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Twenty Questions with Tarik O’Regan

In the first of a new series of interviews with Philharmonia artists, musicians and staff, we caught up with newly-announced Composer in Residence Tarik O’Regan and put our questions to him.

Welcome Tarik! Can you tell us what your role at Philharmonia is and what it involves?
Although titled Composer-in-Residence, the role is really one which is 50/50 composing/producing. I’ll be writing three large works for PBO, but I’ll also be: overseeing a commissioning program to bring many other living composers into the PBO fold; a composition competition; a composing (for period instruments) workshop; and- in time – putting together a ensemble from within the orchestra dedicated to performing contemporary music.

Which cell number do you call the most?
I actually just looked it up, assuming it would be my wife’s. Wrong (sorry). This pandemic has changed all that. It’s actually the local pizza place which now only accepts orders via a single cell number. I called them 84 times last week before I could get through. So, um, not wife: pizza.

Where, or what, is perfection?
Getting through to the pizza place on the first attempt.

What living person do you most admire (and why)?

In terms of people I actually know, and given the year we’ve just had, it’s got to be our USPS postal worker and his various colleagues. We’ve depended on them more than ever, and they’ve just always been there, every day, throughout this whole thing. I always thought the US Postal Service motto – “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers etc” – covered, you know, everything, but they seriously ought to add “global pandemic” to the list now.

What special talent or skill do you wish you possessed?
The ability to stop tinkering with my own compositions because I don’t think they’re quite finished. I’ve probably wasted at least a year of my life doing this.

What do you fear the most?
Literally anything to do with eyeballs.

What is the most important lesson that life has taught you?
Opportunities in life are not a zero-sum game. Other people’s successes create broader opportunities in the world for everyone, and thus the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The narrative of “your loss, my gain” really is a false one in my experience.

What is the first album that you ever bought?
Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” on LP, with my own actual cash. I was 14, and it was to fill a gap in my mother’s record collection (she’s an avid Led Zep fan), which I’d completely devoured by that point and had more or less adopted as my own.

What is the most recent album that you’ve bought or streamed?
“Super Jive Hits” by Lulu Masilela with The Boyoyo Boys.

What is your current most-played piece of music?
Live performance: “Triptych”. Broadcast & streaming: “Threshold of Night” (on the album of the same name, performed by Conspirare on Harmonia Mundi)

Who is your favorite hero from fiction (book/comic/film/opera) – and why?
Recently it’s the character Andréa Martel, played by Camille Cottin, in the show “Dix pour cent” (known as “Call My Agent!” in English-language markets). I have never seen anyone get through so many catastrophes so elegantly and brilliantly, all the while appearing to do so utterly effortlessly. And she swears a lot.

What is your most treasured possession?
Given that all socializing is outside and distanced these days, I’d say right now it’s got to be my outdoor heater in the garden.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Hanging out with the older kids.

What is your most guilty pleasure?
True-crime documentaries on Netflix.

What is your favourite word?
Interrobang. Which is more or less the exclamation most commonly associated with “WTF?!”

What composer or musician, past or present, would you most like to have dinner with, and why?
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. I love his music, and I feel a strange personal connection with him. We both have one European parent and one African one, and we both grew up in Croydon, South London. He could tell me about going to the White House and meeting President Theodore Roosevelt. I could tell him about Croydon Tramlink.

What is your favorite smell?
It’s the smell which accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. I even named a piece after it: Petrichor.

What is your most memorable vacation?
The first time I visited Eswatini (then called Swaziland) in 2012, where my wife grew up. I had no idea then that we’d end up living there for two years (2017-2019), and that our son would be born there.

What keeps you awake at night?
Um, true-crime documentaries on Netflix.

Which composer or musician is the most underrated in your opinion?
Labi Siffre. I’ve been aware of his work as a singer-songwriter for a long time, either the earlier stuff from my parents’ record collection, or via later songs released in my lifetime such as “(Something Inside) So Strong”. What I didn’t know until relatively recently was just how influential his music is to musicians of later generations (e.g. Fatboy Slim, Jay-Z, Kanye West, especially Enimem in “My Name Is”). And the next time you hear that 80s Madness classic “It Must Be Love,” give a thought to Labi Siffre. He wrote it.

Get to know Tarik even better on this week’s edition of What’s New and H.I.P.!

Click here to read our post announcing Tarik as Composer in Residence!