Hailing from Portugal, the talented Rebeca Oliveira recently sat down to share some insight over the course of her journey with guitar so far. There is a lot of wonderful advice for young and old players alike in this interview. Hope it is inspiring to all of you.
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started to play classical guitar when I was 15 years old. Actually when I think about it, I can’t find the precise moment where I decided that I wanted to learn guitar or become a musician… Before I played Piano but I didn’t want to continue with the lessons, so my mother pushed me into guitar lessons, so I could keep learning music. It just started like a Hobby and at some point I got really interested in music and particularly in classical guitar repertoire. I remember going to a concert of a Spanish guitarist in my hometown and I was really fascinated! I guess it was probably after that, that I decided to become a classical guitarist.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I really enjoy playing “Segovia’s repertoire” like Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ponce, Tansman, etc. I also like playing baroque music, specially the one written for harpsichord, like Scarlatti and Carlos Seixas.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
For the last two years I play with a cedar double top guitar made by the German luthier Dieter Müller. I use D’Addario strings (EJ45 – normal tension) and play with a customized Guitarlift made by Felix Justen.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Difficult question!! I think I absorbed lots of little things from probably all the guitarists I had the luck to work with or to listen to. But I am sure that the ones that influenced me the most were the ones that I was lucky to have as teachers: Margarita Escarpa, who was my teacher for four years, during my bachelor and who taught me most of the things I know today, and Thomas Müller-Pering, with who I am currently studying my master degree in Weimar, and is helping me so much in finding myself as a musician!
Outside the classical guitar world my biggest influences are Maria João Pires and Alicia de Larrocha.
If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a CD?
I don’t have any CDs yet, but I am really proud of the video recorded with Open Strings Berlin, where I recorded Sonata 23 by Carlos Seixas.
I would love to record a Cd soon and is something that I have in mind, but unfortunately, right now, I can’t afford the expenses of a cd recording.
Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Right now I don’t have so many projects planned… I am going to Tallinn next week for the Tallinn Guitar Festival, since I received the Eurostrings Scholarship to go to this festival and I am really excited about it! I will also play in Barcelona in September. I am also thinking in publishing more transcriptions of Carlos Seixas’ music, but nothing planned yet!
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
It is something that changes so much depending on the repertoire and the projects I have, but I try always to practice six hours per day. Although I believe the most important thing is not the amount of hours one studies but how concentrated, efficient and productive one can be during the practice session. I already know myself and know that I need a bit of time to reach the level I want, at least now. I also believe that the most important thing is to have lots of discipline in order to be strict and have a frequent amount of practice every day.
I always try to adjust my practice depending on what do I have to do and how much time I have. If I need to read new repertoire it will be a completely different study of if I have a concert or a competition. When I have a public performance I spend more time working on memory issues, cleaning difficult passages and I always try to play a lot for my friends, teachers or my colleagues. Chamber music is always part of my practice session also. Besides that, no particular structure on my practicing time!
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Ufff, so many!!!! The guitar is such a difficult instrument and I think that one is never completely happy with the result and there is always something, probably not “to struggle with”, but that you can improve. Also, my struggling aspects change depending on the repertoire I am working on. Right now I work mostly on the consistency of the sound, dynamics and colors, articulation and timing.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I don’t memorize scores extremely easily, and actually that is one of the most important aspects on my practicing session, once I already worked a little bit on the piece. Of course I can memorize a piece after playing it and studying it for a couple of day, but I feel the need of being 100% sure that everything is well memorized. I do mental practice, I play with external distractions (loud music, reading a book, being completely out of tune, etc.), I play with a mute and I always like to have little “safe” spots in the piece, just in case something bad happens during a performance! That way I don’t feel completely lost and can continue from the last “safe spot” on.
I published last month two transcriptions from the Portuguese baroque composer Carlos Seixas. The two sonatas (23 and 24) were published by Les Productions d’Oz and I am thinking in publishing some more transcriptions in the future.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
Not really… I normally warm up with some easy technical exercises or, when I have too many things going on and not so much time, I just start my practice session with the technical difficult part I have in the pieces that I am studying, and just study them in a really slow tempo.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I don’t think it is a ritual but I like it to have a relaxed day, when it is possible. Sleep enough, drink lots of water, eat well and playing only some excerpts from my repertoire. Before the concert I really like to have time to try the room and to warm up properly.
Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
Yes, I do! I don’t have super strong nails so I always need to be very careful with them. I used to take a couple of vitamin supplies for some year, yet I don’t need it anymore. But I always try to have them well hydrated and filled. When I have some important thing going on, in order to be comfortable in the day of the concert or a competition day I normally practice the days before with tape to protect my nails. It doesn’t sound great, but it is the best solution to keep them with the right length.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
To be always aware of everything you do while practicing! One should be always 100% concentrated and demanding while practicing. I also think that is really important to be familiar with the classical guitar world: doing masterclasses, getting in touch with some teachers and players, doing competitions, going to concerts, learning about repertoire, etc.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
I think the best thing is to read and play lots of different pieces, so you would get familiar with different styles and interpretation/technical approaches. I find studies really useful for young players, since they normally solve some technical problem and are not so difficult to read, so it improves sight-reading a lot. The repertoire from the Classic period is always a good choice since it has a little bit of everything: simple harmony, melodic lines, arpeggios, etc. I also find interesting Fernando Sor’s Studies, Villa-Lobos’ Studies, Bach’s Lute Suites, Tárrega’s Preludes, Estudios Sencillos from Leo Brouwer, for example.
Talking about recordings I think every student must hear the historic recordings from Segovia, Bream and Williams, but also the recording from the great masters of our time: Carlo Marchionne, Ricardo Gallén, Zoran Dukic, David Russell, Thomas Müller-Pering, etc.
It is also extremely important to hear recordings of orchestras, piano, violin, string quartets, operas, etc. I believe this is the best way to develop a refined music taste and to improve one’s interpretation skills.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
The last book I read was “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” by José Saramago. My favorite authors are Gabriel García Marquez and José Saramago, of course!
Do you meditate in any way?
Not at all… But I should!! 😀
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I like to go out with my friend and family, especially when I am in my hometown. When I am not, I like to read, listen to music, go to concerts, and watch Netflix series!
Check out Rebeca’s YouTube channel!