1. How and when did you get interested in composing?
As a performer I was always interested in new music -- especially as a guitarist as the repertoire is not always of a first class nature. The most interesting music was written after 1950. So I was working with Irish composers and asking them to write music for me. Eventually I got sucked into composition myself!
2. Is composing your 'day job' or do you do something else as well?
'Day job'??? This term does not come close to qualifying what being a composer means. It is not really a job. If it was I might be able to claim something close to a 'wage'. I know of no one in Ireland who really survives as a composer.
3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?
Life experience, literature, other musics...
4. What are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished a work called Al-Andalus for accordion, flutes, clarinets, violin, cello and percussion. Three 'images' of Andalucia. I lived there for over a year.
5. Describe your typical working day.
Every day is different. I have 'periods' or 'phases'. Now (as I have completed my latest work and a 'phase' in composition), I am concentrating on the Mostly Modern Festival next weekend. That's administration, dealing with other performers, attending rehearsals, hosting the event, etc. In June I spend two weeks in Sicily performing and lecturing on the history of the Guitar Étude... Another 'phase'!
6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?
Difficult... depending on the performance. If the performance is excellent and you are not satisfied... Well, it's the fault of the music, it's your fault. There are pieces for which the jury is still out as I have not yet heard good performances. Mostly it’s the point where your ideas are realised and fused into sound. It's the moment you learn about yourself.
7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
‘Career’ is a word I hate. But one of my most fulfilling moments was playing my own Concerto for Guitar and Strings (with the National Symphony Orchestra) and hearing (the same night) my Percussion Concerto at the Horizons series in the National Concert Hall in 2001. It brought together the two main aspects of my musical experience -- performance and composition.
8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?
‘Career’ is a word I hate. Being moved on by the Gardaí [Irish police] while busking in Cork (circa 1985...)
9. What is your greatest ambition?
To speak Spanish better than English!
10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?
Alfred Cortot. The truth and intellect of his interpretations remain for me unsurpassed.
11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?
This is difficult but Keith Jarrett comes close as he combines a classical understanding with a profound talent for improvisation. He has what most classical and jazz musicians lack.
12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?
This is the one my Karma has brought me to. I'm content with that.
13. What is the best thing about being a composer?
Controlling your own thoughts.
14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?
15. If you weren't a composer, what other career might you have chosen?
‘Career’ is a word I hate. Perhaps a writer.
16. What is your concept of heaven?
17. What is your concept of hell?
18. What is your favourite food?
A good home-made tortilla!
19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?
Tour South America.
20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what would it be?
That all the loud and silly piped music be taken out of Irish cafés.