1. How and when did you get interested in composing?
It happened only after I started college -- I didn't even know that the doodles I was doing on the piano were compositions as I associated the word ‘composer’ with Debussy and Stravinsky, rather than my own modest effort. In 1986 I attended the Ennis Summer School for composition, and realised that people were calling themselves ‘composers’ simply because they could write a few bars of music. So then I became one, but I see it today as a privilege rather than a job...
2. Is composing your 'day job' or do you do something else as well?
Composition is my day job, but more the exploitation of my past works rather than the composition of new music unfortunately. I run a sheet music web site that does very well at www.michaelmcglynn.com, which uses a full online banking facility, and on the site you can download partial scores and clips of my compositions. I also administer, manage and train Anúna, the world-renowned chamber choir, recording and producing their albums and touring world-wide with the group, but the bulk of my finances come from composition as my music is performed and recorded all over the world.
3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?
I don't really get ideas -- I just compose based on how I feel about something, but always within the constraints of a finished product. In this respect I could be seen a commercial composer in that I don't have the luxury to experiment and explore. I do know that some composers ‘get ideas’. I usually look at the end product I want and write for it, but I am deeply inspired by literature in all languages, and have written songs in nine separate ones.
4. What are you working on at the moment?
An orchestral piece called Aurora, appropriately for a Finnish orchestra, a new album for Anúna (still at the ‘in my head’ stage), a Missa Brevis for St David's Cathedral in Wales to be premiered at the 2004 Festival there and two choral pieces for US choirs.
5. Describe your typical working day.
I work at home in my office, getting in about 8.30 am. Then the email takes about two hours to answer, as there is huge administrative work to be done every day. Then I usually have meetings or more office work through until 6.00pm, and I try to close the office by then at the latest. I have no time to compose, so have to do so in holiday periods which can be difficult as I do not find writing easy at all, and it can make me very low. I often travel with Anúna or on business, which can result in great trips abroad but not enough time at home. I also have to keep my singing voice in shape, which means I sing all day long to warm it up -- very irritating for my administrator...
6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?
It really depends on who is doing it. I hate attending rehearsals, but my input at that stage with third party groups is essential. In Anúna's case it has little effect on me when I hear a new piece, as I am so familiar with the choir's sound that I already know exactly what it is going to sound like prior to first listen, so I often ask the singers what their views are.
7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
So many -- being asked to do the first Irish Prom at the BBC Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall in 1999, and the same year being nominated for a ‘Classical Brit’ award -- performing with Elvis Costello and Jeff Buckley at the 1995 Meltdown Festival in the South Bank. London. Performing in Spivey Hall in Atlanta, only weeks after Chanticleer, and getting three standing ovations -- so many things, but all equally happy memories.
8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?
None really -- I have been very lucky and privileged to have this career.
9. What is your greatest ambition?
None left! As my music is quite unique every day a new door opens, and I have to decide whether I want to go through it or not. Currently I'm negotiating a record contract with a major label, and that could lead simply anywhere. I will also make a solo record next year -- so I have done everything. I would like to spend more time travelling with my family and enjoy myself more, so that is probably my greatest ambition at present.
10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?
Debussy, simply because he broke all the laws and did so for his own pleasure. He also produced some of the greatest music ever written, from his later Sonatas to the sublime majesty of La Mer. If you don't know his work as well as you should, then he is where I would start.
11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?
There are so many! I would say Anne Sophie von Otter impresses me currently -- listen to her sublime album For The Stars and remember that this woman is among the finest opera and lieder singers in the world.
12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?
Now! We are on the cusp of change -- suddenly we all have to take responsibility for all of our actions at last!
13. What is the best thing about being a composer?
You make your own hours... Otherwise I would like to have been a gardener.
14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?
You make your own hours...
15. If you weren't a composer, what other career might you have chosen?
Gardener -- my main hobby I have to admit, but I would love to have been a sailor on my own yacht living off clams in the Mediterranean.
16. What is your concept of heaven?
Ripe Avocado with Maldon salt and balsamic vinegar.
17. What is your concept of hell?
Rubbishy pop music, and there is a lot more of that than there was. There is a lot of great stuff too -- Radiohead for example.
18. What is your favourite food?
Virtually everything -- I like fresh fish and fresh vegetables. I also like Mikado biscuits and nice wine, but nothing beats bacon and cabbage with a potato.
19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?
Live in a five-star hotel in Mauritius.
20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what would it be?
A huge grant that allowed someone to run Anúna full time. Alas, Anúna receives no grant aiding from anywhere, so someone has to do the work!