Upon hearing a recording of Domenico Scarlatti’s music performed by Italian guitarist Edoardo Catemario, I was immediately captivated by both his beautiful sound and his sensitive musicianship. Winner of both the ‘Andrés Segovia” and Alessandria International guitar competitions in the early 90s, Edoardo has been performing all over Europe to great acclaim. Edoardo recently sat down to share some wonderful insights on his journey and philosophies with Six String Journal. Enjoy!
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
My father was an amateur player, he could play sixteen different instruments. He was also a good singer and used to sing to me every night before sleep. When he started playing the guitar I became immediately attracted by the sound of this instrument and wanted to play with him, he replied that I should start studying “properly” with a real teacher. I was almost five when I took my first lesson. My mother told me that I used to practice almost one hour per day at that time. I remember only that I liked the sound of the guitar and the feeling of my fingers on the strings.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
It depends by the mood and by the time of my life. I like baroque, classic, and romantic music and sometimes some very good contemporary although I must confess that ultra contemporary avant-garde (despite having played it quite a bit) is not my favorite. Let’s say that I tend to prefer music that you can sing or whistle…
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Since the late eighties I’ve performed only on vintage instruments. In my experience it is the best compromise between expressivity, projection, beauty of sound and dynamics. At a point of my life, I have had a collection with several great guitars: Simplicio, Garcia, Jose Ramirez I, Manuel Ramirez, Pascual Viudes, Del Vecchio and so. Nowadays, I still have a few guitars of that collection, those instruments that I was used to play the most: Enrique Garcia and Francisco Simplicio. Two years ago I have been struck by a modern luthier: Paulino Bernabe jr. Since then I am endorsing his guitars, in my opinion the best modern instrument able to compete in projection, beauty of sound and emotion depth with my old instruments. A special mention goes to a project of a wonderful “mad genius” from Italy: Walter Franchi. I own a couple of his guitars. He has invented a method called “ guitar refurbishment” that he applies to instruments of very poor craftsmanship of the end of XIX century and early XX (Ibañez, Julve, Casa Nunez etc) making them sound like guitars of very high level luthiers. In this way you can enjoy a pure “original” sound at a very reasonable price. I own two guitars “Torres” which actually sound even better than the original ones (I have played several original Torres). Walter looks at a guitar and does what he calls “giving it a second chance” remaking it practically from scratch. The work of a genius.
Regarding strings, since 1992 I’ve used 1992 RC classic “Sonata light”, a string made in Valencia by a flamenco player: Juan Grecos. We have been working a lot to find a nylon string with a crystal sound and no personality in order to give the player the ability to have the sound he wishes.
Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
At the very beginning of my guitar playing my hero was Andres Segovia. Growing up I have turned my sight elsewhere probably because of my musical formation that wasn’t only guitar oriented. I have been student of one of the very last musicians of the “Neapolitan school” (Titina De Fazio Imparato) and had to learn some piano and organ in order to receive lessons by her. This fact opened my horizons quite a lot bringing me to discover the most important pianists and violinists (Rubinstein, Czyffra, Lipatti, Oistrak, Hifez, Primerose, Enescu) and obviously organists (Richter mainly). Also, I had to practice repertoire that was not guitar: string quartet, organ, piano.
During all that period I was trying to understand Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli piano mastery. Instinctively I could feel that he was the incarnation of my “ideal” musician but I couldn’t replicate his perfect taste on the guitar. It took me years to begin to understand and I am still on this process of making the music as deep as I can by respecting the composers marks, ideas, and styles.
I also have had the incredible chance to personally meet Sergiu Celibidache who deeply influenced my life. Thanks to him I discovered that perfect beauty and emotional depth was possible. I have heard the perfect balance in more than one concert conducted by Celibidache. Attending as many rehearsals as I could, I discovered his way to work on the details, on the profound meaning of the music and its incarnation in the “here and now”. It is a never ending training.
Why do you seek what you call “perfect taste” elsewhere than guitar?
The guitar, historically, has been an instrument with a double face. On the one side it has been the most “popular” instrument, on the other side it was the privileged entertainment of the kings’ courts. This fact has lead to a continued osmosis of information between the courts and the taverns. During the centuries this “counterpoint” has happened repeatedly and you can easily recognize both the “aristocracy” and the “popular” of the guitar. The repertoire itself is very different. That’s how Tansman and Barrios coexist and why, in my opinion, Segovia didn’t play some pieces that other guitarists like so much. He was an aristocrat. I come from a noble Neapolitan family, I was born aristocratic but I have lived most of my life thinking this was like a “sin”. The leading aesthetic of the last forty years of the guitar has been basically popular, having noble roots and refined aesthetic was considered “vulgar”, quite funny, no? Things are slowly changing and many young players are trying to go back to the aristocratic guitar but it is still not easy for them as it has not been for me. Guitarists have closed themselves in a “guitar world” where guitarists play for other guitarists in guitar festivals and get reviewed on guitar magazines (and blogs) by other guitarists, teach master classes (abused term that often indicates a simple class to a low level student) of guitar to guitar students in a guitar campus where no other musician is allowed or is interested to come in. The funny part of this process is that almost every guitarist that I encounter blames the lack of audience and attempts to gain more audience by playing more vulgar repertoire. Sometimes you can listen to entire “jingle programs” in the hope that the audience will enjoy it. None of the performers that I have met ever questioned the fact that probably the problem was not only the repertoire but the performers themselves.
What I can say is that in my experience the quality pays off in the long term. I have been lucky enough to play in the “temples” of classical music like the golden saal of the Musikverein in Vienna or the big hall of Berliner Philharmonie or the Balshoi Saal of the Philharmonie of St. Petersburg but not in the main guitar festivals. I tend to think that the way I like and play the guitar is not well accepted by many guitarists, probably it’s a matter of culture. I have many anecdotes about discussing with (even quite famous) guitarists having to cut the chat about the real matters of music in order to avoid to give a non required lesson. Going back to the aesthetic I must confess that I can’t see myself using a ton of rubato in every single phrase, making every piece a Prelude or play in the most aseptic way, fast and furious or fast and clean. Music is more than that for me, it is landscape (to use a definition by Atahualpa Yupanqui), it is the occasion to see the life with the eyes and the ears of a great composer. It is unacceptable to me to vandalize a text in order to be “original” or, even worse, just for lack of culture.
Real music travels on a railroad parallel to the one chosen by most guitar festivals and often looks at the guitar world like you might look at an unlucky brother. It’s a pity, don’t you think?
What recording/s are you most proud of?
The next one!
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
In October 2018 I am going on tour with Prague National Orchestra to perform “Sinfonia Argentina” by Daniel Doura. We will play in Prague, Tiplice and at the Hercules Saal in Munich. This is an orchestral piece for a huge orchestra and choir. The fourth movement is a small concerto for guitar, piano and orchestra.
I am on a secret project of a recording that will probably see the light in October. Shhh…
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
It depends by what I have to do. Normally I would say between three and four hours a day. But in case of recordings or different concerts with different programs it can easily become twice that much.
I do follow always the same routines. Tune the guitar, put the score on the stand, take a pencil and start from the first bar, read the piece trying to squeeze out the emotions that it has. First comes the music and the pleasure to discover a new piece. Then I practice small parts of the piece trying to get them by heart as soon as I can, then I put together some small parts and practice slowly to gain clarity and precision, and so on for every part of the piece, from smaller to bigger (motive, semi/phrase, phrase, period, section, movement).
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Allow me to answer with a sentence by Carl Sandburg about the guitar: “A chattel with a soul often in part owning its owner and tantalizing him with his lack of perfection.”
The lack of perfection just drives me crazy in the effort to master it. I am not alone, I can remember an interview where Paco de Lucia was complaining about the guitar being the most ungrateful instrument.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I do prefer to memorize everything. In order to achieve that, many years ago I started using mental training. My investigation started from a simple observation: when I was trying to play a passage with some kind of technical issue in it, despite playing it just in my mind without using the guitar the mistake was still there. I then understood that the origin of any mistake is only rarely physical and is more often what we imagine in our head.
A must read is “Mental Training for Musicians” by Renate Kloppel. This book describes roughly every step that I follow to play everything by hart. I am sure you can find similar books searching on the net.
Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I have been asked to publish my arrangements many times, eventually I will do it in the future. For many years I have been too lazy to put them on paper and have thought that it was useless: I redo every arrangement as it was the first time I play the piece every time I play any other instruments repertoire and believe that, if someone likes my arrangement, he can make his own arrangement and eventually listen to my recordings and use the ideas as he/she wants. It is still questionable if publishing my arrangements or not… can we make a poll?
So far, there is only one book that I have published thinking that it could be of some help to musicians. It is called “fundamentals of interpretation” and explains in 36 pages everything basic I know about music: the meaning of articulation, tempos (what actually mean Andante i.e. and why you should play at a tempo rate instead of an other), structure, etc… Also is about visible and hidden signs in a score.
It’s a book about the essential things that every musician worth to be called a musician already knows. It is downloadable for free at my website: www.catemario.com
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
No. I have spent my life trying to be ready for public performance with no warm up. I try to play music every time I pick my guitar up. I quickly get bored by technique. When I was a student I practiced technical exercises for hours, in that period I liked it. Not anymore, my priorities have changed. Before a concert I play slowly something that I like in that moment (not necessarily from the program that I am going to perform).
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not really. I have everyday ritual, kind of superstitions… I come out of my bed always with my right foot, don’t share salt with anybody, don’t step under a stair and many others, in music I never play Scarlatti’s sonatas in odd number. I can’t say that I believe in bad luck but I prefer not to challenge the fate…
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Do music, first! Be compassionate with your music, put your soul in it and then, only in a second moment, slow down every single passage and practice the technique to make it as perfect and full of energy as you can. Practicing the clarity before trying to put the music into the piece very often ends up in a totally dry performance. One very important advice: play what is written (P means *piano*, F *forte* and not whatever else you like, a rallentando mark means that you should slow down the tempo ONLY in the segment where the mark is placed).
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
Etudes. All of them: Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, Legnani, Coste, Villa Lobos etc… An etude is a great occasion to manage a musical performance in a small form. From smaller to bigger. You can’t reasonably play Chaconne if you can’t manage to play a study by Sagreras from memory and musically convincingly.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
We live in an epoque when you can have access to virtually every recording ever made. I think that it is important for everybody to know his own roots. Who are the greatest masters of the past? Start with them! It’s dangerous to build up a student career by listening only to competition winners and try to imitate that play wishing only to win a competition at your turn. Music is a different matter and has nothing to do with competitions nor with cultivating “originality”. Originality is the pompous name that many people give to their ignorance.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
I like thrillers (especially if, but not only) blended with philosophical arguments: Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho or Tolkien. Books of art (Philippe Daverio for example), Italian literature (Fallaci, Ilaria Cenci Campani and many others), some Spanish literature (Martha Batiz Zuk among others) and obviously the great classics: from Voltaire to Verne, Cervantes, Tolstoji, Goethe, Dante, Ariosto… also some Ancient Greek literature, I have read Sophocles, Eschilo, Plato and many others.
As of now I am reading the book by Leon Poliakov about the Shoah. The next one is lying on the table near my bed: Secrets of the Sistine Chapel.
Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet?
I wish I could. I have been a rugby player in my youth, every year I promise to myself that I will exercise. It’s now over five years without.
I am very demanding with food. I live in the field and prefer zero km food, I avoid as much as I can pre-boxed food and try to eat as much healthy food as I can. Old weeds, biological food with no OGM and no chemicals. Obviously, living in Tuscany it is easier for me.
Have a favorite pre-concert food?
I don’t eat before concerts.
Do you meditate in any way?
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Play with my four years old son, walk with my darling, read, talk with friends, play cards with the elders of my village.
Any things else you’d like to add?
I have developed a system of teaching based on the XVIII century Neapolitan school and its “partimenti”. This system permits to any absolute beginner to play his first song in 4 lessons. The method can be used to introduce students to music and can be applied to harmonic instruments (guitar or keyboard). It can be used also to form amateur players to enjoy music. It is very progressive and is centered upon playing with the teacher and not in front of a computer. The skills asked to learn how to teach the first and second level are quite possible to get acquired quickly by a proficient guitarist of any genre. The method itself is not centered on the classical repertoire nor classical guitar and allows people to develop a good ear, good side reading, improvisation, knowledge of harmony, tab, notation and arranging. The system is based on two “steps” which are focused on the student and not on the institutional “timing”. This is a crucial aspect of artistic learning: institutions care that you learn a “basic minimum” in a given time, you have to be prepared to give an exam at a certain date but it doesn’t matter how well you perform. Art demands the absolute best you preparation, it doesn’t matter when (although the sooner the better). Teachers who use my method (Metodo Catemario) also accept the “ethical teaching code” which is a fundamental part of the method itself: every lesson can be repeated as many times as the student (or the teacher) feel being necessary to achieve any single result at no extra cost. Only when the student is well prepared and has no doubts about that particular lesson can step ahead to the following subject.