Saturday 17 March 2018

Therese to delight her home audience

Renowned concert pianist Therese Fahy will make the shortest trip of her career for a performance in her home town on Friday when she takes to the stage amid the beautiful surroundings of Holmpatrick Church in Skerries for what promises to be an unforgettable evening.

Therese's incredible talent has given her a ticket to play all over the world but her next headline performance will happen just down the road from her Skerries home.

In one of the highlights of this year's Skerries Soundwaves Festival, Therese will delight a local audience with 12 preludes by Debussy and pieces by Ravel and Liszt that she is playing for the first time in public.

While the Ravel and Liszt part of the programme is brand new, Debussy has become something of a speciality for the Skerries pianist who has had the thrill of playing the French composer's music in Paris.

Her association with this part of the world goes back quite a long way. She is a northsider, born on the Ballymun Road and remembers a very early visit to north Fingal, where she now lives.

'My first holiday was to Balbriggan when I was three so I suppose I have always had a connection with this part of the world,' Therese told the Fingal Independent.

Nine years ago, Therese and her husband, Dominic, a double-bassist with the RTé National Symphony Orchestra, were looking for a new home and found it in Skerries.

Therese explained: 'We needed a detached house if we wanted to practice late at night without annoying the neighbours. People think it would be lovely to live beside a professional musician but a lot of the time practice is not really playing music – it is going over one bar again and again for maybe an hour. It's not pleasant to listen to!

'I always wanted to live near the sea too and we needed to be close to Dublin so Skerries was perfect.'

Therese began playing the piano at age five when she saw and heard her mother play the instrument. She remembered: 'Mum was studying for a piano diploma when I was five, so when was practising and taking lessons and I was begging her to let me play and I wouldn't let her practise.'

Therese's talent for the instrument was quickly evident, and by the age of nine she was already studying at Ireland's Royal Academy of Music, and by the time she was a teenager she was under the guidance of renowned Irish pianist John O'Connor.

At the age of 21, Therese won a scholarship to study in Paris, where she met a teacher with some unusual methods and where she developed a love for the impressionist painters and the music they inspired.

Therese said: 'I had a teacher that I didn't really like very much at the time, I have to say. She had me doing exercises on a table for a few months and didn't let me touch the piano at all.

'It was like a work-out for your fingers but you can imagine that doing that four or five hours a day without touching a piano, for a musician, it's starving them.

'So I really went stir crazy and I ended up going out to all the galleries in Paris and I just fell in love with French visual culture and the impressionists. It's through that I started to explore the music of the time.'

She was attracted to the work of Debussy and Ravel, which she sees as 'an aural translation of the visual pieces in impressionism'. Last year, as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of Debussy's birth, she got to play his music in Paris for the first time – a career highlight for the Skerries musician.

But the life of a professional and touring musician is not all glamour, as Therese freely admits. And behind those note-perfect performances are hours and hours of meticulous practice.

She still puts in about six hours of practice each day and admits it can be 'a real chore'. She said: 'Practising is a real battle of self-discipline and the mind because nobody knows or cares whether you got up in the morning to practise or not and there's no evidence that you have put in hours of practice every day – there's nothing to show for it.'

But audiences would quickly know if the pianist before them had not put in that painstaking work and that is the motivating factor to get the hours done in preparation for a concert. 'Fear is a great motivator,' Therese says.

Her love of music and performance is clear. The Skerries musician said: 'I loved music all along and dealing with not just the sound of music but the imagination and fantasy and the exploration of mood and pictures and all sorts of things that come into play when you play music – it's not just about sound.

'I love communicating with audiences and I love showing off and most performers do and if they say they don't they are probably not being honest. I love being able to share your love of something really amazing with an audience and hoping they enjoy it too.'

Therese believes being a classical musician is a 'recreative art', much like an actor, interpreting a script. But within the constraints of having to reproduce a musical score perfectly, there is room for self-expression.

She explained: 'I think in the way that so many different people can bring something new to Shylock in the Merchant of Venice or an Oscar Wilde play, you have to absolutely what is there, but I suppose it's your take without compromising at all the score, that is sacrosanct.

'But it's amazing what you can bring to it just by being yourself. Two actors can say the same lines in a play but the meaning can be completely different.

'The pacing and the colours you bring to it and how you communicate the different moods of a piece – everyone shows passion in a different way and sadness in a different way.

'If the score says 'dolce', meaning sweetly, well, my interpretation of the word 'dolce' could be very different to someone else.'

A Skerries audience can hear Therese playing sweetly this Friday at Holmpatrick Church and she is really looking forward to this special performance.

'It is really nice to play on home turf, it really is. The venue is beautiful and the acoustics there are gorgeous, and I think churches in general lend themselves to classical concerts,' she said.

The piano will arrive at the Skerries venue at lunch-time on the day of the concert and Therese will be able to sneak into the church for a few hours of practice before the big performance, and she freely admits she will be nervous.

'I can't eat beforehand and it takes me a while to want to eat afterwards. I do get nervous, absolutely, everyone does.

'If you weren't nervous you wouldn't have that edge. If you prepared properly, and I always say this to my students at the academy, nerves enhance your level of preparation.'

Concert pianists like Therese perform without the safety net of the written score in front of them and have to commit the entire concert to memory before taking to the stage.

She said that reading the music at a concert is a 'block to communication' with the audience and it is a long-held tradition among concert pianists to play from memory.

Therese is full of praise for the organisers and volunteers behind the Soundwaves festival, which she describes as 'amazing' and 'unbelievable'. She said that artists need 'visionaries' like Ernestine Woelger, the Soundwaves festival co-ordinator, to provide platforms on which to play.

To those thinking about attending the concert who might be nervous about classical music, Therese says just go and have a listen – you will enjoy it.

'They will enjoy it and it's not heavy and it's not scary. It doesn't have to be any of these things. People have a fear that they won't understand it or they will be bored or it might go over their head but actually people listen at all sorts of levels and whatever level you listen to it is fine.

'A lot of people listen instinctively and to me that's the way should – something either speaks to you or it doesn't,' she said.

Therese's music will be speaking to an appreciative audience at Holmpatrick on Friday night from 7.30pm in an evening of music that is sure to live long in the memory of those who attend.

Fingal Independent