Aug 04 2020

Dr Mary Dullea, Department of Music, is the Artistic Director of the Chamber Music on Valentia festival, and has been recording the festival's performances in our Picture Gallery this year, so that they can be enjoyed online. We recently caught up with Dr Dullea to ask what is was like to record in our Picture Gallery, and to find out more about the festival.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the Department of Music?

I am a concert pianist and am fortunate to have a very diverse career playing all over the world as a soloist and in particular with my piano trio, The Fidelio Trio. I also work with lots of living composers, which is a wonderfully creative environment and these experiences and research projects feed directly into my teaching. I am Director of Performance in the Department of Music, working with students from first year through to PhD research, developing new modules and working closely with colleagues in delivering performance opportunities, a vibrant International Concerts Series, lots of ensembles and interaction with professional musicians.

2. Alongside your role in the Department of Music, you are also the Artistic Director of the ‘Chamber Music on Valentia festival’, can you tell us a bit about the festival?

It had been a dream for many years to start a Chamber Music Festival in Ireland (I am from Cork) that would serve the local community and build a national and international profile. As well as bringing together musicians from all over the world for a series of concerts of this rich body of repertoire, we feature living Irish composers and present opportunities for young Irish artists, are committed to outreach work, engaging with the natural environment and in particular, making connections with new music and sound art and the impact this has on communities and audiences. When it came to finding a location, Valentia Island in Co. Kerry is just perfect.  It is small, accessible and boasts a host of venues ranging from the seaside location of Glanleam House (former home of the Knights of Kerry) to The Lighthouse. Steeped in history, it is one of Ireland’s most westerly points, overlooking the Skelligs and, over 150 years ago was the site of the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable which was laid between Valentia and Newfoundland, reducing the time to communicate between the Old and New Worlds from weeks to minutes.

3. Due to coronavirus (Covid-19) people are able to enjoy the festival online this year, what was it like to film the musicians in our Picture Gallery?

I know the Picture Gallery well as I have the pleasure of teaching in there at least two days a week and I have played numerous concerts in there. It is such a focal space on our campus. The scope of the room and the Art Collection are unique. So I am grateful to be able to film some of our concerts in this space, which for our online audience, will certainly not be ‘from my living room’! Musicians and audience alike are bowled over by the Picture Gallery when they first enter and it was wonderful to be back after so many months. To film the musicians in the space really gave a sense of live performance to the events and it was certainly very special for us as performers to be able to come together and play, even if further apart than might normally be the case. Do check out 13-16 August.

4. Were there any difficulties in transforming the festival to a digital platform?

I am very fortunate to have the multi-talented Nathan James Dearden, who is our Performance Manager in the Music Department and also a wonderful composer, work with me as Festival Manager. He was on site on Valentia Island last year so he has an intimate knowledge of the workings of the Festival and its audiences. Nathan has also invested a huge amount of work in our recent RHUL ‘Festival Interrupted’ so he is the brains behind the website, social media and hosting of material. Key objectives in transforming the Festival to a digital platform have been to deliver the high-quality performances of creative programmes the Festival is known for, to continue with the development of new work (in the form of a Digital Installation this year), focus on living Irish composers (this year it is Deirdre McKay) and to present outreach opportunities for young Irish artists and composers. Since March, the amount of on-line content out there has exploded so it is important that the identity and vision of the Festival remain intact. We are also embracing this transition as an opportunity to extend the reach of the Festival internationally as well as looking after our loyal audience base.

5. What are you missing most about being away from campus?

Contact with colleagues and students. I miss that human interaction and collegiality. From a practical perspective it is amazing how many things can be sorted out in a 10-minute in-person conversation! I have been on campus three times though since July and am reminded of the openness of our campus and the very welcoming feel. And it has been a privilege to be able to take little walks amongst the trees.

6. How are you spending your time outside of work and the festival currently?

Well, having been dramatically heisted into a situation with two adults and two children working from home, it can feel as though one is working all of the time. I have at various points caught up on some reading (when time has allowed), our garden has never looked better and re-learning maths for 13 year olds and fronted adverbials for 10 year olds has been stimulating!