Artist Spotlight and Interview with Julia Lange

Young German crossover guitar star, Julia Lange appears equally at ease playing classical, steel string, and funk. Versatile is perhaps an understatement. As a D’Addario sponsored artist, Julia has been seen on stages across Europe and China playing her wonderful arrangements, with her funk band, with other great musicians, and performing standard classical repertoire. With an enviable command of the guitar and guitar styles, her virtuosic technique comes across in a wonderfully relaxed and musical manner. Fortunately, Julia had some time to share a bit about her guitar journey with Six String Journal. Enjoy!

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 
I started playing guitar when I was 8 years old. My older brother used to take guitar lessons and he wanted to quit at that time so it was my chance to get his guitar. He gave me the very first lessons but in return I had to give him all my pocket money… soon we started fighting and I went to a proper guitar teacher.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 
I enjoy playing all kinds of music from classical guitar to Fingerstyle and electric guitar with my band mates. 

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I perform with my “Jakob Lebisch” classical guitar and my “Battiston” Steelstring guitar. I use D’Addario strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you? There were many guitarists that influenced me but the ones who also changed my life in a certain aspect were for example Tatyana Ryzhkova, because her wonderful YouTube channel inspired me to start my own YouTube channel that opened so many doors for me. Tommy Emmanuel and Andy McKee were the first artists that inspired me to do my own thing, to make my own arrangements and start a new chapter. Later on I started composing and arranging for classical guitar as well. Last year was again a changing point when I discovered the Funk band Vulfpeck and I totally fell in love with Cory Wong’s awesome rhythm guitar playing and that made me pick up my electric guitar and start a Funk band with friends. 

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd? Right now I just have my YouTube videos but I hope to publish an album soon. But I’m right now working on my Funk band’s first EP that we’ll publish probably at the end of the year.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Since the beginning of Covid there are many cancelled concerts and hardly any new concert requests, I hope to be on stage soon again and perform the concerts I was supposed to have in China this year or my prize winners concert for the “Lichtenberger Musikpreis” at Schloss Lichtenberg. The online living-room concert I made for the German TV channel ZDF & ARTE was one of the highlights of the lockdown time.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way? I almost always start with some warming up exercises before I play but I can’t say exactly how much I “practice” per day because it makes a big difference for me whether I arrange something new, improvise or really practice and prepare for concerts but I spend pretty much all my free time with my guitar. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
I think I still find myself working and will always find myself working on all kinds of things. No matter how good you are, no matter how much you work there is no end. It could simply always be better. Which might sound terrifying but it’s awesome, because it never gets boring. Where I’d like to put more focus on the next years is improvising and composing music. And of course on electric guitar I still feel like a beginner, it’s a long way to go. 

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I enjoy using the technique of “mental practice” to memorize things better and I think that analysing the piece is a big help for a solid memory.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?  I have some warming-up exercises that I really love and I’m sharing little tutorials about them on my Patreon page, feel free to check it out: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not really.

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
As my nails have to survive not only classical guitar nylon strings but also steel strings, I use a gel layer that I harden with a UV-light lamp. Just the way the ladies are doing it in those fancy nail studios but I make the layer rather thin.

Advice to Younger Players


What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?Set yourself specific goals. For example take part in competitions, get concerts, make videos and work towards a specific aim that motivates you! I found for myself that this is the only way to really get yourself out of your comfort-zone and improve.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why? I think the most important repertoire is the repertoire and the pieces that you really want to play from the bottom of your heart and not the repertoire that someone else tells you to play. What I’d love to see more in conservatories are teachers encouraging their students to write their own tunes based on what they’ve learned for example from the classical pieces they play. Exploring the endless possibilities of making music and the freedom we have in expressing ourselves.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Getting things done” by David Allen is a book that I really highly recommend to all kinds of independently working artists and people.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
I do some sports, sometimes, could be more if I’m honest but I think I eat quite healthy although my cake consumption is pretty high. I don’t follow any diet and my favorite pre-concert food is bananas.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I love being outside in nature and spending time with family and friends.

_____

More about Julia:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg2K_7mrkygu0xmCQ6v9Chg

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/julia.lange.guitar/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/julialange

Lessonface: https://www.lessonface.com/instructor/julia-lange

Anabel Montesinos playing Giuliani’s Grand Overture

Brilliant Spanish guitarist, Anabel Montesinos, performs a dazzling interpretation of Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture, Op. 61. All the operatic excitement, virtuosity, and fanfare required for this piece permeate her interpretation from the roll of the very first chord. The excitement builds from there. Anabel’s command of the guitar is exceptional on so many levels and this performance captures the dynamic quality of her playing. Hope this inspires everyone!

Yuri Liberzon – New recording of Bach’s Violin Sonatas

Internationally acclaimed guitar virtuoso Yuri Liberzon is poised to release his third and most ambitious recording yet – Johann Sebastian Bach’s 3 Violin Sonatas (BWV 1001, 1003, 1005).

Johann Sebastian Bach’s solo violin works are familiar to most classical guitarist as transcriptions. In this instance, Yuri has chosen to record Manuel Barrueco’s transcriptions of the sonatas. These works pose countless complex challenges both interpretively and technically for the artist brave enough to tackle them. The slow movements require extremely refined technique to ornament and distill the beauty of the implied lines, the fugues demand the utmost skill in maintaining the subjects, countersubjects, and counterpoint, and the allegros and prestos push the interpreter to technical limits. All this while communicating Johann Sebastian Bach’s singular and perfect command of form, harmony, and lyricism.

Yuri meets every one of the demands with elegance and finesse, two aspects I admire in his playing. From the opening lushness of the first track, the adagio from the G Minor Sonata, Yuri sets the stage for the entire recording by slowly and calculatedly pulling the listener into a world rich with introspection and beauty. The strengths of this release are many but what perhaps stands out as a theme is how grounded Yuri’s playing is while moving you with a subtle forward momentum. For instance, the allegro from the A Minor Sonata was not taken at a blistering pace but somehow managed to convey a strong, steady energy, much like a tidal wave and the inevitability of its arrival. Another highlight was the monumental Fuga from the C Major Sonata. Again, it is Yuri’s calming but steady sense of structure that moves this movement forward and manages to bring out the overall arc of the piece. The counterpoint is crystalline and phrased beautifully. This does not happen unless it is intentional and that is what is fascinating about Yuri’s playing. It’s like magic – the sum is far greater than the parts. To achieve the effect of such a long line requires an architecturally gifted mind.

I’ve always enjoyed Yuri’s playing. It is similar to Manuel Barrueco’s for all of the perfection but Yuri’s caring and elegant sensibilities, and understated virtuosity, mark his interpretations as none other than his very own.

Overall, this ambitious project is wonderfully produced by both Yuri and Grammy Award-winning producer Nahuel Bronzini. The warmth and crispness that Yuri extracts from his Ruck and is captured in this recording are absolutely delightful to sink into. It may be his best recording yet.

Check out a great interview and technique talk with Yuri from the early days of Six String Journal.

Technique Focus – Boost Left Hand Efficiency

When working out the choreography to a new interpretation there are a few aspects of left hand technique that can dramatically improve efficiency. One of those aspects involves a similar idea often referred to as ‘planting’ for the right hand. For example, when playing a rapid and repeated pim arpeggio (like in Asturias), it is common practice to place all three fingers down in a group to stabilize the right hand and to create one efficient gesture instead of three separate actions. The basic rule is that as we move away from p and towards a across string we plant fingers down so the right hand fingers are prepared. Essentially, we stabilize the right hand as we move away from the grounding of p and i.

Applying this concept to the left hand is equally important but the ‘planting’ occurs as we move from finger 4 (pinky) towards finger 1. Theoretically, if only finger 4 is down on the fingerboard, the left hand is not as stable as it would be if another supporting finger were to place somewhere nearby. For example, if we had to play a descending group of chromatic notes 4321 on a string, placing all four fingers before playing reduces the motion to a relaxed gesture of releasing fingers away. If we were to place 4321 down in a sequential fashion, it is not necessarily ‘wrong’, but it would augment the motion of the left hand into many placements and releases, rendering it less efficient. A bit of a mess.

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Featured Artist and Interview – Tariq Harb

Tariq Harb, an acclaimed Jordanian-Canadian guitar virtuoso, is arguably one of the finest young guitarists to emerge on the scene these last years. Always polished, always musical, Tariq’s playing has been praised on many stages across the world and he’s been lauded as “Canada’s next classical guitar superstar” by CBC Radio’s NEXT! Fortunately, Tariq had time to spend sharing some of his journey with Six String Journal readers. Hope you enjoy this one!

Personal
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
With the classical guitar, my story is a bit unusual. It started at 26 years of age, having restarted my violin training 2 years prior, at age 24. I write “restarted” because I actually picked up theviolin at 6, for 2 years until I was 8, then I received an electric guitar as a Christmas gift from my mother, and all hell broke loose LOL! Anyways, what drew me to the guitar in general at first was Slash, the guitarist from the LA rock band Guns N’ Roses.What drew me to the classical guitar was the classical/jazz guitarist Roddy Elias, who happened to be my composition teacher during my undergraduate violin degree at Concordia University. Basically I left the violin twice for the guitar!

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
Baroque, Latin American and Spanish repertoire. I also enjoy playing the blues quite a bit.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Currently I’m performing on a Douglass Scott, 2018 spruce top guitar and on a Martin Blackwell, 2019 double cedar top.I use Savarez CR 540 strings mainly, and I also like the La Bella 2001 and Argento series normal tension basses.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Slash at first, for sure. The lyricism in his solos on their records was an incredible ear-opening experience for me. The discovery of “goose bumps” even, happened first as I remember from his playing on those cassettes. What an incredible feeling! That same feeling was experienced at a high level of intensity later in my life, when I was listening to Itzhak Perlman, playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas on violin while I commuted to work, training to be a Mutual Funds Advisor, which prompted me then to pursue music as a full-time profession. Those two musicians have left a lasting impact on my musical character on the whole, I would say.Today I cherish recordings by many great artists. Classical solo recordings by Julian Bream, John Williams, Andrés Segovia, David Oistrakh, Glenn Gould, Hélèn Grimaud, Daniel Barenboim, Amandine Beyer, Itzhak Perlman, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifitz, Josef Hassid, Nigel Kennedy, Kazuhito Yamashita, Janine Jansen and Paco de Lucia come to mind at this moment.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I am actually most proud of two of my latest releases: my album “Copla”, an all-Spanish repertoire recording, and my “Harb Plays Carcassi Studies” recording and educational DVD. The latter is an educational DVD first, made possible through a collaboration with Diego De Oro, owner of De Oro Music Publications. The performance tracks from the DVD have been compiled and released as a separate album. I’m also happy about a recent YouTube video recording I did of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 arranged by Edson Lopes and recorded by Drew Henderson in a beautiful church in Toronto.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
I really like the sound on Florian Larousse’s Laureate Naxos album. There is something magical about the sound there! I also like the sound on John Williams’ “The Great Paraguayan” album. Even though I’m not a big fan of the Smallman sound, somehow Williams makes it sound regal.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
I’m very excited about a tour that I got selected for next year’s season, which I can’t really share the details of because it hasn’t been officially announced yet! I’ll share all the concert dates on my website (tariqharb.com) once they’re made public. Prior to that I’m looking forward to officially getting back on stage, November 2020 in my second home Montréal, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, a gorgeous church that is perfect for guitar, and that I’ve always dreamt of performing in after attending some concerts there. I also can’t wait to perform concerts that were postponed due to the pandemic, including an Aranjuez concerto performance with the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Isle. Next year will be their 20th season anniversary, so it worked out even better!For new records, I’m planning on recording an album consisting of my original compositions (the score to “Spirit”, a five-movement work for solo guitar is now available via Les Productions d’OZ: https://productionsdoz.com/product/8769-spirit) and pieces that are dedicated to me by other composers (like “Hyperion” by Harry Stafylakis: https://productionsdoz.com/product/936-hyperion). I’m also planning on recording an all-Bach album, sometime in the near future!

Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
40 hours a day, à la Ling Ling! (@twosetviolin reference) Jokes aside, a morning practice session is important for me to maintain a healthy routine, which usually lasts between 3-4 hours. After that, anything goes; I can play through pieces in the evening, which sometimes turn into performances if I am outdoors (!),or not play at all, because of teaching or other tasks. The morning session is quite consistent so that would be the real practice time that I do.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you are still working on?
Oh, I’m working on it all the time! I don’t think there is such a thing as not practicing at all yet still having a polished technique, unless one is on tour. What is also true, I find, is if I practice well, say during one full winter season, the coming spring and summer seasons I often find myself just playing, and not really practicing methodically, which is ultimate fun as you may know! Then however, come the fall season, I start feeling certain aspects of technique need maintenance, and so on the cycle goes. It’s a way of life more than something separate from one’s life, at least in my experience. Having said that, there is no real struggle pertaining to playing the instrument. It is more of incorporating it in one’s life, if one chooses, in a way that enhances the quality of one’s life and improves it. I guess reaching that point and finding a working balance might be considered a struggle at first.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
For me the more complicated the music the easier it is to memorize. But that doesn’t apply to the music of J.S. Bach! Simpler or easier repertoire is easy to sight read ‘a tempo’ and does not require special attention allotted to either hand. So my eye doesn’t have to leave the page and therefore I’m not encouraged to memorize it. In general, playing a piece, reading it multiple times usually imprints it in my memory. If there are tough spots I tend to use visualization, both visualizing the score and both hand movements on the guitar.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes. I have several editions published via my online store (tariqharb.storenvy.com), including my most recent edition of the Carcassi 25 Melodic and Progressive Studies, Op. 60. Arrangements of music by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Bach and others are also available. I have an arrangement of Britten’s first Cello Suite that I am excited to publish once the royalties are sorted out. I also have some compositions published via my store and via Les Productions d’OZ, mentioned above.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 
I usually try to visit what I like to call ‘the five pillars of technique’ when I warm up: scales, arpeggios, tremolo, left-hand slurs and some rasgueados. I do a bit of each at a comfortable pace and try to enjoy the feeling of gravity helping me out executing each of them.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I try to relax on the day of the concert and do minimal practice. Back stage however, I do some breathing exercises and usually like to have an orange or a clementine; they hydrate really well and therefore help with the talking part during a concert, as I do like to say a few things to the audience about the pieces I perform!

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
I like to file my nails to a blunted shape with a bit of a ramp on the index and middle fingers (pictures attached). I also attach a piece of a ping pong ball under my thumbnail to re enforce it.

Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Revisit the basics often and apply variety in your playing. By that I mean be creative with the way you practice, the way you handle the guitar, the way you warm up. Don’t do the same thing over and over again, especially if it’s not yielding consistent positive results. If possible, learn another instrument well, especially one that is not from the immediate family of the guitar. By doing that you are providing enough variety for your brain to stay healthy and encourage plasticity, which in turn improves your learning abilities when you go back to the guitar.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
All the simple and advanced studies and lessons by Sor, Aguado, Carulli, Giuliani, Carcassi and Coste are important for young students to play well, because they will help in understanding and learning to navigate the guitar’s interface successfully. They will also teach, by osmosis, sort to speak, the idiomatic nature of the guitar and it’s idiosyncrasies.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
The recordings of the great old masters: Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams are essential for every classical guitarist to know well, simply to become aware of the coloristic and expressive possibilities of the instrument early on.

Tangent
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Music in the Castle of Heaven” by John Eliot Gardiner was the last book I read.Two of my favourite authors are Paulo Coelho and Clive Staples Lewis.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
Yes, I exercise 4-5 times a week doing either a run outdoors, or engaging in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which has become a game changer as to how I can incorporate exercise after guitar practice. Exercise usually happens in the afternoon after my morning practice session. I don’t follow a particular diet as I do pretty much eat everything (thankfully no allergies). But I do prefer a more protein based meal before performance. I find if I have mainly carbohydrates before a performance, I tend to feel heavy overall and a bit lethargic. A high-protein meal gives me sustained energy, and a clementine or an orange before going on stage keeps me hydrated and keeps my mind sharp.

Do you meditate in any way? 
Not so much, every now and then I do meditation. But it has never become a steady routine.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Spending time with close friends and family, cooking, swimming, enjoying the outdoors, watching thought-provoking movies and space documentaries, and occasionally annoying my cat through forced affection LOL!

For more info on Tariq check out the links below:

Website: www.tariqharb.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tariqharb

Instagram: www.instagram.com/tariqharbmusic

YouTube: www.youtube.com/teeharb

Online store: tariqharb.storenvy.com
Faculty profile at Concordia University: www.concordia.ca/faculty/tariq-harb.html

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Michael Kolk

Hailing from Canada, guitarist Michael Kolk has been praised by Liona Boyd as, “…one of the most brilliant and expressive guitarists I have heard in my time.” Known for his musicianship, his technique, and his interpretive abilities, Kolk is one of Canada’s top guitarists. Despite the quiet performance scene at this time, he has just launched a wonderful CD of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas. Fortunately, he had a bit of time to share some of his insights with Six String Journal. Hope this inspires you all.

Personal

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings? I perform mostly on a Martin Blackwell spruce/cedar double top from 2015. It’s a very rich, full, warm sounding guitar, but with ample tonal variety as well. I have a really nice Roberto de Miranda traditional cedar as well that was my main guitar since 2007, and I still play it, though not much in concert anymore – the Blackwell projects better. I used Savarez New Cristal/Cantiga for years, but I’ve recently switched to Alliance trebles. I had tried them and couldn’t ever get used to them, but recently I warmed up to them and figured out how to make them work for the sounds I want.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Julian Bream was the first big influence – he was the guitarist that really excited me when I was a teenager (aside from Jimi Hendrix, but that’s a different story…) There are so many great guitarists these days, but I guess in terms of influence I’d say Fabio Zanon, Roland Dyens, and then two guitarists whom I’m very close with, my former teacher Jeffrey McFadden, and my long time duo partner Drew Henderson. I’ve learned a lot by playing with both of them and just sharing ideas about guitar,

Michael Kolk and Drew Henderson (HK Guitar Duo) playing Ravel

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Things are pretty quiet right now – as I’m writing we’re in the middle of the Covid pandemic, so concerts are not happening, and I haven’t pursued online performances. Last year, however, I was really busy with projects. I was playing concerts with the HK Guitar Duo, as well as a couple with a violinist named Laurence Kayaleh, and working on a solo recording of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas which I chose to edit and release myself. Laurence and I also recorded an album of violin/viola and guitar Sonatas by Ferdinand Rebay which was recently released on Naxos. So I’ve been taking a bit of a break from playing classical music and have been exploring creating music by recording rock songs and studying composition. Whether this work ends up seeing the light of day or not, I felt it was important to try writing my own music to develop my creativity, and gain a deeper understanding of music, from a composer’s perspective. I remember Roland Dyens saying in a masterclass that we should all be both performers and composers, and it makes a lot of sense to me. 

Michael playing ‘Round Midnight (Monk/Dyens)

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
These days I practice strategically, mostly. I don’t have as much time as when I was younger, to just sit down and play without a real structure. I usually practice in 30 minute segments. I put on a timer and make sure to get up and walk around a bit when the time is up. If I’m on a roll I’ll sit down right away and do another session, or I might take a break and do something else and come back to the guitar when I’m fresh again. The total amount of time depends on what’s going on in my life. If there are other projects that need attention I may not play much for a couple weeks. When I have performances or recordings coming up I aim for 3 solid hours of practice in a day. If I’m focussed during that whole time, I can’t really handle much more practice. I may play guitar beyond that, but it would be more messing around or playing for fun. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Tremolo has always been a struggle for me. It takes a lot of work to get it flowing and it never feels totally secure. I think some players have a very natural tremolo, and others don’t even though they may be good players. I have to train right hand speed in general much more than left hand, but I guess that’s fairly common.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I’ve recently self published an arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the 2nd movement Allegretto, for guitar duo. Earlier, Drew Henderson and I had our arrangement of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (selections) published by D’Oz.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
If possible it’s great to have a walk during the day, and a nap. If I can fit those things in I feel pretty good come concert time. Then 15 minutes before the concert I have a banana, and at intermission I have an apple. To keep the blood sugar up.

HK Guitar Duo playing Michael’s Beethoven arrangement


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Well, I think everyone has to find what works best for themselves when it comes to improving at guitar. And it’s not always about drilling technique and being as efficient as possible. Make time to play for enjoyment to keep your enthusiasm. But when you’re feeling sharp and motivated, practice with deep focus and attention to detail. And try not to build up tension – form good habits of posture and relaxation and they will translate to performances. I guess that’s more than one piece of advice…

Michael playing the 1st movement of Cyril Scott’s Sonatina


What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?
I think there’s a standard repertoire that classical guitarists should at least be familiar with, even if they don’t learn all of it to a performance level. Bach, of course, the 19th century guitar composers like Sor, Giuliani, Aguado etc…, the Spanish repertoire like Tarrega, Albeniz, Granados, Rodrigo, and the Segovia repertoire like Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Torroba, Turina, etc…, then music from the Americas like Villa-Lobos, Brouwer, Barrios, Lauro. There’s a lot, and it takes time to get through. At the same time, I think students should also play lesser known music and try to expand their repertoire beyond the classics.

Spanish Virtuoso Rafael Aguirre’s Tremolo Tips

Spanish virtuoso Rafael Aguirre just shared five useful tips for improving your tremolo technique.

Rafael discusses and demonstrates these five key points:

  1. Study tremolo as if it were not tremolo.
  2. Work on retaining consistent tone and color from each note.
  3. Make your tremolo sing.
  4. Make sure each finger maintains equal proximity to the strings after plucking.
  5. Don’t let the thumb stroke displace your hand position.

Check out Rafael’s Six String Journal Interview for more brilliant insight from one of Spain’s finest guitarists.

Artist Profile and Interview: Mateusz Kowalski

When the words “spectacular” and “breathtaking” pop out in a review by Classical Guitar Magazine, there is something special afoot. It so happened that the review was for Mateusz Kowalski’s brilliant performance among brilliant performers during the EuroStrings Competition in London last year. He took first place. Mateusz’s playing evokes such a wide range of emotions – joy, melancholy, nostalgia, excitement, and I am ashamed to admit it as a fellow guitarist, envy is in there, too. His interpretations are alive with imagination and intuition and it is clear that he possesses absolute control of his fingers. His videos are binge-worthy if you have the time.

Mateusz recently sat down to share some insight with Six String Journal readers about his philosophies and his journey so far. Enjoy.

MateuszUMFC-3

Personal

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

I started to play when I was six. My older brother and cousin played the guitar, mainly rock and metal music. I wanted to be like them and play the guitar too. In addition, my mother worked in the office of the local philharmonic, so I had a constant contact with musicians, I could hear them practicing, rehearsing and performing.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing pieces which leave some space for the performer to show their personality through them. For me, it doesn’t matter which period does the piece come from. I find all the musical languages (styles of different epochs) to be interesting, effective and beautiful.

It’s also important for me to make every piece I play personal, I always try to put my feelings, my experiences into the interpretation. My aim is to never play “empty” notes.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have two guitars I use on regular basis: 2015 Karl-Heinz Roemmich Model Exquisite Spruce Top and 2017 Sakurai Masaki Model Mastro RF Spruce Top. I string them with Savarez Cantiga Premium Basses, 3rd & 2nd Alliance and 1st New Crystal. All Normal Tension.

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

Among musicians who have influenced me the most, I find my two guitar teachers to be the most important. Dariusz Schmidt taught me for 12 years and then Ryszard Bałauszko taught me for 5 years after that. They showed my the musical path I should follow and provided me with the principles which I stick to to this day when interpreting music.

When it comes to famous guitarists – I grew up listening to Assad Brothers, Julian Bream, Andres Segovia, and John Williams. Among non-guitarists the most important ones who have influenced me are: Arthur Rubinstein, Maxim Vengerov, Frans Brüggen, Giovanni Antonini (as a conductor), and Il Giardino Armonico (Ensemble).

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of? If not, are you planning to record a cd?

So far, I have recorded one CD album “Mateusz Kowalski Classical Guitarist” and, of course, this is the one I’m most proud of. It was premiered in September 2019. The album comprises a collection of pieces important to me, reimagined and interpreted anew. The track list features compositions by Bach, Giuliani, Tárrega, Barrios, Piazzolla, Ponce, Assad and Schubert. The album published by CD Accord is available via Naxos Classics Online store, on Spotify, Amazon Music and iTunes.

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

I have just finished my online social media project (FB + IG)  “A week with Guitar Salon International”. I premiered eight videos recorded with them on seven different guitars. I described every guitar from the player’s perspective and wrote a couple of thoughts about the pieces themselves.

The next big project will be recording my second CD for the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin. It’ll happen this year, in September. The CD will contain Chopin’s Mazurkas op. 6 and 7 transcribed by J. N. Bobrowicz (first ever transcription of these mazurkas) and the most important compositions (a couple of world premiere recordings) of the greatest Polish guitar virtuosos of the nineteenth century  – Jan Nepomucen Bobrowicz, Felix Horetzky, Stanisław Szczepanowski, and Marek Sokołowski. Extremely hard but also extremely beautiful pieces.

Technique and Performance

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

The time is spend on practicing is dependent on many different factors, but it is usually somewhere between two to six hours. Let’s say it’s four hours on average. I try to spend at least an hour to 90 minutes working on my technique every day, which is about playing various exercises, drills, or speeding up fast parts of pieces I play – gradually, with metronome. It’s basically trying to exceed my limits, push my technical boundaries every day.

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

It’s making sure, that at all times, it’s the technique which serves the music and not the opposite. I believe that’s an aspect of the guitar every guitarist should be working on, all their lives.

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

The fastest way for me to memorize a piece of music is to practice it having the sheet music put somewhere else, in the other room, for example. Then you are forced to remember as many bars as possible, otherwise, you’d have to stand up and walk to the place where the scores are at.

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

I have plans to publish my edition of Franz Schubert’s Musical Moment No. 3. Many guitarists ask me to do that, so I will, very soon.

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

I love to warm up with arpeggios from Tarrega’s The Complete Technical Studies.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

A one light meal only, playing through all my program with scores and a lot of coffee.

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

I shape them by placing a nail file over my strings, then I imitate how I hit the strings, which always gives me the same, rather round shape, with the length of the nail not exceeding the flesh of my finger (only thumb is exception from that rule).


Advice to Younger Players

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

Structure your practicing. Practice technique separately – with scales, drills, exercises, arpeggios. Sight-read a lot – that’s one of the most useful skills.

Remember that the most important thing is to make your interpretation interesting and valuable for the audience. And when I say audience – I don’t mean guitarists, competition jury members, etc., I mean regular people, who look for sincere feelings in music, who want to experience something beautiful during the concerts. Your job is to make their lives better.  Bearing that in mind, you’ll never lose motivation and you’ll always see meaning in what you’re doing.

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

I believe that young/conservatory students should play pieces from all the epochs and they do that in most of the cases. In my opinion they miss one very essential skill – being able to realize a figured bass. It takes some time to be fluent at it, but even spending some time on understanding how it works is very beneficial. It makes you understand harmony better, which is strictly connected to better understanding music in general.


Tangent

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

Homo Deus, written by Yuval Noah Harari. Favorite author – Bruno Schultz.

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

I ride a mountain bike and exercise regularly. 😊

Do you meditate in any way?

For me listening to the music is  way of meditating, contemplating.

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

Eating out with my wife – finding new places with delicious food and coffee.

MateuszUMFC-7

NEWS! Complete Technique Video Course Launch!

Six String Journal just seconds ago launched the online video course Complete Technique for Classical Guitar! To celebrate the launch I’ve discounted the course for Six String Journal readers by 25% discount for the next 30 days. If you are looking for a way to up your guitar game, want a massive project for the summer (seriously, what else are you going to do?!), and want to support our site, this is for you.

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About the course:

Six String Journal’s Complete Technique for Classical Guitar Course was developed for the advancing beginner with some experience, the advancing intermediate guitarist, and will even benefit those with lots of playing experience. Though music theory isn’t necessary, a rudimentary understanding of rhythm is helpful.

The course consists of primary movement videos where I will teach the foundational movements that you’ll need in order to master classical guitar. These videos cover topics such as free-stroke, rest-stroke, arpeggios, alternation, scales, hand coordination, slurs, and shifts. These are followed by several series of secondary videos where I’ll apply the techniques and movements in various ways to help you engrain them into your own practice. Stringing the secondary videos into a sequence will teach you how to form an effective practice routine that will maximize your results and get you closer to your musical goals.

Course Includes
  • Hours of focused technique lessons with an award-winning classical guitarist, the founder of Six String Journal, and sought-after educator.
  • Over 50 extensively detailed but digestible videos demonstrating essential foundational movements, technique tips, exercises, routines, and how to implement them into your practice, carefully edited in small bite size videos for easy assimilation and viewing.
  • Printable PDF summarizing the entire course with a condensed visual of the material presented.
  • Loads of bonus content from Six String Journal’s Mastering Diatonic Scales.