Arts Q&A: Musical director Matthew Quinn on Bach, The Beatles and Harry Potter

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, conductor, composer and musician Matthew Quinn

Matthew Quinn is the new musical director of Belfast choir Cappella Caeciliana
Matthew Quinn is the new musical director of Belfast choir Cappella Caeciliana

1. When did you think about a career in the music and what were your first steps into it?

As a child I was exposed to all kinds of music - both my parents were in a folk group and would regularly take us away on weekends with them.

I played piano, violin, and guitar growing up as well as singing in a choir and in local musical societies. I think the moment I knew I wanted to conduct was performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the BBC Proms Youth Choir and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons. To watch Andris feel and engage with the music so deeply was such a transformative experience for me.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Manchester Collective at White Hotel, Manchester in 2019. One of the violinists played the Chaconne from JS Bach’s Partita No.2 in D Minor. I’ve always found this piece to be incredibly powerful, but somehow taking it out of the concert hall and into a dance venue without any kind of convention or stuffiness surrounding it made it so much more raw and emotional.

Aphex Twin at Warehouse Project, Manchester in 2019. I’ve always liked the energy of dance music, and this was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a gig.

Fleet Foxes, O2 Apollo Manchester in 2017. I love the Fleet Foxes’ music - they are so easy to listen to.

3. Fantasy wedding band?

It’s got to be The Beatles. Something by George Harrison is the best love song ever written.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

Leonard Bernstein’s recording of the complete Mahler symphonies with the New York Philharmonic. Lenny had a knack for making music accessible. Some of his interpretations are a bit over the top but you can’t help but be moved by the expressive nature of the way he conducts Mahler. The added bonus would be this collection takes just under 13 hours to listen to so hopefully I’d be picked up before I even get to the end.

5. And the book you would take to a desert island?

A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry.

6. Top three films?

The Great Escape, West Side Story and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I love the Harry Potter series but particularly fond memories of this one as I got to see it in concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

I once watched I Know What You Did Last Summer with a housemate, and it is quite literally one of the trashiest films you could ever watch. But, embarrassingly, neither of us could turn it off as we just needed to see who’d done it at the end.

8. Favourite authors?

J.R.R. Tolkien, Roddy Doyle and Zadie Smith.

9. Sports you most enjoy and what are your top teams?

I love rugby and football. I'm a big Ulster and Ireland fan, as well as a lifelong-suffering Manchester United fan.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

I really want to travel around New Zealand.

11. Pet hates?

Slow walkers. Who has that much time?

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Sunday roast

Dessert? Former housemates can testify I have been known to put away entire tubs of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting.

Drink? Coffee.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

My friend Cillian who I’ve known for about 10 years now. We met singing together in Belfast and have been best mates ever since.

14. Is there a God?

Honest answer - I don’t know. I hope there is, but I think it’s healthy to have doubt and I’ve always been sceptical of people who seem too sure about things.

Matthew Quinn will be conducting Cappella Caeciliana in their upcoming concert on Sunday April 10 at Clonard Monastery in Belfast. Tickets from Caeciliana.org and Matchetts Music.

Matthew is also currently the writer/composer of a new musical theatre piece detailing the emigration story of two of his relatives during the Irish War of Independence. Erainnmusical.com.