Sound Bites: Tarik O’Regan
Since the publication of his first composition in 2001, Tarik O’Regan has become a leading figure within the sphere of contemporary classical music.
As an early-career artist, the London-born composer embarked on a variety of prestigious fellowships, including the Chester Schirmer Fulbright Fellowship at Columbia University, the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard, and Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge. In 2007 O’Regan’s Threshold of Night won the Liturgical category of the British Composer Awards. He received two Grammy Award nominations in 2009 for ‘Best Classical Album’ and ‘Best Choral Performance’. As a broadcaster and music commentator, O’Regan garnered particular acclaim for his documentary Composing New York, which aired on BBC Radio 4 in 2010. His BBC Proms debut soon followed, with a performance of Latent Manifest by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. O’Regan’s first chamber opera, based on Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, received much attention from the critical press in 2011. His first full-length ballet score, Mata Hari, commissioned by the Dutch National Ballet with choreography by Ted Brandsen, premiered in Amsterdam in 2016.
To date, O’Regan’s works have been immortalised in over 30 albums and are published exclusively by Novello & Company Limited (part of the Music Sales Group). He has collaborated with numerous distinguished ensembles and orchestras including: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Sydney Dance Company, Chamber Choir Ireland, and the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Here, O’Regan chats to Final Note about his early foray into composing, his forthcoming work with Chamber Choir Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and his full-scale opera on the life of Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte.
I had some wonderful music teachers at school who opened this brand new, scary world of writing music up to me, and I suddenly found myself wholly engaged with the idea....and I haven't stopped composing since."
You are currently working on a large scale opera based on the life of Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, how did this project come about?
When I moved to New York City in 2004, I soon discovered that Lorenzo Da Ponte, librettist of Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, had spent more of his life in the USA—including Manhattan—than anywhere else. I became obsessed with this fact, reading everything I could find about him. How could this major figure in the European Age of Enlightenment have his gravestone in Queens, New York, resting underneath the intersection of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Long Island Expressway?
I first wrote about Da Ponte in a 2009 article for The Guardian about musical émigrés, which I later expanded into a documentary for BBC Radio 4 in 2010. I’d always thought he’d make a good subject for operatic treatment, but it was only after meeting John Caird in 2013, who would eventually become my own librettist, that I was able to see a way towards a dramatic adaptation. At roughly the same time, I was in discussions with Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director of Houston Grand Opera, about developing a new work for them. Da Ponte, which I had come to believe to be one of the greatest and least known American immigrant stories, was the topic upon which we settled for the commission.
Tell us about your forthcoming role in Chamber Choir Ireland’s A Letter of Rights project.
I am mentoring three terrific composers as part of an open workshop on 24 February: Seán Doherty, Amanda Feery, and Michael Gallen. To tell you the truth, I feel like they are mentoring me. I’m learning so much from them. I’ll quote from the message I sent to Chamber Choir Ireland and the Contemporary Music Centre – the two organizations which have been instrumental in putting this project together – after I’d looked through all the submissions:
It’s quite frightening to see the level at which composers write these days (guessing their ages by looking at their CVs, I was nowhere near the level of sophistication I see in their writing when I was their age)!
Composing can be a very lonely and isolating profession, and I believe strongly in fostering as much collegiality in the field as possible. I’m delighted that the brilliant Alice Goodman, who wrote the libretto for A Letter of Rights, is joining us to talk about her work as a poet and librettist. And I’m also very excited to be working with some of the students at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in a separate project when I’m over in Dublin…that comes to fruition on 3 March.
What does 2017 have in store for you?
A new album of my orchestral music, A Celestial Map of the Sky, performed by the Hallé (conducted by Sir Mark Elder and Jamie Phillips), will be released on the NMC label on 24 February. Mass Observation, a large-scale work for chorus and percussion sextet, receives its premiere on 15 February by the University of Michigan Chamber Choir and Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Jerry Blackstone; we’re then going into the studio to record it for a forthcoming album. I’m collaborating with Alice Goodman again, but this time on three songs for Kitty Whately and Iain Burnside, which will receive their first performance on 20 May as part of the Ludlow English Song Weekend. My main task this year is to keep working on my full-scale opera on the life of Lorenzo Da Ponte. It’s due to open in 2019.