The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 1

Guest Post by acclaimed Granada-based luthier John Ray. Enjoy!

The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 1

by John Ray

Ferrer 1900

Why does Granada always come up when we speak of fine artisan guitars? Why have so many makers from all over the world made pilgrimages to the workshops of the Granada guitar-makers to pay their respects and to find out what we do differently here? Well known U.S., German, British, Canadian, Danish, Mexican and Belgian makers have spent time here and that doesn’t include those who learned from or were influenced by Granada makers and then went on to become great makers in their own right. There are a number of factors which contribute to this reputation for excellence and the sheer numbers of guitar-makers. The only place in the world with more guitar-makers per capita is Paracho in Mexico. Let’s go back hundreds of years and see what we can find.

Although surely there were instrument makers in Granada well before the 16th century it is only from that time that we have records and names. Alonso de Buitrago, Alonso Vega, Juan de Alcaraz and Diego de Atienza are just a few names that have been preserved. Granada may or may not have been an important centre for instrument-making back then but we do know that Rafael Vallejo built a very special guitar-psaltery for King Carlos I in 1792. Furthermore, the best-known violin-maker Spain has ever produced, José Contreras, hailed from Granada. Surely that indicates a certain level of makers from the province of Granada.  We do know from surviving instruments and their characteristics that Sevilla and Cadíz were more important centres of guitar-building and of innovation than Granada during the 18th century. It is in the 19th century that Granada comes into its own and takes over as a centre of innovation and spreads its knowledge to the rest of the country through the emigration of guitar-makers and the apprenticeship of guitar-makers from other provinces. In the opinion of Richard Bruné this rise in number and expertise has everything to do with a larger gypsy population and a correspondingly higher number of guitar-players and musical cafés in the city making higher demands on the builders.

Ortega 1880

Perhaps the most important maker from 19th century Granada is Agustín Caro due to the various innovations which he is responsible for. In a single guitar from 1803 we can see two landmark changes to the guitar for the first time. This guitar has its fretboard glued on top of the soundboard whereas all preceding guitars showed a fretboard flush with the soundboard in the style of the lute. Observation of later guitars shows us that this change became consolidated over the following decades throughout the world. The other change which seems to originate with this guitar is the elimination of the double strings; this guitar was made for six single strings. Again a change which, over time, pervaded almost all guitar construction. On a later guitar by Caro, 1824, we can see the first ever example of a modern bridge with an adjustable saddle and which, like the other two innovations, became the norm. Of course these attributions to Caro will only be valid until such time as an earlier guitar by some other maker might appear showing these same characteristics.

In spite of Agustín Caro’s obvious importance the Granada maker José Pernas, also from the 19th century, might well be better known due to his association with Antonio de Torres from Almeria.  Antonio de Torres, known to all as the father of the spanish guitar, learned his craft without a doubt in Granada as reported by José Luis Romanillos through the words of Juan Manuel Sirvent “he went to Granada where he made his first guitar”. Furthermore, the writings of Domingo Prat and Emilio Pujol report that Torres learned the art of guitar-making from Pernas. If this were not enough we can go on to show that many of the innovations credited to Torres were also used by Pernas and it seems very unlikely that the student would have taught the master. In fact, a 1851 guitar by Pernas has been shown to have uncanny similarities to a Torres guitar from 1856. In his doctoral thesis Aarón García Ruiz details these common points to the extent that it is difficult to imagine that Torres’ ideas were not heavily influenced by the work of Pernas. Going back to Domingo Prat, one of  the most commonly referenced works in guitar history, he tells us that it was Pernas, not Torres who invented the tornavoz although Torres is popularily credited with it. Neither myself nor Aarón García seek to discredit Torres but rather to show that although he was a genius and incorporated many great advances in guitar-making, he did learn from those around him specifically José Pernas. Another innovation attributed to Pernas is the pear-shaped guitar as well as the wooden “hook” designed to hold the guitar on the thigh. Torres also made at least one pear-shaped guitar.

The model for a workshop today is usually a one-person affair in which the maker controls every aspect of construction and every step in the process. The presence of a possible apprentice is infrequent and in any case makes for little change in the process. Another possible model is a shop where two or three makers work together, usually family members. The latter is less and less common as time goes on but still exists. In the latter part of the 19th century this was more common and workshops were bigger with an owner-foreman who was usually the one who was ultimately responsible and whose name was on the instruments – the master. We find many surviving guitars today from the mid-19th century workshop of Juan Ortega Castellón who worked with his sons and others. His son José Ortega Ruiz was the main influence when Benito Ferrer wanted to become a builder. At approximately the same time another Ortega – Francisco Ortega Ayala – was also working in Granada. He too had sons who continued the family tradition. One of these, Rafael Ortega Ávila, moved to Madrid around 1886 and employed a young Santos Hernández before the latter moved on to serve as foreman in the workshop of Manuel Ramírez. Just one more example of how Granada shaped guitar-making in Spain as this might explain why Santos guitars were lighter and livelier than those of other Madrid makers.

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A number of other makers worked in Granada and the province at this time but their influence on today’s Granada school has not been demonstrated except in general terms. Their brief biographies can be found in Eusebio Rioja’s Inventario de guitarreros granadinos. José López, Agustin del Valle, Francisco López Gascón, Antonio Llorente, Antonio del Valle, Nicolás del Valle. Bernardo Milán Suárez,

One of the most historically important of these large workshops was that of Benito Ferrer because of the dynasty that it spawned. Ferrer was a medical student from Orihuela, Alicante who gave up his studies to find work to support his extended family. Among other things he played the spanish bandurria (like a twelve-string mandolin) with the gypsy musicians. His place in history is guaranteed because in an effort to get more sound out of the instrument he substituted the gut strings for piano wire. Of course this caused his bandurria to collapse under the string tension in short order but with knowledge gleaned from José Ortega Ruiz he was able to modify and reinforce it and make it work with the new strings. This meant that other musicians came to him wanting instruments that produced as much volume as his. He took on members of the Ortega workshop and began making guitars and the different instruments in the bandurria family. Benito Ferrer is famously responsible for the first guitar played in concert by Andrés Segovia. His is the only large workshop that survived into time of the Spanish Civil War although by this time nephew and disciple Eduardo Ferrer had inherited the workshop.

Caro 1810.jpgEduardo Ferrer, much like José Ramírez in Madrid, is responsible for training a large number of guitar-makers and then slowly seeing them set up shop around the city. In some cases he was supportive to the extent that he contributed financially to the new establishments. Although it was not called The Granada School of guitar-making until later there can be little doubt that he is responsible for the situation that allowed Granada to become such a hotbed for building and selling guitars by leading and training such a large community of makers. He also sold a large number of guitars made by makers who worked both within his workshop(s) and independently. Granada’s influence on the rest of the world continued with Eduardo Ferrer. In 1966, Yamaha contracted him to teach the traditional method of guitar-making and had him traveling to Japan that year as well as the two following years. After this period Yamaha sent one of its workers to Granada to continue to learn from Eduardo. Although I will argue in part two that the influence of the Granada School comes into its own under the tutelage of Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido there is no doubt that without Eduardo Ferrer and his disciples things would have been very different. For this reason other scholars attribute the formation of the Granada School exclusively to Eduardo Ferrer.

During the “reign” of Eduardo Ferrer the other giant of Granada was the guitar and violin-maker Manuel de la Chica. De la Chica apparently spent some time with a worker from the Benito Ferrer workshop and then went on to meticulously study the guitars of SantPernas 1851.jpgos Hernández and to base his work on those to the point of making perfect copies. Two of today’s Granada makers trained with Manuel de la Chica and a few others built guitars to sell to him. Manuel de la Chica had a reputation for very careful work and a level of technical skill that we don’t find in Granada prior to his time. His guitars were very sought after in the new world at the time. A few other guitar-makers in Ferrer’s time include Isidro Garrido, Miguel Robles, Miguel López Muñoz, Manuel Martínez de Milán, Alfonso Checa Plaza, Antonio Rodríguez Orozco, and Francisco Fernández Ruiz. 

The scene is now set for the next generation: Spain’s young democracy is thriving, the country is opening up to the outside world and young cabinet-makers are gravitating towards guitar-making through their interest in flamenco and popular guitar music. Perhaps most importantly the nature of the Granada guitar; that light, responsive and unsophisticated instrument is being discovered by musicians and dealers all over the world.

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John Ray has been living in Granada since 1989 and has been making guitars for over 20 years. In addition to being well-known for building copies of Antonio de Torres and Santos Hernández guitars he was the editor of the book “The Granada School of Guitar-makers”. https://johnguitar.com/contact/



Bibliography and further reading

  1. Cano Tamayo, Manuel. Un Siglo de la Guitarra Granadina. Granada, Obra Cultural de la Caja de Ahorros de Granada, 1975;
  2. Rioja, Eusebio. Inventario de Guitarreros Granadinos 1875-1983. Granada, Spain, Gráficas Monachil, 1983;
  3. Romanillos Vega, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear. The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar. Guijosa, Spain, The Sanguino Press, 2002.
  4. Prat, Domingo. Diccionario de Guitarristas. Buenos Aires, Romero y Fernández, 1934.
  5. Pujol, Emilio. Tárrega: Ansayo Biográfico. Lisbon, Ramos, Afonso & Moita, 1960.
  6. Romanillos, José L. Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker: His Life and Work. Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Element Books, 1987.
  7. Segovia, Andrés. Andrés Segovia: An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920. New York, Macmillan, 1976.
  8. Bruné, R. E.: “Santos Hernández Speaks”, Vintage Guitar Magazine, mayo 2007
  9. Ray, John (ed.): The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Granada: Diputación Provincial de Granada, 2014,
  10. Garcia Ruiz Aarón: La Escuela granadina antigua de construcción de guitarras: Propuesta de un protocolo para el estudio de cordófonos, University of Granada. Doctoral theses 2017
  11. Grondona, Stefano, Luca Waldner, and Massimo Mandell. La Chitarra di Liutera: Masterpieces of Guitar Making. Sondrio, L’officina del Libro, 2002.
  12. Bruné, R. E. “Cultural Origins of the Modern Guitar.” Soundboard. Fall 1997.
  13. La Guitarra Española – The Spanish Guitar, The Metropolitan Museum of New York & Museo Municipal de Madrid, 1991-1992. Madrid, Opera Tres, 1993.

 

 

Maya Kazarina playing Barrios and Koshkin

I stumbled upon this video of Maya Kazarina, a tremendously gifted young guitarist, filmed during the final of a competition she obviously won! Here she plays Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s well known tremolo piece Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios with sublime tremolo and Nikita Koshkin’s Usher Waltz with the brilliance and ease of someone well beyond her years. Enjoy!

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Katarzyna Smolarek

The brilliant Polish concert guitarist, Katarzyna Smolarek is becoming known for both her breathtaking virtuosity and her magnificent interpretations. In addition to studying at the Mozarteum in Austria and concertizing throughout Europe, Katarzyna has been awarded over 20 international competition prizes over a very short period of time. The silver lining to sheltering in place in Europe is that she was able to find time to sit down and share her experience, philosophies, and wise advise with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!

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Personal

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

I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My parents just signed me up for a music school and I think at the time no one was expecting that I would become a professional musician in the future. With time, I developed a love for playing music and I decided to dedicate my life to it.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing all kinds of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music. I think every style has its own proper charm, and I always seek to discover the beauty in each new piece that I learn.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings?

At the moment I perform on a guitar built by Jacek Łozak from 2010. My favourite strings are Savarez Alliance Premium medium tension. Since last year I’m proud to be a part of the Savarez artists family.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you?

Definitely all of my teachers. Lidia Przyłęcka, Ryszard Bałauszko and Marco Tamayo – they have had a huge influence on my progress, for which I will always be grateful. I consider all of them amazing musicians, dedicated teachers and wonderful people. I was extremely lucky to have them along the way.

What recordings are you most proud of?

I actually haven’t done a lot of recordings in my life (but I’m working on it!). I’m certainly most proud of my recent videos made in Siccas Guitars. They are my most professionally done recordings so far.

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

Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of coronavirus a lot of my events have been cancelled. If everything is back to normal soon, I will be able to go to Portugal in June to perform a concert with an orchestra as a part of the International Guitar Festival in Amarante. I am sure I will enjoy it a lot after having such a long break from traveling.

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Technique and Performance

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

The duration of my practice varies depending on many factors. I usually practice around four hours per day, but this amount increases before concerts or competitions (or now, because of the quarantine). On the other hand I practice less when I spend time with my family or when traveling. I’m also no stranger to taking days off to relax and reset. I don’t think I structure my routine in some special way.

Usually after I have finished practicing in the evening, I make a plan for the next day so that my practice sessions are balanced and I don’t neglect anything. When I have a whole day for myself I like to break it out into two sessions: morning and afternoon, 2-3 hours each, with a break for lunch and some other activity.

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

I think there is always room for progress, so in that sense I can say I’m working on every aspect of the guitar performance. I don’t imagine that I will ever have a feeling that there is nothing else to work on and I think it’s a good thing. The constant pursuit of artistic excellence is what brings innovation and life to art.

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

It depends on the piece and the situation. I usually try to learn a piece by memory as soon as possible, so that I can entirely focus on the music. Sometimes the music demands deliberate memorization, and other times the memorization comes naturally after just a few days of playing it. Nevertheless, every now and then I would revise the score, because with time some details might slip away. I also make sure that it’s not only my fingers that remember the piece, but also my brain, in other words that I remember the notes and not only the movements. In order to do that, I play it extremely slowly focusing on every note, or I go through the piece in my mind without touching the guitar at all.

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

I like to play through a couple of slur and scale exercises before I start practicing pieces. However, I’m not a fan of spending a lot of time warming-up, as for me the ultimate goal is to be ready to perform without having to go through a series of technique exercises. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we do not have the possibility to warm up before a concert, and I believe the quality of our performance should not be compromised in those situations.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not at all. Obviously, it’s important to have a good rest and a good meal, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual. Again, I feel like it’s dangerous to have specific pre-concert routines. In situations when we are not able to perform the routines, we might then lose our confidence on stage as a result.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Solve the problems instead of getting discouraged! I get the impression that a lot of young players don’t really know how to practice. They think that repetition is key and when a passage still doesn’t work after having played it 100 times they start thinking things like, “this piece is too difficult”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I need months/years to play it well”. There is nothing worse than having this sort of approach. Practicing should be all about constructive problem-solving. If something doesn’t work we should be able to exactly tell why and the more precise our answer, the better. We should be extremely conscious of our movements and of our choices. This way we can make progress way faster than by mindlessly repeating.

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

I wouldn’t say that there are any specific pieces that one really must play during his education, although I think that it is essential for a student to be familiar with the concepts of all the historical styles. The more repertoire we already know, the more tools we have for our next interpretations. I would also say that it is important to play the standard guitar repertoire; such as Villa-Lobos’ studies, suites by Bach, sonatas by Ponce, pieces by Barrios, Tárrega, Rodrigo, Turina and so on and so on. Nowadays we tend to look for unknown pieces, we make our own transcriptions and we commission new music. I find it wonderful, however as students we need to familiarize ourselves with traditional repertoire first. This will properly facilitate our lives as performers and teachers.

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

I think all recordings, no matter good or bad, have their value. Exactly what we listen to is not so important; the crucial part is that we are able to develop an informed opinion and discern what is of high quality and what’s not. What I find extremely useful is listening to a lot of recordings of the same piece and focusing on the differences between them. This helps me understand many possible ways of thinking about the same piece of music.

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Tangent

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

The last one would be Fahrenheit 451. I love Márquez, Llosa and Murakami for their out-of-this world storytelling.

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

I really like learning new languages. Currently I’m working on my Portuguese. Apart from that I enjoy cooking, reading, dancing salsa and just recently I got terribly hooked on the series “Breaking Bad”.

Davin-Levin Duo Playing Ravel and Glass

Music for 50+ strings? Virtuosos Colin Davin and Emily Levin, known together as the Davin-Levin harp and guitar duo, are about to release a new recording exploring repertoire and arrangements spanning at least that many strings. The recording will feature music by de Falla, Ravel, Glass, Stackpole, and Mattingly and is available for pre-order. Here are two absolutely beautiful videos of what to expect.

Ravel: Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête, from Ma Mère l’Oye

Philip Glass: Etude no. 6

If you missed Six String Journal’s interview with Colin check it out here: Colin Davin Interview.

Review of An Tran’s Upcoming CD – Stay, My Beloved

Having just had An Tran, a young Vietnamese guitarist with exceptional talent, featured on Six String Journal, I thought it would be wonderful to segue with a short review of his upcoming recording of Vietnamese music written and arranged for classical guitar, Stay, My Beloved.

image-asset.jpgThere is perhaps no better way to experience a culture than to listen to its folk music. It evokes myth, stories, history, and landscape. An Tran’s magical playing does all of this from the first track of his recording. In The Legend of the Bamboo Child (Thanh Giong), An sets up his listener for an exceptional journey through Vietnam. This first arrangement by The-An Nguyen, both ambitious in scope and creativity, is a six movement piece dense with canonic motifs, a wide ranging palette of guitar effects, and strumming reminiscent of old stringed Vietnamese instruments, all woven together by solid and clear playing. And when the journey through the first track ends, a new one begins with the premiere recording of composer The-An Nguyen’s Lullaby, which was also written for An. And again, the landscape and fragrance of Vietnam are alive through ethereal harmonics, a poignant and expansive theme, and melancholically rich arpeggiations.

It is evident that An’s gifts go beyond just playing the guitar. Though it is easy to become seduced by the rich tone An extracts from his guitar or his obvious technical gifts, his talent as an interpreter is just as strong. His presentation of folk music through the classical guitar comes across naturally and as effortlessly as his facility on the instrument.

The recording proceeds through five more tracks, all equally captivating. During the last track Stay, My Beloved I realized that I had been transported for almost an hour to Vietnam and that, sadly,  the welcomed journey was coming to an end. As the scenes unfolded so masterfully and beautifully throughout the listening experience I was grateful to be reminded, especially now, that there are still ways to travel to distant and beautiful places.

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Stay, My Beloved is an album featuring all Vietnamese guitar music, distributed by Sony/The Orchard, available everywhere on April 18, 2020. Pre-Order available now.

 

Artist Profile and Interview: An Tran

An Tran

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It is always wonderful to stumble upon a great young artist who seems to be doing everything right. An Tran has been praised for his incredible technique and magical playing enough to have won prizes in many international guitar and music competitions throughout the world. An has recently given recitals for the Bangkok Guitar Society, Austin Classical Guitar, Toronto International Guitar Series. This season 2019-20 will include An’s solo concert at the prestigious Segovia Classical Guitar Series in Chicago, USA in May 2020.

An is also a champion of Vietnamese music and has performed pieces written for him by Vietnamese composers on the international stage. He recently premiered the work, Ru Con (Lullaby), written for An by composer/guitarist Nguyễn Thế An in Toronto in March 2019. And his debut CD of an all-Vietnamese repertoire is to be released in early 2020. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, An took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his experience and journey with Six String Journal. Enjoy!

Personal

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

AT: I was really lucky to have my parents that helped me find my passion. When I was a kid, I was not good at school…so I think my parents saw that and let me try a lot of different things (from drawing to piano to playing tennis!). Our house was always filled with music, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I went to sleep listening to music. Until one day, my cousin started to play the guitar. I thought to myself, at 8 years old, “I need to try that out!”. It was one of the greatest decisions in my life.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

It’s hard to say because I enjoy playing all kinds of music, but I definitely love to play Vietnamese music. The more I grow as an artist, the more I feel the connection to my home country, Vietnam. Now I always include Vietnamese music in my concert program. They can be either arrangements of Vietnamese traditional folk songs, or original compositions from Vietnamese composers. I get to share a little bit of who I am with the audience, everywhere I go.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I perform on Stephen Connor guitars. I currently have 2 of his guitars and they are extremely amazing instruments. Steve made my guitars with so much care and love that it is a joy to play every single time. His uplifting spirit is also contagious and inspiring as well.

For strings, I use D’Addario Carbon, Normal Tension. They sound beautiful on my Connors, and they hold intonation really well. Since I tour with only one guitar most of the time, due to my program with Vietnamese music, I have to change to alternate tuning between pieces. They have never failed.

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

I would say all of my teachers made a huge impact on me as a musician and as a human being. I have too many teachers to list them, but if they are reading this, they know who they are 🙂 I can also say that I learned so much from my guitarist friends as well. When I did a few competitions, I learned so much just by listening to my fellow competitors.

My classical guitar heroes are John Williams and David Russell. When I was a kid, I listened to their recordings on repeat almost every day. I also love Nguyen Le, a Vietnamese/French jazz guitarist. He has an amazing ability of blending traditional Vietnamese music with contemporary Jazz. I highly recommend checking him out, if you haven’t heard him yet.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of my upcoming album “Stay, My Beloved”, which features all Vietnamese guitar music. This recording is like my life journey. Some pieces I learned when I was a kid, and some I learned not too long ago. It was a lot of work, but the music on this album stay very close to my heart, that’s why the whole process was so satisfying. It will be released on April 18, 2020.

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

I’m excited about the upcoming concerts in the US as well as my European tour in August. This will be my first time playing in Europe, so I am very excited. On top of that, I will premiere 2 works that were dedicated to me by Spanish composer Juan Erena in Cádiz, Spain. I’m also working with a few Vietnamese composers to write more works for the ever-evolving guitar repertoire. Even though my debut album is not even out yet, I’m already thinking about recording the next Vietnamese guitar album.


Technique and Performance

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

I always aim to practice for about 4 to 6 hours a day. For me, it is important to practice every day well. I normally divide my practice to 2-3 different shorter sessions. I always try to prioritize practicing first, before doing anything else during the day.

Also, there are apps that could help with your practice schedule. I use this app called “ATracker” on my iPhone. I use its timer to keep track of every piece that I’m working on. This way, I can make sure that I don’t spend too much (or too little) time on 1 piece. By the end of the week, it would give me a graph of how much I practiced each piece. That gives me an idea of what to work on for the following week. I also normally take 1 day off of guitar. I find it helpful to get back to my practice freshly the day after.

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

I’m constantly working to improve my listening and musicality skills. For me, playing something musically well is very important and I try to improve on that. I also don’t have the perfect technique, so I do struggle with really hard passages sometimes. However, it is easier to improve on the technical side nowadays because there are so many good resources online and good teachers out there. For me, the metronome is crucial for learning new music and master the hard passages. I also use Tonebase, an online resource for guitarists, whenever I find myself struggling with something (either musically or technically). Nothing will replace a good teacher, but there’s always some good info online to support what you’re learning.

By the way, I am NOT “sponsored” by any apps/websites mentioned above, those are just apps that I personally use.

 

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

Yes! Villa-Lobos’ Etude No. 1 is always a go-to for me as a warmup before a concert. I also use some of Scott Tennant’s exercises from his Pumping Nylon book. So helpful!

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I eat a banana before I play. I find it helpful to get some energy before a concert. I also do some meditation and make sure that I feel grateful for every single opportunity. For people to take their time out of their schedules to come see me perform, that is absolutely incredible! Definitely something to be grateful for!!

 


Advice to Younger Players

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

One of the most important skills that I learned (and still trying to do) is to keep my focus at 100% while practicing. When I was younger, I practiced like a machine. Mindlessly ran my pieces as many times as possible. All I’m doing now is trying to fix all the problems that came from that!! It can create huge problems and bad habits to fix later. Thankfully, I’ve had amazing teachers who patiently sat with me to tell me what I’ve been doing wrong.

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

I think the most essential skill for a young musician is to cover all periods of classical music. To be able to teach and find your own “voice” in your playing, it’s important to go through all the essential “classical” guitar repertoire. I also think etudes are super important as well. For me, personally, I loved (and still play) the Giuliani, Villa-Lobos and Brouwer Etudes.


Tangent

What is the last movie that you watched?

Parasite, that was crazy!

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

Yes absolutely. I’ve been doing yoga lately and it really helps. I’ve had lower back pain in the past, so now I try to do yoga more regularly. Nothing fancy, just iPhone apps and Youtube videos. Also, my chiropractor told me that it is important to get up more often to stretch, and to not sit and practice for hours straight (which was my bad habit). I might have to give him commission for this piece of advice!!!

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

I love to cook. I think cooking is so similar to playing music. Other hobbies are watching movies with my wife, playing FIFA or board games with my family and friends, playing with my puppy Luna. My dad is a former photojournalist, so he taught me a lot about photography. I am now addicted to photography and I enjoy taking pictures of my travels.

Support An by pre-ordering his new CD: Stay, My Beloved

 

 

 

 

Gohar Vardanyan plays Bach

Armenian guitar virtuosa, Gohar Vardanyan, just released a wonderful video playing the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Lute Suite Nº3, BWV995. From the rich sound she extracts from her guitar to the precision of her playing, Gohar proves that in addition to playing Spanish music with great passion and elegance, her Bach is crafted on the same level.

Hopefully, she will put up videos of the remaining movements but in the meantime, enjoy. And, if you would like to support her recording project, visit her indiegogo page: Grand Solos.

Also, check out an interview with Gohar here: Artist Profile and Interview – Gohar Vardanyan..

Thomas Viloteau plays Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto Nº1

 

Here is a clip from years ago of Thomas Viloteau playing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto Nº1, Op. 99. The guitar music of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco always evokes endless fantasy and the grandeur of Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. As usual, Thomas plays with crystalline clarity, direction, and energy. Check out Six String Journal’s interview with Thomas here: SSJ Interview Thomas Viloteau.

 

Koen Claeys World Premier of Leo Brouwer’s Quinteto Nº2

Belgian virtuoso, Koen Claeys, along with the French string quartet “Quatuor Hermes” recently performed the world premier of Cuban composer, Leo Brouwer’s Quinteto Nº2, In Memoriam Alejo Carpentier, para guitarra y cuarteto de cuerdas. The work, dedicated to Koen and performed in celebration of Brouwer’s 80th birthday, is a single-movement quintet that is both vibrant and vigorous with moments that are both delicate and sensuous. Brouwer manages to evoke a soundscape reminiscent of the magical realism of Cuban musicologist and novelist Alejo Carpentier. Enjoy!

 

In case you missed the wonderful artist profile on Koen, you can find it here:

Koen Claeys Artist Interview and Profile

Featured Artist and Interview – Daniel Schatz

Praised for his musicianship and virtuosity alike, Israeli guitar virtuoso Daniel Schatz has been heard on many stages across Europe, South America, and Israel. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Daniel took some time this weekend to share some of his thoughts on guitar and to chat about his musical journey so far. 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 at the age of 10 or so. My father had an old twelve-string guitar stashed away and I was always drawn to it when he wasn’t at home. One day he showed me some chords on that guitar, I remember it was very, very hard due to the double-coursed steel strings. I guess we didn’t have computer games back then…

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

Bach is my bread and water, I play at least one suit every day.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play on a 2009 Karl-Heinz Römmich in concerts. As for strings, I use what works to my opinion the best for that guitar, which is for basses – Augustine blue, second and third strings – Savarez alliance, and first string – Augustine regal.

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

From a guitar prospective I guess I always come back to the holy trinity of guitarists: Segovia, Bream, and Williams. But I rarely listen to guitarist. As musicians go I have to say Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, and Emil Gilels on piano. Pieter Wispelwey on cello, Gidon Kremer on violin, and Tabea Zimmermann on viola are for me always an inspiration.

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

I don’t see the economic viability of CD’s. Many of my friends have recorded for some labels, they don’t get nothing for their hard work. Some of them recorded on their own equity and paid the label to distribute the CD with no revenue. I find this to be very strange and don’t see me taking a apart of it.

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

I love the sound of Carles Trepat’s recordings on an old Torres with gut-strings.

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

I have three projects coming up. The first is an homage to the Segovian repertoire with a modern take on the arrangements, the second is a project with string players of the Israeli Philharmonie, and the third is a project with a wonderful soprano and cellist. in between I have some wonderful projects with a piano player and the Aranjuez with orchestra.

Technique and Performance

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

I have two children and many students, so I practice when they are away, which is mostly at the morning time. I try to play every Bach day. It keeps my memory and technique fit. After that I practice the program for the oncoming concert and read new pieces.

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

Technically guitar is very hard, I think the hardest thing is to see through the technique and find a musical concept. I see more and more young players falling into those technical perfection traps and I try myself to avoid them as best as I can.

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

1.Practice slowly 2. Practice slowly 3. Practice slowly.

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

I don’t have plans to do this soon since I have much on my plate, but one day I hope to get to it.

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

BWV997 fugue slowly.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I try not to have a big lunch on that day and I play trough very slow and pianissimo to get the feel of the guitar and relax my hands

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

It is very different from one person to the other. I try to have them as short as possible for me (which will be very long for someone else). Any length more than 2mm above the skin and I get a “naily” sound.

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Advice to Younger Players

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

Play a piece that you like. If you really like the piece you would gladly spend more time to make it sound good.

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

I think that every guitarist should go through the pieces that got the guitar to the place it is now. The Segovia/Williams program is our “school”. I find it somewhat strange that students play Britten or Ohana but not Asturias or Recuerdos.

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

Villa Lobos with Alvaro Pierri. Pierri is coming to this music armed with amazing imagination rather than with dexterity (of which he is not lacking in any way).

Tangent

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

Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is the last one I read. I think Bulgakov is maybe my favorite.

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

I try not to eat excessively, I try to exercise, but I find the hardest part is to put the sneakers on. I love local fresh Mediterranean food but before concerts salads are always a good choice.

Do you meditate in any way?

No, but I love to think about things in silence.

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

Playing with my kids is a lot of fun.

Any things else you’d like to add?

I hope guitarist will start acknowledging that they are a part of a big musical community and work their way up the ladder in the music world in the same way Segovia did many decades ago, instead of working inwards in the guitar world.

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