This much I know: John O’Conor, Pianist

It is easier to play 100 concerts, or to give 100 performances a year, than it is to do one.

My advice to musicians, or to any performer, is to perform as often as you can, for anyone who will listen.

I didn’t show any signs of musical talent until I was in my teens. I’d notions of becoming a pilot, or an architect. I entered piano competiions but I never won anything. Until I began practising. Then, I studied music in UCD.

My parents were against my following a career in music, ‘there’s no money in music’, was my mother’s constant refrain.

I think they would have liked me to take over my uncle’s accountancy firm.

I have always loved teaching and got a job in the College of Music on Chatham Row.

I’m a huge believer in fate. I met my wife Mary when she came to me for piano lessons there. She was working in the news room in RTÉ at the time.

I only became really dedicated to piano when I moved to study in Vienna. I couldn’t afford lunch so I’d practice from 11am straight through to 7pm.

Then, my career changed, when I won first prize at the Beethoven International Piano Competition, aged 24, and was awarded a major scholarship.

I used to be very apprehensive before performances. Early on, I remember looking at my knee trembling before I went on stage, and being amazed at how it simply continued to tremble. 

Even at the beginning of my professional career, I remember looking longingly at people in restaurants and bars, as I was on my way to perform, and thinking maybe I should have followed my mother’s advice.

The trait I admire most in others is a capacity for true friendship. Great friends are those who don’t feel you have changed over the years. I’m still the eejit I always was, yet some people treat me differently now.

I’m not sure what my idea of misery is. I’m not a miserable person. I hope I can see a little good in everything.

When I’m not working, I read and watch TV. I’ve been playing Bridge for 25 years. Playing once a month does not make you a very good player, although I’ve become very good at the dinner and drinks before hand.

I keep meaning to get fitter. I did join Millltown Golf Club but the only thing I’ve played there so far is the piano.

Sometimes I’m a lark, sometimes I’m an owl. When I was Director of The Royal Academy of Music I was definitely a lark, at my desk by 7.30am every morning.

If I could be somebody else for a day, I’d like to be Brian Friel, or Seamus Heaney, to experience what it would be like to have such imagination.

If I could change one thing in our society it would be the government’s attitude to the arts. I’m deeply committed to the development of young pianists in Ireland and in other countries. 

I thnk education in the arts is in a dreadful state, people are not encouraged to listen to or to play classical music. Forty million was spent on Irish athletes — imagine what could be done with that kind of money, if it was given to classical music education.

My advice on reviews, bad reviews that is, is to check to see if they are written by somebody for whom you have respect. If not, you shouldn’t care about them.

Man’s most useful invention is the wheel. Especially those little wheels on suitcases. I spend a lot of time traveling these days.

If there is one thing I wish we’d learnt in school, but didn’t, it would be how to manage your finances. Nobody said a word about that subject.

Education is the basis for all success. I think my parents sent us to the best schools they could afford. I went to Belvedere and I appreciated it. I even sent my own sons there.

So far life has taught me that if you work very hard, happiness happens.

  • World-renowned concert pianist John O’Conor will be performing at Music in Monkstown, which returns to the picturesque village of Monkstown, Co. Dublin for its third annual three-day festival of classical music this September 9 – 11.


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