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null Get to know the artist, con­duc­tor Ea­monn Dougan: Fu­ture music pro­fes­sion­als should aim at being good col­leagues

Conductor, singer Eamonn Dougan is coming to conduct Georg Friedrich Händel’s oratorio Semele as a part of the Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy course.


Georg Friedrich Handel’s Semele (HWV 58) will conclude the Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy course in August 2021 and will be performed on 13 August 2021 at 7 pm. The concert will be streamed online for all baroque music lovers to enjoy. We asked Eamonn about his view on baroque music, on studying music and being and becoming a music professional.

You are both a singer and a conductor – which do you think you maybe are the most and how do you balance these two?

The majority of my work is now conducting, so I do think of myself more as a conductor, but really the two are inseparable for me. The singing part of my brain absolutely works in tandem with the conducting. My singing informs my conducting and vice versa, so that when working with singers I have my many years of experience to draw on, but if I’m working with an orchestra, I often speak in very vocal terms, especially in how the players breathe, or, if working with text, approaching it from the singer’s perspective and really looking to reflect it in their phrasing / approach to colour. Players seem to enjoy being asked to think about music this way, so it seems to be a good way to bring these two worlds together.

You are visiting as a conductor in our Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy course. What is the main thing you want the students to remember from you after this course?

It may sound obvious, but if the audience cannot understand your words, they won’t be able to follow the story! A singer’s first job is to make sure that everything can be understood. This is more important than producing a beautiful sound. We must always strive to communicate and connect with your audience, in order move them. This will be particularly difficult for us, as we most likely will not have a physical audience in the theatre, so we have to ensure that all the performances are honest, direct (and with crystal clear diction).

How would you describe Semele as a musical piece, how is it like for a conductor and is there some highlights the listener should pay attention to especially?

As with any dramatic work, one of the main challenges for a conductor is how best to pace the work, so that the narrative is clear and the audience is taken on a convincing emotional journey. It is a work which is full of many wonderfully florid, vocally taxing arias which showcase the technical prowess of the singers, but the moments which stay with me are when Handel slows things down. Jupiter’s aria Where ‘ere you walk is rightly famous for its beautiful melody and lush accompaniment, but some of the most striking moments are where the orchestra are paired right back – Semele’s My wracking thoughts, accompanied just by solo cello and continuo brilliantly draws the audience in, the cello beautifully reflecting her unquiet in its halting, dotted phrases. Keep an ear out for the start of Act III and Handel’s extraordinary use of two bassoons to give a particular colour to herald the introduction of Somnus, the God of Sleep.

What special features are there to be considered when singing or conducting baroque music?

That’s a rather large question! In this project I imagine we will focus on issues of style, for both singers and players – how we shape the music, how best to present the rhetorical shapes and figures, again with the emphasis being on clear delivery of the story. I’m very fortunate that I will have Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch leading the orchestra and the singers have already been receiving coaching from the wonderful team at the Sibelius Academy: Petteri Salomaa, Tuuli Lindeberg and Ulla Raiskio – so there is a lot of expertise and experience for us all to share and pass on to the students.

The Sibelius Summer Academy courses aim to increase the participants’ possibilities for international networking. What does internationality mean to you as a musician and what advice would you give aspiring musicians on how to build their international network?

I’m fortunate that my conducting allows me to work in different countries and to experience varied musical approaches and outlooks. Living and working in a country which has recently decided to give up its membership of the EU, this work has become increasingly important to me and I’m particularly pleased to be working in Finland for the first time. The importance of international collaboration for musicians cannot be overstated – we need to sing and play alongside each other, to talk about music, technique and historical context. There is so much to be learnt from each other and I see this in my own teaching at the Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music where we, currently, have many overseas students. If students are able to study in a different country for a while, this can be extremely beneficial, but it can be prohibitively expensive these days. Summer schools can be a great way to meet like-minded musicians – I learnt a huge amount on singing courses in France and Italy in my student days and met people who I am still working with 30 years later.

In these exceptional times, we have been talking a lot about the role of the arts in our societies. How do you see that one can deal with social issues through art and music?

Music can be such a force for good – those of us who love and practice music know this –  but in the UK we are constantly frustrated by a government who simply do not appreciate or value the arts. Despite this, there are many organisations who do outstanding work in challenging settings and environments, providing support, comfort and hope to many who are in desperate need. Music can be a great leveller, since everyone will have an emotional reaction to a piece of music, no matter how different that might be. This can be what brings people together and I’ve seen it at first-hand working with people who are experiencing homelessness. However, the biggest challenge facing musical life in the UK is the lack of music education. Many schools now have axed music from the syllabus, choirs and orchestras are disappearing and it is increasingly the case that only those who can afford it can enjoy learning a musical instrument. A long-term strategy of re-introducing music into primary schools is required, but that will also require a change of government. I imagine that things are better in Finland which seems to have a much more enlightened approach.

What do you think are the most essential skills when thinking about musician’s or a conductor’s job today?

If I were to give one, crucial piece of advice it would be “be a good colleague”, something that can be practised everyday.

What would be your greetings to the participants of the Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy course in August or to the public that watches the concert?

Welcome back – we’ve missed you! Now, if at all possible, go to concerts, support those musicians who have been unable to work for so long and help reboot the world’s cultural life.

Read more about Eamonn Dougan

Online concert: Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy - Semele

Read more about the Early Music @ Sibelius Summer Academy course