Q&A with Stuart Dunlop

We speak to the new director of music at the University of East Anglia

September 4, 2014

Source: Bruce Fitzgerald Photography

Conductor Stuart Dunlop began his musical life as a bassoonist, playing in outfits including the London Classical Players and Alan Hacker’s ensemble The Music Party. After a postgraduate course at the Royal College of Music he became a conducting fellow at Aspen Music School in Colorado. In August he took up the post of director of music at the University of East Anglia.

Where and when were you born?
Crawley, 18 April 1960.

How has this shaped you?
The past is another country, and Crawley is part of that. I can still smell aircraft fuel [given its proximity to Gatwick Airport] when I think of it, though.

Does becoming the inaugural director of UEA’s new music centre fill you with trepidation, or excitement at the prospect of a clean slate?
Both in equal measure, although a clean slate is a misapprehension. We have to climb down from the shoulders of the old giants and learn to walk a new path.

What else drew you to UEA?
It feels like a university on the up, and it has made a substantial commitment to music.

What do you hope to do in your directorship?
I want to help build a musical community within and beyond the university. I don’t know what it will look like yet. I will stand for the music I believe in and I look forward to helping others do the same, whether their tastes chime with mine or not.

Where do you think music sits as an academic subject?
Music should have a place in the heart of every university (and other institutions, too). It’s too important to life to leave out.

Are music academics dismissed for not being in an ‘impactful’ or ‘serious’ field?
The late composer David Bedford wrote a programme note for one of his own pieces: “This piece is for listening to, not reading about.” Musicians who lose sight of this priority are themselves lost.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I wouldn’t presume to. The mistakes I’ve made at all ages are the very stuff of me. Who’s going to take advice from a man like that?

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
Of the huge number of people I look up to, top of the heap must be Billy Connolly. A man of craft and skill, fierce, angry, gentle, understanding, coruscating and puzzled. Profoundly human in my eyes, and someone who could build you a ship too.

What has changed most in higher education in the past 10 years?
Increasing intolerance of wasted time.

What was your university experience like?
All the time I wasted has been recycled into someone I see in the mirror.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
Eager, lazy, grateful.

What was your most memorable moment at university?
Berlioz’s Requiem, York Minster: music manifest as spirit and physical sensation combined.

If you were a prospective university student today facing £9,000 a year fees, would you go again or go straight into work?
I’m profoundly grateful that I can sidestep that one.

What’s your biggest regret?
Not being braver.

What do you do for fun?
Family, wine. Mostly in that order.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
My ambition is still to grow up. I’ll get back to you about the other bit.

Have you ever had a eureka moment?
Eureka – is that how properly educated people spell “Doh!”?

Which is the more stressful job: conductor or academic?
Anyone who can survive the pressures of doing either with their whole heart has my deepest admiration.


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