Meet the Artist – Fionnuala Moynihan, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up  the piano, and pursue a career in music?

I come from a large family of musicians. I am the youngest of seven and grew up in a house where both traditional and classical music could be heard from every room. The range of instruments in my family ranged from the accordion, uileann pipes, fiddle, guitar, flute, tin whistle, banjo and singing of course. My father taught me the tin whistle from when I was about three years old and then I went to the Cork School of Music at four years old. We always had a piano in our home and I still remember saying to my parents when it came to my time to choose an instrument that I would choose the piano as it might be lonely if no one played it!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Undoubtedly my father and mother. From an early age they always supported me and encouraged me. My father loved playing the accordion and we actually recorded together on my debut album ‘The Ivory Lady’ which was released back in 2015. My father was a primary school teacher and we all went to school with him. The school was about 20 miles away from our home in Cork city and on the way we would learn Irish tunes, sing Irish songs and in general have a great journey! My Mum always loved music and was at every concert we gave and encouraged us. They gave us all such a love for music and we made so many wonderful friends through both traditional and classical music events that it became a wonderful social outlet too. Growing up I just wanted to be part of the whole family music scene, it was fun and music was always my passion.

In later years I studied with some wonderful musicians in the Paris Conservatoire, the Birmingham Conservatoire, the Franz Liszt Academy of Music Budapest and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. I was influenced by both wonderful teachers and fellow students.

I met my wonderful husband five years ago and it was on holiday in Vence in France that he gave me the idea to set about recording ‘The Ivory Lady’. He has a real love for Irish airs and ballads and knew how much I loved to incorporate my own arrangements of the songs I grew up with into my classical concerts and recitals. From the moment I met him Tim has been a wonderful influence on my career and encouraged me to follow my musical dreams.

If I may mention some legendary musicians that I admire today here is my list, though I could add many more:

Pat Moynihan – my father was a wonderful accordion player and singer

Murray Perahia, Annie Fischer, Zempleni Kornel, John O’Conor, Claudio Arrau, Brigitte Engerer – a list of iconic pianists that will be well-known and loved here!

Matt Molloy – celebrated flautist from The Chieftains

Placido Domingo – Tenor

Emanuelle Morris – a wonderful musician, voice coach and teacher

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I always welcome a challenge and like to think I challenge myself every concert season. I was the first person to perform the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in their entirety in Ireland in the stunning Hugh Lane Gallery in 2010. Since then I have performed several series including the piano sonatas of Haydn and Clementi and a series comprising of Schubert’s works of 1827: the Impromptus, both piano trios and Winterreise. I am incredibly excited about my next challenge: to perform the Completed Piano Sonatas of Schubert in the celebrated Triskel Arts Centre, Cork. This series will begin on February 2nd and will consist of four lunchtime recitals and a finale recital at 8pm on June 8th. There is such a beautiful piano and acoustic at the Triskel, such a wonderful artistic director Tony Sheehan and always an enthusiastic welcome from the audience. More details at:

I am also very proud to have been the first person to be awarded a Doctorate in Music Performance from The Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Dublin City University in 2009. It was a challenge and an achievement I am immensely proud of.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my first album ‘The Ivory Lady’. It brings my love for both Irish traditional music and classical music together. It showcases some of the music most close to my heart including the title piece ’The Ivory Lady’ which my brother, uileann piper Diarmaid Moynihan, composed for me over a decade ago. My father recorded the well-loved Irish air ‘Inisheer’ with me. He passed away in December 2014 and it means the world to me to have that special recording of us together. It was recorded in my brother Donncha’s recording studio in Cork, a great sound engineer, guitarist and arranger.

I am incredibly proud of a recent Clementi recording I did for RTE Lyric FM in April 2016. I recorded a recital of six piano sonatas by Clementi including two with my brother, flautist Kieran Moynihan.

I am proud to have played in so many countries and to have performed such iconic works as The Goldberg Variations, the Schumann piano concerto, the complete piano sonatas of Mozart, Haydn and Clementi and so much more. I love to perform, I love to perform in different countries, different venues and in a range of musical styles. It is what makes me who I am and I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful husband, family and friends who always encourage me and support me.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I strive to play all works to the highest standard and I think one never reaches perfection. But this longing for musical perfection is what enables us musicians to grow and develop throughout our musical life I think.

I particularly love the Baroque era, the Classical era and the Impressionist era and also Irish traditional music. I have also recorded some small works for films over the years and thoroughly enjoyed it.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Sometimes the repertoire is not my choice but the request of a particular music venue or festival. If choosing myself it is often a body of work I have ‘fallen in love’ with, a work which challenges me, my musical thought and my pianistic technique.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have several favourite venues and several venues on my wish list! I am always delighted to be invited to perform in new venues and love experiencing different pianos and acoustics.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who bring the heart of the music to all who will listen!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Every concert brings something special: it is lovely to have a great response from an audience, to have a truly uplifting performance with a colleague, to meet new musicians, to play with musicians one has know for years, to perform a work for the first time and to be proud of what one has accomplished…. The list could go on.

Some memorable concerts have been:

Performing the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in the Triskel Arts Centre and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

Performing with family members in Warsaw, Budapest and on a tour of Japan. Perfoming in the Lorient Festival of Music in Brittany, France when I was only seven years old.

Performing in Moscow in the Glinka Museum of Culture to celebrate the works of Ireland’s own classical composer John Field.

Performing Gershwin Variations and the MacDowell piano concerto with the RTE Concert Orchestra in Ireland’s beautiful National Concert Hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To improve everyday as a musician, pianist and performer. To bring every piece of music I perform to life and to bring my love for the music to the hearts of people in the audience.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Your best teacher will always be your ears. Learn new repertoire, go and see and support live performances and enjoy performing with others

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I hope my loved ones and myself are healthy and happy and I hope to be enjoying my career as a concert pianist, celtic pianist, recording artist and music arranger.

What is your most treasured possession?

My life with my wonderful husband Tim, family and friends. And I love my beautiful Kawaii grand piano too!!!

Dr. Fionnuala Moynihan completed her doctorate in Music Performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music where she studied with Dr. John O’Conor and Professor Reamonn Keary. She is the first person to be awarded a Doctorate in Music Performance from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Dublin City University. Fionnuala began her piano studies at the Cork School of Music where she studied with Eleanor Malone. In 2001 she received her Honours Bachelor of Music degree from the Birmingham Conservatoire where she studied with Irish pianist/composer Philip Martin. She graduated with the Graduate award for pianists and the prestigious Weingarten scholarship enabling her to commence her studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. From 2001-2004 Fionnuala studied with Professors Kornél Zempleni and Balazs Szokolay at the Franz Liszt Academy after which she returned to Ireland where she was awarded her Masters of Music degree from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Dublin City University. Fionnuala also studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1999-2000 where she studied with Madame Brigitte Engerer and at the Aspen Music Festival and School where she studied with Yoheved Kaplinsky.

Fionnuala is widely acknowledged as one of Ireland’s leading pianists. She has a particular affinity with the works of both baroque and classical composers. In February 2009 she performed Bach’s Goldberg Variations to critical acclaim in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall, Dublin and in November 2012 was invited by the prestigious Ardee Baroque Festival to perform both the Goldberg Variations and the Aria Variata in A minor. Fionnuala performed the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, in a series of five recitals which ran from February to June 2010. She is the only pianist to have undertaken the formidable challenge of performing this cycle in its entirety in Ireland. In February 2014 she completed another monumental project – to jointly perform ‘The Complete Piano Sonatas of Haydn’, a series of twelve recitals over two years.

Fionnuala has been awarded many prizes both at home and abroad including a Bank of Ireland Millenium Scholarship, the prestigious Maura Teissier Bursary and the Rena Menasche Award from the Tel-Hai Piano Masterclass series held in Israel. She was awarded the John Field Prize at the 2009 AXA Dublin International Piano Competition.

Fionnuala has given solo recitals and concerto performances throughout the UK, France, Holland, Italy, Israel, U.S.A, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia, Poland, Japan and Hungary as well as in Irish venues such as the John Field Room at the National Concert Hall, Áras an Uachtarán, Hugh Lane Gallery, Cork Opera House, Bantry House, the Mansion House and the Crawford Art Gallery. Fionnuala was invited by the University of Warsaw and the Irish Embassy in Warsaw in November 2010 to give a recital of works by John Field and a lecture recital exploring the link between Chopin and Field to commemorate the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in November 2010. In September 2011 she gave a recital of his works in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture, Moscow, Russia, a special occasion as it is the city where Field both spent a great deal of his life and is buried. Fionnuala is an active chamber musician and has recently performed with violinists Helena Wood, Mia Cooper, pianist Sara Bryans, sopranos Deirdre Moynihan, Mary O’ Sullivan, Norah King, baritone Gavin Ring, oboist Sanja Romic and Gael Winds wind quintet.

In July 2014 she gave a Summer concert tour in Japan with five of her brothers and sisters. Their fusion of both the classical and traditional genres has earned them praise both at home and internationally. Her debut CD ’The Ivory Lady’ was launched in January 2015. This CD is a classical-trad fusion CD and showcases Fionnuala’s love for both the classical and traditional music genres. Fionnuala’s third classical series ‘Clementi: The Piano Sonatas’ began on November 23rd at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin and consisted of eight recitals over two years. She was also an artist at the 2015 prestigious ‘Great Music in Irish Houses’ Festival. By kind invitation from the Irish Embassy Fionnuala gave two concerts in Zagreb, Croatia and Ljubljana, Slovenia to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in March 2016. In April 2016 she recorded a recital of sonatas by Muzio Clementi for The Lyric Concert on RTE Lyric FM Radio. She has recently been invited to perform ‘The Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart’ in a five-recital series in the Triskel Arts Centre Cork. This series will take place between January and May 2017 and is kindly supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Fionnuala currently teaches piano performance at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.