan Interview

Posted on 07 September 2006. © Copyright 2004-2021 Composition:Today

C:T talks to belfast-born violinist Darragh Morgan who is one of the country's leading advocates of new music.

Darragh Morgan
Tell us something about your background.

Violinist, member of the Smith Quartet, the Fidelio Trio and violin and piano duo with Mary Dullea. I've also lead Ensemble Modern, Musik Fabrik, BCMG, Remix Ensemble (Portugal) and worked with Icebreaker, London Sinfonietta. Solo gigs at Wien Modern, Sonorities, OCM, Aldeburgh, Huddersfield and Cheltenham Festivals.
Born in Belfast. Lived there until 18 and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Since then I have lived in London, Cyprus, South Africa and again London!

How did you become interested in Contemporary Music?

Philip Hammond, composer and director of Performing Arts at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland first gave me a piece of his entitled Elegiac Variation for violin and piano to play when I was 16 with Derek Bell (famous as harpist in the Chieftains but also wonderful classical pianist). I was immediately struck by how natural this music felt to me, not purely Philip's individual voice, but stylistically, how natural the interpretataion of any new piece I was presented with became. As soon as I went to Guildhall I got involved with their new music society and was soon conducting concerts including early premieres by the likes of Morgan Hayes. I think by the time my final recital came about I was firmly ensconced in the world of new music having already recorded and appeared with the London Sinfonietta and by programming Elliot Carter next to Fritz Kreisler in my final recital.

What excites you about a piece of music - what keeps you interested?

Individualism, extremes, rhythmic precision, looking at a score and knowing the composer can hear this piece, has thought long and hard about the concept and architecture.

And what turns you off ?

Composers who try to convince you they can hear their piece but you (everyone) knows that actually they have just written a load of notes on to a page purely to impress i.e. the <i>competition piece</i>.

How do you go about programming your concerts?

I like to think that I have pretty eclectic tastes in new music, thus I really believe in programming extremes next to each other, for instance; Steve Reich Violin Phase, Stockhausen, Sonatina and Percy Grainger. I still believe in finding a thread through all of this music as my old mentor Paul Zukofsky used to say 'There's no such thing as a bad piece until you have played it at least 3 times'

How do you respond to unsolicited work- do you give feedback? Do you ever commission new work yourself?

Unfortunately performance opportunities for young/relatively unknown composers are very difficult. I am very aware of this. I regularly receive scores of this nature through the post and never once have I put them in the bin. I do have a very large perusal score section in my library where I keep them and try at least once a year to go through this, looking for music that really jumps out at me to programme in the future. I don't tend to give feedback on these pieces unless I intend to programme them. I regularly commission new pieces, this year including Donnacha Dennehy, Deirdre Gribbin, Rolf Hind, Joe Cutler, Paul Whitty, Jonathan Powell.

What do you see as the role (intended and actual) of new music in the modern world?

I don't see a difference between new music and music so my view on the role of music in the modern world is to make people happier, get on better with each other and more likely to communicate.

What are your plans for the future?

Really exciting November with the Smith Quartet performing and recording all of Morton Feldman's piano and string music at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival with legendary pianist, John Tilbury. I am also recording Donnacha Dennehy's Elastic Harmonic for violin and orchestra with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra in January for NMC. A new cd with Mary Dullea recording all of Michael Finnissy's violin and piano music. And becoming a father!

How can people find out more about you?

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2021

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