1. How and when did you get interested in composing?
Although I have always been interested in finding out how music is put together, I didn't start composing until I was in my early twenties. The first piece was in response to one of the [Dublin] Feis Ceoil's competitions for a set of short piano pieces for children. To my great surprise and delight, it won!
2. Is composing your 'day job' or do you do something else as well?
For the last five years I have been a part-time lecturer at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra [in Dublin]. Apart from the need to earn a living, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy the company.
3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?
Ideas can come from a variety of sources. Very often a piece is suggested by performers or by a body who want to commission a piece. Then the instrumentation and length of the piece are usually already decided. Musical ideas arise when working with rhythmic patterns or with pitch material and playing around with them for days or weeks. When working on a piece, the ideas can sometimes be stimulated by factors outside of music, such as nature or visual art.
4. What are you working on at the moment?
At present I am finishing off a piano piece and have started a concerto.
5. Describe your typical working day.
This depends very much on whether or not the day includes teaching. If I have a number of lectures, I find that I am too much preoccupied with that to concentrate on my own work. On a composing day, I usually get started by 8.30 or 9.00 am, before there are any interruptions. This allows me to do other things, business, phone calls, housework, etc. in the middle of the day, and then get back to the morning’s ideas either in the late afternoon or early evening.
6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?
It is always an exciting event. Before it is played, a piece only exists in the imagination and although it can be played back on the computer, the real, physical experience adds a dimension which can never be replaced by machines. I try to make sure that all of the details are clear in the score, so that there are no shocks either for myself or the performers.
7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Rather than one huge highlight, there have been a number of smaller ones. It was a great privilege to be invited to Austria in 2000 to have a programme of my music played by the Tyrolean Ensemble. In 2002, I was commissioned by Swiss guitarist, Christoph Jaggin, to compose a piece and was delighted to be able to hear both the first and second performances in Switzerland. The Donne in Musica [Women in Music] festival in Italy was another exciting event to which I was invited in 1999.
8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?
9. What is your greatest ambition?
To write a masterwork!
10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?
Good heavens: only one? There are so many: let’s start with Bach.
11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?
12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?
Now. Definitely now: never have there been more possibilities open to people, especially women! For some people this is a problem, as the number of choices is too great, but I find I can make my own limitations, both in relation to life choices and in relation to setting boundaries within a compositional style.
13. What is the best thing about being a composer?
Well, for one thing, everything else I do seems easier. The other great aspect is meeting other composers, musicians and artists of other disciplines.
14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?
It is such hard work and unless you are very popular, you have to earn a living by doing something else. Because of this, finding uninterrupted time can be difficult.
15. If you weren't a composer, what other career might you have chosen?
I had thought of horticulture, but I'm glad that gardening is now just a hobby!
16. What is your concept of heaven?
One day I was sitting in my conservatory looking out at the garden, on a beautiful day, with a cup of coffee and listening to Schnittke's Choral Concerto: that was heaven. Of course, it is really a state of mind which can occur anywhere.
17. What is your concept of hell?
Extreme noise when I am trying to concentrate or sleep!
18. What is your favourite food?
Anything cooked by my friends Jim Wilson, Paul Lacy, Michel Faillettaz or by my sister Avine.
19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?
Anything that is unlimited is a bit scary! I would like to explore the United States, Japan and China. Of course, new music and art would be a priority.
20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what would it be?
Time to compose, listen to music and read musical scores: therefore money!