Tribute to the Masters: Evangelos Assimakopoulos

I often stumble upon Greek guitarist Evangelos Assimakopoulos’ videos when swallowed into the youtube rabbit hole. These are the videos I listen to more than once. I linger. Evangelos’ playing is lyrical, colorful, understated but virtuosic, and though I want to label the playing with the term “old school”, his playing is simply how I imagine guitar should be played.

Here is a video of Evagelos playing Enrique Granados’ Danza Española Nº5.

And, another one of him playing Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K.474.

Here is more information on his duo and a link to his youtube channel:

http://www.evangelos-liza.com/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYX3pbD00kDuY2ICDSLaF7A

Ricardo Gallén releases Complete Brouwer Sonatas!

If his playing were not inspiring enough, Spanish guitar virtuoso Ricardo Gallén has just accomplished another impressive monumental feat that defines timelines by releasing the Complete Sonatas by legendary Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. Sonata Nº4 “Del Pensador” is dedicated to Ricardo and Sonata Nº6 “De los Enigmas” was originally written for archlute and transcribed by Ricardo. There is a beautifully created video documenting some of the recording’s production on his facebook page. [I can’t seem to share the video here].

I’m not sure if it is available in the US but here is a link:

http://ibsclassical.es/product/brouwer-guitar-sonatas/

I would highly recommend anything Ricardo has recorded but every guitarist should be familiar with his profound recording of J.S. Bach’s Complete Lute Works:

http://ricardogallen.com/discografia/complete-lute-works-bach-en/

Bravo, Ricardo!!!

5 STEPS TO MORE SECURE PLAYING

During a lesson last night, a musically talented young student played Roland Dyens’ Tango en Skai. He had played it a few years ago when he was 9 (!) and had been reworking it for fun. Like most young players excited about guitar, the desire to play is overwhelming to the point that it crowds out actual practice and more importantly, the crucial aspect of practice: reflection. A piece will get to a “pretty good” level and, while it may be pretty well played, it is not mastered or excellent. So, we addressed this by using the first run in Dyens’ Tango as an example of how to actually practice for marked improvement.

Tango 1.jpg

 

STEP 1 – PLAY RIGHT HAND ALONE SLOWLY

Tango RH.jpgThis step is easy to spend the most time on because it will make you question right hand choices if you have not thought about them in this context. Actually seeing the open strings is different than seeing the original score and imagining the right hand. New patterns are optically sought out and if you are a visual learner, seeing a map is easier than imagining it. We chose to stick with the student’s right hand choice but it was interesting to watch such a talented player struggle to play it very slowly (sixteenth = 60 bpm). We lingered luxuriously in this stage playing at different tempi until we were convinced the right hand’s sense of rhythm and pulse had tightened up.

 

STEP 2 – PLAY RIGHT HAND ALONE WITH DYNAMICS

Tango dynamics.jpg

 

STEP 3 – SEARCH FOR STABILITY POINTS

We answered some key questions. Where is thumb? Working out when and where thumb plants on the strings between strokes or in anticipation of strokes greatly increases right hand stability for the rest of the fingers. Where can I plant other fingers? Because the right hand movement is continuously ascending towards string 1, planting helps control dynamics and insures that the fingers are in place before their turn is up. Then, of course, we spent time practicing the incorporation of planting into the right hand choreography. After a few minutes, the right hand was behaving like a true champ: strong, secure, comfortable, happy!

Dyens plant.jpg

 

STEP 4 – ADD LEFT HAND BACK IN

This is where most students who are hyper-focused on left hand and playing are astonished by what they sound like. The playing sounds crisp, exact, musical, and free. Hopefully, at this stage, the aural and physical reward is strong enough to convince the student to start truly practicing and instill the desire to play everything at a level approaching mastery.

*We can go further here by applying rhythms, pushing the tempo to build a reserve, practicing left hand alone, but for now, this is where we left it.

STEP 5 – Take a new passage, and go to step 1!

Hope this helps!

Nails!

From the archives:

Six String Journal

davidrussell David Russell’s nail shape.

Finding the right nail shape to express yourself on the guitar is an elusive science. To make the puzzle more complicated are the facts that nails are organic, are continuously growing, and are affected by variables like weather and diet. Because everyone attacks the strings with variable angles and tensions in the fingertips and because we all have an ideal sound we are after one shape may not be as effective as another. Some guitarists have a “sound” with little sonic variance while some use color and gradations of timbre to interpret their music. So, whether you are a beginner starting to experiment or an advanced player looking to expand your knowledge, the following videos are the best I’ve found so far to see exactly what the pros do and how they approach nail shape.

In french with subtitles, Six String Journal favorite Thomas Viloteau shows…

View original post 87 more words

Artist Spotlight – Rafael Aguirre Interview

Spanish guitar phenomenon, Rafael Aguirre, is likely the most acclaimed guitarist of his generation. With an incredible tally of 1st prizes from the most important international competitions to collaborations with conductors and musicians across the globe, Rafael’s guitar playing speaks for itself – technically perfect, captivating, dazzling, and full of fantasy and introspection. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Rafael found a bit of time between concerts and practicing to share some of his thoughts and philosophies with us. Enjoy!

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Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started to play when I was 8 years old. Basically I could choose between piano and guitar and my older brother started the piano earlier so I didn’t want to fight with him sharing the piano like we did with video games. I wanted to finally have a tool only for me and I didn’t know it was an important decision. Probably the music education by my mother was crucial since we used to listen to “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev before we went to school every morning and it was then that I started to have a connection with classical music and felt it was beautiful. My mother probably noticed or knew I had a musical ear. I should ask her… ; ) Nice memories…

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I think every repertoire could be enjoyed if you feel completely free from technique barriers, because it is like every person in life. Every person has its uniqueness that you can enjoy. But probably Spanish music, transcriptions and Latin American music is what I enjoy a lot if I analyze my youtube videos for instance. But what I really enjoy is to sight read music from Dowland and Da Milano to Berio and Ianarelli, and even pop songs or cinema music. I like to “eat” music and nourish my soul through sight reading. So in the end I choose very carefully what I play on stage after having played a lot of music. You should see my library and the room where I practice. I have all kinds of music from the most intellectual to the most banal, but for me not only is it important the quality of the music but also if you like it for a reason. I like Gran Jota even if it has not the richness of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, but I feel a strong connection with the piece, an attraction. So sometimes I play a piece because I realize it’s a masterwork and other times just because of that. In the end, we are all humans and musical attraction also exists. ; )

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Currently I perform on guitars built by my father. I am performing already on a fourth one. They are built in Málaga, Spain following my advice and taste and I am very happy with the result. Sometimes I still play on my Gnatek from Australia. I always use D’addario hard tension strings since I am a proud  D’addario artist and still find them irresistible.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

Early on, Narciso Yepes and John Williams. And later, musicians like Daniel Barenboim, Karajan, Krystian Zimerman, Anne Sophie Mutter, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein, Placido Domingo, Pavarotti, Radu Lupu. My favorite guitarist nowadays is Paco de Lucía. Also Chucho Valdés, Paquito d’Rivera, Diego el Cigala, Caetano Veloso, Yamandu Costa or fado singers like Ana Moura influence me a lot when I listen to them.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I have difficulties listening to my own playing because you would like to change things that are impossible to change and it is very frustrating, but sometimes I listen to them. I guess it is a problem when you know yourself. I also prefer much more the concert stage than the recording studio. But I would say I like my first Naxos Recording in 2008 (Rautavaara, Ibert) and the “La vida breve” Cd with Nadège Rochat, cello. But also the “Classica brasiliana” Cd for Dabringhaus Grimm label, where I was a guest artist. The “Transcriptions” cd I am very proud because of the music selection, but I would play it differently today probably. Very challenging music on the guitar.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

Listen to Koen Claeys “Paint me blue” cd [Koen Clays Six String Interview]. I love that sound! Loud and clear! The problem of classical guitar recordings is that they don’t sound loud enough and when you listen to them in a car you can’t recognize anything. They only work with a very high stereo sound system at home. So I rather enjoy recordings by Yamandu Costa or even flamenco players because of that reason. I think we have to think about this. We are afraid of getting noises from the strings and we put the microphones too far (they also did on my recordings) and the guitar sounds from far away, and that doesn’t go with the status quo of a very penetrating sound in today’s recording industry where people listen with their iphones and tablets. The great thing about the guitar is when you listen to it as a player and the guitar sounds like you are in a cave in el Sacromonte in Granada, this is magic! Unfortunately because the lack of projection of the instrument we cannot get this magic putting the microphones far away. Now I would record with the mics very close. Listen to my video of Cinema Paradiso with bandoneon. I started to experiment there and I am very happy with the result. 

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

There is a famous opera singer that I admire that invited me to record with her on her debut album for Warner Classics some songs. Very excited about this! Also about my debut at the “Auditorio nacional” in Madrid next year. Also my Japanese debuts with orchestra in Kyushu and Tokyo (Tokyo Symphony). In general I want to show the guitar to new audiences or to audiences accustomed to Segovia and they stopped since he died. Also to continue to play for guitar audiences where I can share my latest discoveries for a more comprehensive reception since they know what I do better. But I am still excited to have joined one of the best agencies in the world in London last September, Intermusica. All the projects that will follow from our collaboration already excite me. Imagine, they just signed pianist Yuja Wang who is one of the superstars of the circuit of classical music. Representing the guitar in such an agency is a blessing and I only can give my best.


Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

Something between 3 and 6 hours maximum a day. I like to sight read a bit, practice a bit of flamenco for my technique and fun and I have a list with my upcoming repertoire and I write down every time I practice it complete or in sections or difficult parts in order to have like a diary and control it. But I can be also a mess and just play for fun instead of practice but always very focused on playing as perfect as I can.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

Yes. Some flamenco techniques and in general the way I practice is always different because my goal is to play with the brain and completely free of effort. So I am working a lot on that right now. Controlling everything from the brain like a Macintosh computer in order to enjoy. It is a lot of work particularly for the right hand but it is showing some results which excite me already!

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

I have to repeat a piece a lot of times. Also I have to be able to play the piece a tempo. I have tried many things and techniques from famous musicians, but in the end I do it very instinctively. I also record myself to understand why I fail on the same spots and what has to be worked out. And it works! Also being patient and going for a walk or a good restaurant to rest the brain and give a little bit of time to absorb the piece works well.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

To be honest I am a very lazy person writing music down and I cannot use any computer program to write music. I am very ashamed of that, but one day I hope all my arrangements will be written and I will be more modern. Let’s do another interview in 25 years, hahaha.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

Yes. Being conscious of every note I play with the right hand and so I warm up my brain. I don’t believe in warming up your hands, because you can warm up your hands also playing baseball, and anyway if you are nervous on stage it doesn’t help a lot. I believe in brain warm up. Your brain works every minute faster because you are aware of all the movements and notes you play. Paco de Lucía said “The scales are in your brain” this is something that is difficult to explain on an interview without the guitar.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Sleeping and eating something. I hate playing hungry. I read yesterday that Federer likes to eat two hours before every match. I totally understand him. Sometimes I like to do a bit of meditation and basically play a little bit and do my brain warm up with the guitar.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

I put on some lacquer. It is a nail hardener. I shape them with the half moon form.


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Never practice faster that you can think. Also practice playing softly and in a relaxed manner, until you feel you can increase the volume.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

Brouwer, Sor and Villa Lobos Studies. These are the basis of our technique. Also I would encourage students to learn a few flamenco pieces to extend the fingers “out”. We only do inside or flexing movements as classical guitarists.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

Is nice to listen to guitar, but you pay attention to the “guitaristic” things. I would recommend listening to old guitarists like Segovia, Alirio Diaz, Lagoya, Barrios, Yupanqui, until Barrueco or Gallén and the young players but try to listen to Mahler Symphonies, Schubert Lieder and Juanita Reina (for Spanish music). There you pay more attention to the musical aspect, and we need to cultivate our fantasy as musicians. A guitarist without fantasy is missing all the possibilities and magic of our instrument, It is more complex than it appears.


Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

Right now I am reading Plato’s Dialogues. I don’t have favorite authors since I am always changing the writer and I haven’t read yet five or more books of the same author to have this opinion.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

Oh yes,  swimming, biking on the gym. I work with a nutritionist and try to divide the food during the day in particular order, but since I love eating and going to restaurants, I eat everything I like. Favorite pre-concert food is a good meat or fish.

Do you meditate in any way?

I do Vipassana meditation at the moment. I love it and recommend it everyone!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Traveling, walking, trying restaurants and nice cafés, spending time with family and friends, reading, movies, going to concerts exhibitions (sounds like the typical answer of somebody trying to be cool but is truth).

Any things else you’d like to add?

Remember that music is more important than the guitar and think outside the box.

Connect with Rafael Aguirre

https://www.rafael-aguirre.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Rafael-Aguirre-126632647534649/

https://twitter.com/aguirreguitar

https://www.instagram.com/rafael_aguirre_guitar/?hl=es

Duo Siquiera Lima Brilliance

Here is another great video via the Paris Guitar Foundation (Brazil’s Guitar Coop on the filming) featuring the Duo Siquiera Lima playing Cesar Camargo Mariano’s Cristal. The performance is what I’ve come to look forward to every time I stumble upon one of their videos: groove, enjoyment, virtuosity, and hands down brilliant playing.

Enjoy!

Drew Henderson plays Paganini Caprices

Canadian guitarist Drew Henderson recently released another stellar production on the video, sound, and playing fronts. In this one, he tackles Nicolo Paganini’s demanding 9th violin caprice entitled “The Hunt” in a supremely musical fashion; conjuring the orchestral voices from his wonderful sounding guitar.

Caprice Nº9, Op. 1

And, as an encore, Drew plays Nicolo Paganini’s serene 2nd caprice flawlessly.

Caprice Nº2, Op. 1

Nine Tips for Better Playing

Six String Journal

I love the early stages of learning new repertoire because my ears, eyes, and fingers are most alert to discovery. My process of learning has evolved dramatically from when I first became afflicted with the classical guitar bug. For many beginners, the goal is simply to find a way to get the fingers to the right places and enjoy the results. As beginners approach basic fluency, the process of learning involves more and more layers of thought and reflection, of crafting and re-crafting, of listening and sculpting. As intermediate players reach a more advanced level, the amount of thought about what is going to occur on both a musical and physical level during the very early stages sets the stage for clean, efficient, and musical playing that seems seamless to the less experienced player.

Incorporating the following tips and principles will yield the best and most reliable results if they…

View original post 408 more words

Artist Profile Interview – Alberto Mesirca

Italian guitar virtuoso, Alberto Mesirca has headlined across the globe with his passionate, supreme musicality. His interpretations of music from Domenico Scarlatti to Benjamin Britten not only display a dazzling technique but more compellingly invite the listener to imagine with him a musical landscape that is expansive, dreamy, and sometimes, unchartered. Between performances, masterclasses, and lectures, Mesirca has a list a mile long of collaborations with other musicians, composers, and publishers. Amid his rich musical life, he sat down to share a bit about his journey with guitar in this interview. Enjoy!

Alberto Mersica photo 1.jpgphoto credit Serban Mestecaneanu

Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started playing when I was 8 years old, I wanted to play music as I loved music much earlier. My dad was a big music fan, specially of jazz. My aunt had a guitar at home and that’s the instrument on which I started playing.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I like all kinds of repertoire that touch me in a special way or permit me to express inner feelings, to sing with the instrument. They can be from the renaissance or from our time.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have a guitar built by Giuseppe Guagliardo and a guitar by John Gilbert, both in spruce, with D’Addario and Savarez Strings

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

I have an infinite admiration for Julian Bream, who devoted himself to the re-discovery of the old British repertoire, to the request of compositions to the great composers of our time, and to establish for the guitar a position which could have been easily compared to the piano or the violin, as a major chamber music instrument. This due to his tenacity, extremely big talent, intelligence, and capacity. Plus I love his way of playing and his sound.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I think I still like very much the one dedicated to Domenico Scarlatti. I have also a deep attachment to the first one I did, “Ikonostas”, dedicated to guitar music inspired by mysticism, and with a few important first world recordings: “Errimina” by Padre Donostia, discovered by Angelo Gilardino in the Segovia Archive in Linares, and his own “Ikonostas” and “Annunciazione” and “Sefer Torah” by Gianmartino Durighello.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

Like said, I love Julian Bream’s recordings, especially the one dedicated to the British repertoire of the 20th Century (Walton, Smith Brindle). I also still love Segovia’s recordings, especially the Deutsche Grammophon recording of his incredible rendition of Ponce’s Concierto del Sur. It is still for me the best one.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

Now I am preparing a few concerts: recitals, a promotional series of concerts dedicated to the Chaconne (playing Dusan Bogdanovic’s wonderful Chaconne), and preparing a recording dedicated to Italian contemporary composers, having a few dedicated pieces by very interesting composers, like Filippo Perocco and Edoardo Dadone.

Alberto Mersica photo 3.jpgphoto credit Serban Mestecaneanu

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

I tend to warm up with a few technical exercises, scales, slurs, stretching, and then start focusing on the pieces. I love playing, and understood this even more since I started to have many obligations which kept me a  far from the instrument than when I just had to practice, so it doesn’t bother me at all to work on the guitar all day, if I can.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

I think it is a never-ending process, one tends to improve all the time, both technically and especially musically. I feel like I never managed to arrive at a point in which I can say: this is the definitive version. Otherwise I think I’d stop playing much earlier, as the vital and interesting aspect in making music is, for me, the search.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

I tend to memorize pieces easily, but it gets more difficult if the amount of music one has to perform is constantly growing.

I think that there are many memories and each one is helpful for a stable and safe performance: memory of the positions of the left hand, of the music itself, of the movements, of big passages etc. I think that a good exercise for memory is trying to play without the instrument, imagining the notes from the beginning until the end, which is not easy at all.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

I did a few, and the very last one is an interesting one: the Chanterelle Guitar Anthology, for SCHOTT – 40 Classical Guitar Miniatures from Sor to Segovia. I am very happy because it is the result of a friendship with one of the eminent figures in the Musical Research and Publishing for the Guitar, Michael Macmeeken, with whom I previously worked for the publication of a previously unknown piece by Giulio Regondi (Feuillet D’Album) and together with the great Marc Ribot for the Complete Works of the Haitian composer Frantz Casséus.

I made also the recording which is attached, with a beautiful guitar by Donatella Salvato, a talented Italian guitar maker.

ECH_2724-Mesirca.jpg

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?

I tend to play scales, in apoyando and tirando, slurs, stretching, etc.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Frankly not, but I prefer to play in the hall before entering on stage for the concert. This way I get used to the acoustics and dimensions of the hall.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?

Not really, I tend to keep them round and not too long, shaping them with a file and then using this special paper with wax on it.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Keep the love for what you’re doing and never forget the passion that drives you for creating music. If you have a lot of talent, especially at a young age, when competitions are routine, they can distract you from music by the mere search for technical perfection.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I think Fernando Sor and Dioniso Aguado are still wonderful for students because they write in a polyphonic way, also the “easier” pieces, and thus one starts from the beginning to think the guitar as a polyphonic instrument, in which we are forced to lead voices independently.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I think that guitarists should listen to more music, and not just guitar. Listening to recordings of great violinists, pianists, orchestras, and of compositions which are contemporary to the works they are studying can provide many more musical ideas than they would normally have if they didn’t listen to music. It is like expanding the possibilities, and playing according to the style of the time, rather than being influenced by the hands, by the technical difficulties.

Alberto Mersica photo 2.jpg

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

I just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s “Paranoia”. Wonderful! I love Franz Kafka.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?

I do yoga, and love it, and feel much better since I started, my back is very thankful! I don’t follow a particular diet but I try not to be excessive with anything, No favorite pre-concert food, but I try to stay light.

Do you meditate in any way?

Well I think that yoga somehow helps me to get back to the human breathing, which I must admit I tend to forget when in stress.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I love to travel, read, and take walks with my wonderful wife.

Drew Henderson playing Albéniz and Schubert

Here is a new video from Canadian guitar phenomenon, Drew Henderson, performing Isaac Albéniz’s Zambra Granadina. Drew’s playing is beautifully nuanced, crystal clear, and absolutely effortless. The production is wonderful at capturing both the sound of the Martin Blackwell guitar and the warmth of the room.

Before everyone rushes off to check out Drew’s other videos on his youtube channel, here is another great video of him playing Mertz’s arrangement of Schubert’s Lobder Tränen on a hauntingly beautiful romantic guitar by René Lacôte built in 1868.