A QUESTION OF TASTE - Ciara Higgins

Ciara Higgins

Ciara Higgins is the artistic director of the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival, running June 13–18. 

The festival brings audiences to curious and unconventional concert venues to hear top chamber musicians.

See greatmusicinirishouses.com

Best Recent Book: I had the pleasure of working with some incredible Irish writers for a programme presented by the Royal Irish Academy of Music. This sent me into a frenzy of reading or re-reading works by all of the writers involved. It was particularly wonderful to re-visit Bernard MacLaverty’s beautifully written and insightful Grace Notes. I am counting the days to the publication of his latest opus, Midwinter Break.

Best recent film: The Secret Life of Pets in the company of a fabulous four-year-old. There is nothing better than seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

Best recent show/gig you’ve seen: On the music front, an outstanding recital by two piano powerhouses, Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes at the National Concert Hall in April. Two further performances internationally, Colm Tóibín’s Le Testament de Marie at the Odéon-Théâtre in Paris and Enda Walsh’s Arlington at St Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, in May, made me positively burst with pride of being Irish.

Best piece of music you have been listening to lately: The festival is presenting the Irish debut of the French violist Antoine Tamestit. His latest recording with pianist Cédric Tiberghien, who will perform with him at the Royal Irish Academy, is on constant play. I have also just got my hands on a fab new CD by the wizardly Ebène Quartet and the amazing Michel Portal. Horizontal bliss.

First piece of music or art that ever moved you: My earliest memory is the arrival by post of a recording and accompanying colourful picture book of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The love affair with music began immediately.

Radio listening: I always try to tune in to Wigmore Hall Mondays on BBC Radio 3 for an armchair taste of what is happening in my favourite concert hall. Tuning into Carl Corcoran on RTÉ Lyric FM is also a must for me.

You’re curating your dream festival – what three artists are on the bill? In recent years, we have programmed some very special concerts in Dublin and at the Centre Culturel Paris, highlighting music from the Terezín Concentration Camp for the cultural elite and children.

The music from this terrible part of our recent history is so incredible and I would love to bring it to a larger audience in festival format. Dream artists would include singer Anne Sofie von Otter, who has done so much to champion the music of Terezín; the Pavel Haas String Quartet who takes its name from the Czech composer Haas who was imprisoned there; and Tony Kushner who wrote the English libretto to Hans Krása’s children’s opera Brundibár which was performed over 50 times at the camp.

Best celebrity encounter: Rufus Wainwright after a Vicar Street gig, facilitated by a friend from New York who was in his band at the time. He was utterly charming. It was great to meet this particular musical hero.

You portal back to any period of human cultural history or music: Washington DC, August 1963. I would give anything to have been present when Martin Luther King delivered his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech.

Any interesting family or ancestors? My great grandfather on my father’s side worked for Sir Algeron Coote at Ballyfin House and on my mother’s side, there are many connections to some of the great houses in the Phoenix Park, including Áras an Uachtaráin, the US Ambassador’s Residence and the charming Bessborough Lodge.

Unsung heroes: A large army of women working in the arts in Ireland. There are some incredible women in this country making and delivering great art both centre stage and behind the scenes.

You are queen for day, what is your first decree? Put children in charge!


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