A question of taste: Hugh Tinney, classical concert pianist

Des O’Driscoll meets classical concert pianist Hugh Tinney

Born in Dublin in 1958, Hugh Tinney is a classical concert pianist. He will mark his 60th birthday with a celebratory performance at the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival (June 12-17). The concerts are being held in unique venues such as stately Irish houses, iconic landmark structures and a selection of modern buildings.

Best recent book you’ve read:

House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (not a recent book, but recently read). I enjoy the extraordinary passages of writing that pepper his works. The Scarlet Letter by the same author is also amazing.

Best recent film:

I really enjoyed the 2017 American sci-fi film, Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi movies.

Best recent show you’ve seen:

The Exterminating Angel, a new opera at the New York Met by British composer Thomas Adès and based on the Luis Buñuel film of that name (1962). I always loved the Buñuel film, and I thought the opera did it justice in its vision of the collapse of conventional hidebound society.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

I’m doing more playing than listening these days. I recently got to perform the Schubert B flat Piano Trio with Christopher Marwood and Mairéad Hickey in Cork, and I really loved it, above all for its truly beautiful 2nd movement.

Money is no object – which instrument would you buy?

Rather than buy one (because I’m not greedy for money!), I’d love to have access to one of the world’s great telescopes. Not a musical instrument I know, but a great, great instrument nonetheless, particularly in this era, where exoplanets (thousands of them) have been identified beyond our solar system. It fascinates me that Chopin wrote to his family about the discovery of the solar system planet Neptune in the 1840s. I hope in some later era humans get to visit exoplanets.

First ever piece of music that really moved you:

This is a difficult one for me, as there were many. One that stands out was the Schubert song-cycle Die Schöne Mullerin, which we used to play and sing at home.

The best concert you’ve ever seen:

The concert that probably stunned me the most (as a young pianist myself) was Shura Cherkassky, the Russian virtuoso, playing a concert of Brahms, Schumann, Benjamin Britten et al in the early 1980s at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

I watch a lot of news and current affairs. I love sport and watch plenty of it, particularly rugby and tennis

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

As I had no TV during my days in London I was an avid radio listener; mainly BBC Radio 3, 4 and 5. Unfortunately I don’t really get to listen to the radio nowadays.

You’re curating your dream festival – which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt — all performing their own compositions. Mind-blowing. If I could add a fourth, it might be Art Tatum — for something completely different.

Your best celebrity encounter:

Leonard Bernstein, in Vienna in 1986, as he conducted his opera ‘A Quiet Place’. I have huge admiration for both the width and depth of his talents — 0excellent pianist, great conductor of Mahler, composer of West Side Story and brilliant lecturer.

Do you have any interesting ancestors or family?

My mother, Sheila (Power) Tinney, who worked with great physicists of the mid-twentieth century while based in Princeton in 1948 and in Dublin, including Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac. She knew Einstein while at Princeton.

You are king for a day – what’s your first decree?

Instead of being king for a day, may I aspire a little higher and — like the character in the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, who is presented with a ball that grants wishes, I would wish “Happiness for Everybody, Free, and No One Will Go Away Unsatisfied.” It is much, much harder being a real-life politician, king or not.


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