Young Turkish guitarist, Celil Refik Kaya, is taking the guitar world by storm. He has won numerous victories in some of the most important international guitar and concerto competitions with displays of stunning musicianship and brilliant technique.
In addition to playing some of the most demanding repertoire with what seems like a magical touch, Celil is a prolific and gifted composer as well, and equally at ease playing with top notch orchestras as he is playing solo.
In the interview below he shares some insight and tips with Six String Journal readers about his musical journey so far…
When did you start playing and why? What drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing guitar when I was six years old because my father used to play classical guitar and many other instruments. He has been professionally playing Rebab which is a traditional Turkish bow instrument. My father was my first teacher and when I heard him play, the sound of the guitar was magical to me and not comparable to any other instrument. The year that I started playing guitar I wanted to be like Andres Segovia and John Williams who were my childhood idols. Besides playing classical guitar, I play many other traditional Turkish instruments such as Rebab and Oud which I learned from my father.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I enjoy playing 20th and 21st century South American composers as well as 20th century Spanish composers. Besides those, I enjoy playing my own compositions.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
I have guitars made by Garreth Lee and Glenn Canin. Both are phenomenal guitar makers. I play both of my guitars depending on the setting of the concert. In fact I recorded my first album Jorge Morel Guitar Music from Naxos, with Gary’s double top guitar which has incredibly beautiful warm sound. I recorded my second album with Glenn’s guitar and it features the music of Carlo Domeniconi which will be released by Naxos. For both of my guitars I use D’Addario EJ46.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
As a performer I was influenced by Andres Segovia, John Williams, Alicia de la Rocha, Maria Callas, Itzhak Perlman. As a composer I admire Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Ponce and Tedesco.
What recording/s are you most proud of?
To me every recording has its own unique quality.
Which recordings do you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
Recordings that I have done with producer and guitarist Norbert Kraft were the finest I would say. When we listen to all of the Naxos guitar recordings that Norbert recorded, they all sound phenomenal.
What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?
I will be recording the last two volumes of Agustin Barrios Mangoré which I am very much looking forward to. Starting from September 2017, I will be a fellow of Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C. I was recently invited for this prestigious fellowship program and I am looking forward to my performances in D.C. as part of my fellowship program.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
How much I practice really depends on my schedule and what is coming up. I practice as much as I need to which can really change according to the importance of the concert or difficulty of the new piece that I include in the program. When I competed in competitions, I practiced about 8 hours a day which I divided as 2 hours arpeggios and scales and 6 hours repertoire. For concerts I practice 2 to 3 hours a day.
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Not in terms of technique. In terms of musicality every dedicated musician grows musically until the end of their lives.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I memorize the pieces naturally very quickly. Therefore I don’t have a specific method that I use for myself. For my students I recommend them to read the music from the end to the beginning or sometimes making them play specific passages of the piece only. Because most of the time, guitar players play with the muscle memory rather than really knowing what notes or fingering they play and this can cause many problems such as memory slip and lack of control.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
My transcription of Valses Poéticos by Enrique Granados was published by FDP publications in Austin and my original works such as Sonatina, Longing, Suite of the Witches and Dream were published by d’Oz publications in Canada. I am working on the next projects for publishing including some of my solo guitar pieces and chamber works.
Do you have a favorite drill/routine you use to warm up?
I generally warm up with playing passages slowly from the pieces that I am going to play in my concerts.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I usually eat a banana and chocolate before performing. It significantly helps the energy and concentration.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Practicing consciously and slowly. Whatever they are practicing, awareness of every single note and its quality should be the goal. Sometimes when a young player practices, they continue playing even if the passage is not perfect. It is very beneficial to have a self critical mind in that sense.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
I am always a fan of traditional classical guitar repertoire rather than only new works. There are many composers that young players don’t play anymore and I consider them the core of the guitar repertoire. Turina, Tedesco, Ponce, Torroba and many others are fantastic composers who wrote the skeleton of the guitar repertoire. Their works are not only challenging both musically and technically but they are also audience favorites. If a person hears classical guitar for the first time, it is very likely that they will like 20th century Spanish composers. What these composers achieved with the emotional expressivity of their works is not replicable.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
Every young guitarist should be familiar with the recordings of Andrés Segovia, John Williams, and Julian Bream. Today, the level of guitar playing is so much higher than before, but the foundation of the guitar technique and soul is hidden in those recordings. To understand rhythmic stability and inner pulse they should listen Williams. Although the aesthetic of musical interpretation has changed significantly, Segovia’s playing conveys great musical expressivity. Listening to these artists provides a great foundation. Besides listening to other great guitar players, learning harmony, counterpoint, music analysis, listening to orchestral recordings, chamber works, and great instrumentalists (non- guitarists) will transport young players to another level. After a certain point it is important to listen to more non-guitar recordings.
What is the last book that you read?
The last book I have read was “A Composer’s World” by Paul Hindemith.
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
I don’t follow a particular diet but I am trying to eat everything in balance. Since I am Turkish, the majority of the time I eat Turkish food and my wife loves it, too. Before concerts, I don’t have a particular pre-concert food as long as it is not too heavy.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I like to spend my time in coffee shops with my wife reading books and sometimes composing. Besides that, I also practice Wing Chun which is a branch of Kung Fu.