Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Q& A with Pianist Michael McHale

Michael Collins. the most distinguished British clarinettist returns to the Georgian Large Room, Waterford on Thursday (Feb 12th). Collins is one of the many fabulous international artists introduced to Waterford-Music audiences by John Ruddock, the Limerick impresario who died last year.  He will be partnered by  Belfast native, Michael McHale.

I asked Michael McHale  for an e interview and heard about his new projects and his forthcoming recital. 

 At a mere 31 years, Michael McHale has moved off the lists of ‘rising stars’ and  has firmly established himself among the first rank of pianists with an international career that has taken him all over the world to major venues in Europe, Asia, North and South America. McHale has had a broad musical education. One wonders how he has managed to fit so much in. As a teenager he gigged in a jazz band  around Belfast as well as playing cello in youth orchestras. In tandem with his paino studies he picked up a double first at Cambridge.  He first came to prominence when he was among the prize winners of the Axa Dublin Piano Competition  competition in 2006. His reputation was cemented when he took first prize at the prestigious Terence Judd/ Hallé competition in 2009.
 In addition to developing a busy carer as a concert soloist and chamber musician, he has made time to record two solo albums. His debut solo recording The Irish Piano was released in 2012 and got rave reviews. British music critic,  Norman Lebrecht praised the album selecting it as CD of the week describing it thus- The Irish Piano' is a scintillating and sometimes whimsical recital that takes John Field as its starting point and spreads out across the whole of the island's music… McHale strikes just the right tone of contemplative wonderment and mischievous mythology… Fascinating from start to stop…"Just released on the Naxos label , McHales’ second solo album ‘Miniatures and Modulations’ combines the efforts of Belfast musicians across two centuries.  Composer Phillip Hammond dips into the treasure trove of airs collected by Edward Bunting at the 1792 Harp Festival and uses these ‘miniatures’ as the basis  for a set of freestyle  ‘modulations’.    New solo recording projects include an album of Schubert and contemporary interludes for Ergodos.
  In great demand as a concerto soloist, McHale is also much sought after as a chamber musician. In May he teams up with London Winds at the Wigmore Hall and he is just back from playing with James Galway in Lucerne. He will back in the studio to record an album of flute and piano works by Schubert, Prokofiev and Liebermann with the incredible Icelandic flautist Stefan Hoskuldsson (Delos label). 

 Reviews for previous albums have been unanimous in their praise. A  BBC Music Magazine review  noted  ‘ It’s hard to imagine this varied programme better played than it is here by Collins and Michael McHale. They’re technically impeccable and stylistically flexible’. 

How did the association with Collins come about?
I first met Michael at Barry Douglas's Clandeboye Festival in Co. Down, where we were both guest artists and performed some chamber music together. We got on really well, and subsequently Michael invited me to do a few duo recitals with him, and we've been performing together ever since! He's an exceptional musician so it is always a great pleasure to share the stage with him.

How did you arrive at the programme?
Our programme is inspired largely by our latest album, released this month, which features the Brahms clarinet sonatas and a sonata by Carl Reinecke. It's our fifth album together for the Chandos label and we were both delighted with how it turned out. We've also included in our concert programme Weber's virtuosic Grand Duo Concertant to spice things up even further!

Highlight of last year?

I was fortunate to enjoy many great musical experiences in 2014 both at home and abroad - but the highlight for me must be my début with the amazing Minnesota Orchestra at their newly refurbished Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, performing Mozart's A major Concerto K.488 with my good friend Courtney Lewis conducting, live on radio, in front of a packed house and standing ovation - what a thrill!

What are you looking forward to most in 2015?
I'm very excited to perform one of my favourite works, Beethoven's 4th concerto, in July with the RTÉ NSO. And it's always a joy to return to London's Wigmore Hall, where I perform a coffee concert in May with London Winds and an evening recital in September with Michael Collins.

I also have a few new albums coming out in 2015, which I hope will be well received - there is a solo album of wonderful Irish music by Philip Hammond: Miniatures & Modulations (Naxos' Grand Piano label - see video), another solo disc of Schubert Impromptus op.90 with contemporary interludes (Ergodos label) and an album of flute and piano works by Schubert, Prokofiev and Liebermann with the incredible Icelandic flautist Stefan Hoskuldsson (Delos label).

With airports becoming increasingly stressful,  how do you cope with the hassle of travelling?
I guess it's an occupational hazard - although the one silver lining with travelling so regularly is that one can join up with the frequent flyers' clubs and then avail of the priority check-in, fast-track security and airline lounges - this can make all the difference and over the course of a year save a lot of time.

What did you study in Cambridge?
I read Music at Cambridge - and although the degree was almost entirely academic, I was fortunate to study many disparate areas of music, such as composition, analysis, history, score reading, figured bass realization, film music, science of music, etc etc - some of which has hopefully ended up informing and enriching my approach to performance.

Where is your home base when not travelling?
I'm based in London, and have been for 10 years, since studying for two years as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music. It's a wonderful city, and when I'm there I regularly go to concerts and gigs of all different kinds of music. It's a real artistic melting pot, and importantly it also has many well-connected airports!

Any repertoire /chamber music collaboration on your wish list in the long term
Another great highlight of 2014 was working with Camerata Pacifica (in California) - as well as playing some solo Schubert, I enjoyed a wonderful collaboration with violinist Paul Huang (see video) - I hope very much to return to give more concerts with this superb ensemble in the future.

I know you've played in Waterford before (I am told you were first to play the new piano in Christchurch). . How do you think the acoustic /setting  will suit the combination?
Yes that was a lovely evening at Christchurch with their new Yamaha piano! I've played in Waterford many times, and I particularly love the Steinway piano at City Halls, it's a beautiful instrument, and impressively well maintained, too. My last two concerts there were a solo recital and a chamber music performance with the Cappa Ensemble. Michael has played all over Ireland in every possible venue you could imagine, stretching back to the 1980s and his great friendship with (the late) John and Doreen Ruddock, to whom we will be dedicating our concert. The setting will be absolutely perfect and we're both very much looking forward to it.

 Michael Collins and Michael McHale perform at The John Ruddock Memorial Recital Georgian Large Room City Hall Waterford Feb 12th as part of Waterford-Music Season 8pm  €18/5

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