As the Clandeboye Festival turns 21, artistic director Barry Douglas tells music lovers what to expect

Barry Douglas, the virtuoso classical pianist from Ulster who founded the Clandeboye Festival back in 2001 at the Clandeboye Estate, has an infectious enthusiasm as an impresario and musical figure who has not lost his verve over the past two decades or more.

The Clandeboye festival is at the top of my list of favorite musical events,” he says.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of and it’s turned into something very powerful in terms of helping young musicians as well as making great music for our audience.

“This year will be our 21st birthday and it’s quite a milestone.

“The summer music festival gives people the opportunity to socialize in a relaxed atmosphere and come not because they think they should, but because they should feel almost like they are on vacation,” he continues.

“So many people support us loyally every year, but it’s never a question of them and us.

“We blend together as the Clandeboy family because we are all in this together.

“People have the opportunity to interact with musicians and this is different from a concert hall where there is a more formal atmosphere and people cannot meet musicians in the same way. So without the Clandeboye audience, there would be no festival.”

The festival will be held from 20 to 27 August, its theme is “Revival and Renewal”. It will feature the Camerata Ireland orchestra and a range of other performers in the elegant atmosphere of the historic Clandeboye, adding to the enjoyment of the music.

Programs will include famous music by Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart and more. Barry will also give a solo concert at the Banqueting Hall on August 25th.

He is Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival and a few days ago he was interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph in an extended interview from Santander in Spain where he was one of the judges for the Santander Paloma O’Shea Piano Competition.

“Here I started my professional career, taking part in a competition in 1980. Paloma O’Shea’s family is related to the Irish. She is still strong and full of life and enthusiastic about everyone, including young musicians.”

Close

Barry is relaxing with his wife Deirdre at home

Barry, a former student at Methodist College in Belfast, rose to fame when he won first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1986.

He became the first non-Russian winner since the American pianist Van Cliburn in 1958, and this extraordinary achievement has launched a brilliant international career that, at the age of 62, shows no sign of waning.

He has performed with all the best orchestras in the world and in some of the world’s most famous and prestigious concert halls, but his heart is still with the Clandeboye festival in his native Northern Ireland.

“The festival is a kind of spiritual home for Camerata Ireland, because many of our musicians have taken part in Clandeboye masterclasses over the years,” he says.

“More importantly, the festival continues to provide assistance to young musicians who are still in the early stages of their careers. So many of them were hit hard during the pandemic because they had no income at all.

“We aim to help young aspiring musicians from all over the island and north and south alike.

“I think of people like Ben Gannon, an oboist from Dublin, and Aidan Murphy, a bassoonist from Belfast, and a young Angus McCall.

“Three of our young musicians who took part in the Camerata Ireland Academy this year have been selected to play a special Clandeboye concert on 23 August. They are Stan O’Beirn (piano), Sam Kane (violin) and Ben Gannon.”

One of the sorrows of the Clandeboye festival is the loss of its former owner and strong supporter Lindy, Marchioness Dufferin and Ava, who passed away in the fall of 2020, and the opening on August 20 will be a gala concert dedicated to her memory. .

“She was a very, very close friend,” says Barry.

“She has always been the most active in organizing the festival. She discussed my ideas with me in advance, and she had comments and suggestions.

“She always showed great interest in our young musicians and always gave them afternoon tea,” he says. “She will be greatly missed and I know that many of her friends will be at the opening concert, including those who are visiting from overseas.”

Barry will arrive in Clandeboy just a few days before the premiere, but he is already making music in Santander.

“Every morning I practice the piano in my hotel room. After leaving Santander I play music festivals in France and then return to London and Warsaw for gigs before returning home to Northern Ireland. It’s important that I keep practicing my Clandeboye repertoire before I get here!”

He trains every day, at home and elsewhere.

“I play for several hours every morning because I want to do something else during the day. Even on vacation, I sometimes have to train if I have concerts or solo concerts shortly after. I can also bring my numeric keypad in case there isn’t a piano where I’m staying. Every morning I train for a couple of hours, and after that I’m on vacation.”

Close

Barry Douglas at his home in Lurgan.

His intensive program gives him little free time.

“I haven’t switched off since July 2019, so it’s hard to plan a vacation. My wife Deirdre and I go for short breaks so after Clandeboy we can go to Sligo to see my family. That’s where my mother comes from.

“We live in Lurgan and also in Paris, and all our adult children have left home.

“Our daughter works in Paris, our oldest son is in London but is about to start a new job in Paris, and our youngest son is in Dublin. He’s a very good rock guitarist and has an amazing band called The Plastic Cowboys.”

Barry’s professional life requires numerous international travels.

“This year I have been to France, Spain, Italy, Finland, Japan and Holland. People sometimes ask me: “How are you holding up?

“I do it because I’m used to it. I know how to travel with a minimum of pain and difficulty. It was hard not to travel for six months in 2020 and then start over when the pandemic eased and comply with many travel regulations these days. At first it was a little strange, but I soon got used to it.

“When you travel so much, the main trick is not to be surprised at anything.

“If you allow yourself to get frustrated by what is happening – and something always happens – you start to wear yourself down.

“I don’t care if they cancel the flight because I will get there somehow. If you are a young family with kids, this might be serious, but I travel all the time. It’s just a nuisance, so I don’t get emotional about it.

“Most concert promoters give me business class tickets because I have to get off the plane quickly.

“I never check in my luggage because it delays me and they can still lose it.

“I only travel with hand luggage and that suits me. I see a lot of domestic concert halls all over the world and sometimes not much more, but in my career I have been to many different places in many different countries.”

In his wide-ranging mission to perform and promote music and help young people, Barry has important supporters.

“Our global sponsor is Randox and we couldn’t do anything without them. They have been amazing at supporting our young musicians throughout the pandemic and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland has supported us.

“I am also immensely grateful for the help of the Belfast Telegraph, who are our media partners.

“I want the Clandeboye festival to partner with a really important local institution and the Belfast Telegraph has supported us so well over the years. We all appreciate it very much.

“Bookings for this year are already good and more people will be booking when they return from vacation. So this should be a great week of music and fun for all of us at Clandeboye starting August 30th. I’m really looking forward to it.”

For more information about the Clandeboye festival see www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/clandeboye-festival/