Belfast Telegraph

Q&A: Barry Douglas

By Matthew McCreary

The 53-year-old pianist from Belfast is one of Northern Ireland's most acclaimed classical musicians. He is also the founder of the Camerata Ireland orchestra, which will be performing at the Clandeboye Festival of Music later this month

You're pretty busy at the moment with preparing for the Clandeboye Festival, which you organise, and performing with Camerata Ireland at the BBC Proms in London next weekend.

Yes, it's the orchestra's debut at the Proms and it's of huge significance for us. The Proms is an amazing series of concerts every year and this year is the anniversary of composer Benjamin Britten so they've asked to put a programme together.

You're a Proms veteran, having played there several times since the Eighties. Is there something special about those concerts for you as a performer?

Everybody's there because they love the music and the occasion. These are people who might not normally go to concerts throughout the year but they are addicted to the Proms and so there's a real enthusiasm and an 'elegant hooliganism' about it all.

You were also in Moscow recently with Camerata Ireland. You played there yourself during the years of the Iron Curtain, didn't you?

It was way back in 1986, and [then Soviet premier] Mikhail Gorbachev came to my closing prizewinner's concert. I had to be escorted round by the military, and it was just dynamite because they take their music so seriously – they follow their idols down the street.

That happens regularly when I go there but this time round it was the longest line I've ever had outside my dressing room. It went on for nearly an hour – I could have opened a florists from the flowers that we got! It was the first visit by any orchestra from Ireland in almost 50 years. It was a huge success and we've been invited back for two concerts next year.

The Clandeboye programme has plenty more than just music this year. What was your thinking when putting it together?

Well, I'm very concerned that we reach younger people and I wanted to make it more attractive to them. We had an opera evening last year and that proved to be very popular among all age groups.

This year we have a cookery event and a fashion show, and at the same time some of our musicians will be a part of that. All of the elements are mixed in together so it should be interesting.

Is enough being done to help young classical musicians here, do you think?

There are pockets of great work being done but in general it's tragic because there's so much talent. It's incredible how many have achieved so much in their careers and we need to do more. What we do in Clandeboye is just a little bit of a help but it's not going to solve the problem overnight. It results in a huge talent drain where everyone has to go somewhere else to train. There are no jobs here for them to go back to so they are all scattered around Europe and America. And that's what Camerata Ireland is about, to bring them together and show they are appreciated.

With all the other projects you have on the go, is it tough for you to keep up with other commitments ?

It's just a matter of organisation. I'm adding new things to what I do all the time, a new repertoire and commissioning new works. I'm also in the middle of recording the complete Brahms and Schubert works for the piano. It's a 10-year project and a very exciting thing for me. You just have to be organised!

The Clandeboye Festival of Music runs at the Clandeboye Estate, Bangor, from August 19-24. For details, visit www.camerata-ireland.com

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