FINGHIN COLLINS may declare himself "a musician first and then a pianist", but there is no doubting either his magnificent as a player, or his view of the piano being "a very complete instrument", as he will display in his upcoming Galway concert. Yet his love of, and interest in, other instruments, is genuine, particularly one that is somewhat under appreciated in classical music - the voice.
Finghin grew up in Dublin, the youngest of four children in a musical family. Watching his siblings play a variety of instruments, even as a very small child, made him want to take part in the fun too.
"I wanted to to play too!" he tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. "Piano is the instrument many begin with and I was no different. You can tap it and it makes noise. It's easy to get into, but piano isn't the only instrument I played. I studied violin for 12 years, but by 17/18 I had to decide, and I chose the piano. It's incredibly versatile, people think it's a solitary instrument, but you can work with orchestras, singers, violinists, but when you play alone, it's a very complete instrument, more so than others - you can play harmony, melody, counterpoint, the colours you can get out of it are vast, and the repertoire for piano is vast also, so it's very satisfying. But I love many different instruments, that's why I say I'm a musician first and then a pianist."
Finghin has become one of Ireland's most acclaimed pianists, indeed contemporary classical musicians, who has enjoyed a distinguished career since winning the RTÉ Musician of the Future Competition in 1994, regularly performing across Europe, the United States, and the Far East, along the way earning huge critical acclaim: "Collins is by some distance the most successful Irish pianist of his generation, and was one of those players who seemed destined for the top from a very young age" (The Irish Times ); "Finghin Collins...is exceptionally fluent, exceptionally intelligent, exceptionally sensitive, responding to every possible nuance that Stanford prescribes. Kenneth Montgomery is resolute and sympathetic in support." (International Record Review ).
As notable almost as his masterful playing, is how, in performance, Finghin eschews any notion of the starched, stuffed shirt, classical musician. His is always an expansive, expressive player, physically and emotionally, putting his whole body into the performance, every part of him, not just his fingers, moving and swaying.
"It's not something I do consciously," he says, "but performance is very emotional. You might be playing a Bach fugue, which is very strict and has a formula, but there are still emotions running under all that. You can train a robot to play the notes, but music has to engage the emotional side of the brain as well. The communication element is the most important, I always tell students that you are communicating with the audience, it's human expression and I think it's very important to engage."
Orchestral manoeuvres in Galway
Finghin's next performance in Galway will be with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, under director Katherine Hunka, in the Black Box Theatre on Saturday October 10 at 8pm, the first of four different concerts in the Music For Galway Orchestral Series, sponsored by Stewart Construction. The programme features two works by Mozart - Symphony KV 196/121, reworked from the composer's opera, La Finta Giardiniera, and Symphony No 29 in A Major; Haydn's Piano Concerto in D Major; and Stravinsky's Concerto in D and his Septet.
"You could ask what have these composers got in common?" says Finghin. "Stravinsky is a great 20th century composer, whereas Haydn and Mozart are from the 18th century, but Stravinsky went through a neo-classical phase influenced by those two composers, exploring the sonata and rondo forms used 200 years previously. There is also a further link with Haydn, as we are playing both men's concerto's in D. D Major is a very sunny, happy key, and Stravinsky's Concerto in D is interesting given that it was written when things in classical music were going more abstract and atonal.
"I've never performed Hayden's Piano Concerto in D Major so i'm looking forward to getting a chance to do that. It's quite catchy, it's not a difficult piece, the third movement is often taught to children. It's very influenced by Hungarian music, there were a lot of Hungarian musicians in Vienna in Haydn's time, and there is the influence of Hungarian folk music. Its textures are light and joyful, the second movement is lyrical, there aren't any dark clouds."
Stravinsky's Septet though will be quite a contrast with its non-linear structure, abrupt shifts, stoppages, and twists, yet in its own way, it remains quite melodic. "Stravinsky was influenced by serialism and Schonberg," says Finghin. "It's quiet jagged and austere, abrupt and short. It will be played by just me and six members of the orchestra."
On Wings Of A Song
As well as being a performing, indeed in demand, musician, Finghin is also the artistic director of Music For Galway, and for its 35th season, entitled On Wings Of A Song, much of the focus will be on the human voice with concerts from Tara Erraught ("a star all over the world," declares Finghin ), Lynda Lee, Henk Neven, Salome Kammer, Orla Boylan, and Sharon Carty, not to mention a performance of Handel's Messiah. Yet, outside of opera, voice may be the most neglected instrument within classical music.
"I feel it is," says Finghin. "Classical song recital, the lieder tradition, needs to constantly promoted and audiences need to be encouraged for that. There are wonderful riches in the poetry of both the words and the music. Schubert was the king of song, he wrote about 600, but Mahler, Beethoven, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff did as well. Like the piano, and cello, the focus of our last season, the human voice is incredibly versatile. It's also the invisible instrument, and in Ireland we have a great singing tradition, going back to folk and sean nós, and we have produced an array of great singers, going back to Count John McCormack and even further to Michael Kelly, a friend of Mozart who also created roles for him in his operas. In having these performances in Galway I want to develop that and showcase it to as many people as possible."
Tickets for Finghin Collins and the Irish Chamber Orchestra are €20/16/10 and available from Music for Galway (091 - 705962 or www.musicforgalway.ie ) and Opus 2, High Street.