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15 Questions to Aisling Agnew

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Good thanks, I'm in Glasgow at the moment, for a few days at least!

What’s on your schedule right now?

My schedule for early 2007 has been dedicated to touring and promoting my new album 'Recital' which has involved a lot of concerts around the UK and Ireland, most recently in Edinburgh, London and Belfast. My next concert will be in St Andrews before I take up a week-long chamber music residency in the beautiful setting of Perthshire with my flute and guitar duo partner Matthew McAllister.

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?

That's very hard to say, music is the only thing I have wanted to do since I was very young and its hard to imagine my life evolving around something else. I suppose if I hadn't been fortunate enough to pursue this career I would have more time for hobbies like golf!

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?

I have had many influences but I suppose the most important ones are often the earliest. My first flute teacher Billy Dunwoody had a very big impact on my view of being a musician and he also introduced me to James Galway who had formerly been a member of the 39th Old Boys Flute Ensemble in Belfast in which I was taught. Listening to recordings and performances of James Galway immediately inspired me and gave me something to aspire to. I learnt how expressiveness and virtuosity should go hand in hand and I have always found his dedication and hard work an inspiration. Billy's attitude towards music was that of love and serious dedication, something which, although exclusive, holds no social barriers and at a very difficult time in Belfast he opened up the band (which had previously been a marching band) to players from both communities. I realised very early on that music cuts across many lines.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
I would say the hardest part is learning how to interpret the ups and downs of being a musician and I would say the best part is learning to have faith in yourself and your ideas. To have the privilege of performing to so many different people in many different places is fantastic and inevitably some people will value your work more than others, its all part of being a creative musician. 

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

I don't think there is a particular crisis at present as there will always be changes in trends and attitudes towards music. I think that there is a lot more choice in the music world these days and people have more freedom to seek out whichever styles of music they enjoy best, often without even needing to leave the house! While this is something that enhances most music-lovers lives, for performing musicians this has obviously created a big challenge and in an effort to maintain record/ticket sales artists seem to respond in very different ways.

It drives certain soloists and ensembles to construct extremely interesting and challenging programmes in order to appeal to audiences who want to be seriously engaged. On the other hand, there are now many who will never stray far from the 'classical favourites' in fear that the audience will disappear. It is hard to criticise this programme format as its often these 'favourites' that get people into classical music in the first place, however my worry is that many people in this culture of getting what you want, when you want it, do not wish to expose themselves to new experiences in listening and in exploring the unknown.

In saying that, I believe classical music will always have a serious following and I don't think there is any shortage of dedicated concert-goers and record buyers; it is the artists challenge to engage them.    

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
Classical music is being created all the time, it is ongoing and present. I find it very exciting that classical music is now being recorded within composers lifetimes and often with his/her assistance in the recording, and we can see the performers role working more like a creative collaboration than an individual interpretation.

If there is an argument against recording works that have already been recorded you only have to look at the differences in performances (sometimes even the same performer later in life) to see the vitality of music and its interpretation. If we didn't have this open mindedness towards different interpretations many important works would be lost and recordings are a very interesting way of maintaining diversity within classical music.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
I think that music can communicate on a different level and I love to be transported by a good performance where the performer transcends the technicalities of playing their instrument and fully expresses the music. The best example of this I have experienced is probably the flautist Wissam Boustany.

I try to be 100% engaged and focused on the music I'm performing and to express its intentions as fully as I can. I love it when you can actually feel the audience listening and concentrating, when you feel that you are communicating it is a very special experience  

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?

I see interpretation as your personal understanding of the composer's intentions. A single musical idea can be performed in many different ways depending on what you think the music is trying to say and assuming you are making musical choices for the best reasons and performing them with conviction, then your interpretation is your creative involvement in making the music come alive.  

How do you balance the need to to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?

I think the balance is drawn from simultaneous interests - the emotion comes from the way in which you understand what the composer is trying to say. It can be difficult sometimes when I find something particularly beautiful not to indulge too much or something exciting, not to get too carried away, but I always try to keep a balance between my mind and my emotions when I'm performing. Too much of one or the other can be dangerous!

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
Music works on many different levels and its possible for a listener to be completely engaged by a piece of music before knowing anything about it. However I think in general the more you learn about something the more you understand it which will inevitably enhance your appreciation of it.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

I would love to program a variety of lecture recitals like the recent series by Andras Schiff on Beethoven at the Wigmore Hall. I believe this would be incredibly valuable to listeners and players alike. I would program a series of new music concerts with composers in residence and I would also try to promote local performers.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
It feels like a voice to me. I see the flute as a very personal instrument and it really is an extension of your own self.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
I played the classical guitar for a few years after I had reached grade 8 on flute as I felt like I wanted a different challenge and had always loved the sound of the guitar. I enjoyed it a lot but I also found it so frustrating that I struggled with music which would've been incredibly easy to play on the flute. It was very worthwhile though, especially as playing music harmonically for the first time taught me a lot about harmony and theory, however as I soon got more serious about the flute the long right-hand nails had to be sacrificed.

Other than that I like to play around with different flutes from around the world. I have wooden flutes from Peru, Turkey, Mexico, Spain and of course a traditional Irish flute, which are great fun to play. I just don't think I'll be bringing them out into public for a while yet...

Recital /with Matthew McAllister (Naturalstudio Records) 2006

Aisling Agnew
Aisling Agnew/Matthew McAllister Flute Guitar Duo

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