Artist Spotlight – Rafael Aguirre Interview

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

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Personal

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

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

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

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

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

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

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

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

What recording/s are you most proud of?

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

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

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

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

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


Technique and Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

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

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

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


Advice to Younger Players

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tangent

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

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

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

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

Do you meditate in any way?

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

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

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

Any things else you’d like to add?

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

Connect with Rafael Aguirre

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

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

https://twitter.com/aguirreguitar

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

Artist Profile and Interview – Edoardo Catemario

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!

Personal

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.

Tangent

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?

Yes.

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.

Artist Profile and Interview – Gohar Vardanyan

Gohar Vardanyan

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Admired for her evocative and virtuosic interpretations, Armenian guitarist Gohar Vardanyan has taken some time off from her busy performing and teaching schedule to share some details about her life and her art. From her advice to practice slowly to her passion for pushing the limits in her performances, I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did about this young and phenomenal guitarist!

Personal

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

I started playing when I was about 5 years old. My dad is a guitarist and he started teaching me as soon as he could. I grew up with guitar being played in the house all the time, either by my dad’s friends, students, or on recordings.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I tend to gravitate towards music that has beautiful melodies and is emotionally moving. Not really into cute pieces or contemporary music. I love to play Bach, but because of the time and maintenance required to perfect it I don’t program it in concert. I play it at home for my own enjoyment.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play on a 2012 cedar Jean Rompré guitar. Currently I use Royal Classic Recital strings (medium tension). I also love Savarez Cantigas and Knobloch Actives QZ Nylon. I only use normal or medium tension strings.

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

Growing up it was all about Paco de Lucia, I wanted to play just like him, but then I chose classical guitar as a career, so that didn’t quite work out. I listen to many different musicians, not just guitarists, but I can’t say there was one in particular. It’s a mix. All my teachers had tremendous influence on my playing now; Antigoni Goni, John Wunsch, Manuel Barrueco and Sharon Isbin.

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

I like all of David Russell’s later albums. I would love to have that kind of full and beautiful sound on my next CD.

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I just started a new series on my YouTube channel called Guitar Etudes. I have been making videos for Strings by Mail for a few years now, mini guitar lessons we call Lessonettes and Unexplored Repertoire Series from sheet music in their collection. But for a few months now I’ve been thinking of doing something other than just my repertoire videos on my own channel as well. Something that would be beneficial for my own students and guitar students in general. So I thought that recording various guitar etudes and talking about their technical or music benefit would make for a good video series. I finally started it. I’m going to try to upload a video every Monday. As I write this, there are 4 out already and the 5th one is scheduled to go LIVE on next Monday.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice?

When I was in school I practiced about 4 hours a day, everyday. Now life doesn’t really allow for that luxury. Between teaching, making videos, answering emails, and all sorts of other little things, 4 hours of practice every single day becomes more of a chore. Whenever I have a break between concerts I slack off a little bit. I practice, of course, but it’s not 4 hours and some days I skip altogether. When concerts are lined up, then of course I prioritize practicing and practice as much as needed.

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

In terms of structuring, I personally don’t have a rigid structure. I don’t think I ever did. I work on whatever needs to be worked on and for as long as it needs to be worked on. Of course, I try to find the most effective and efficient way to do it, but it’s not a set structure like 30 mins of technique, 2 hours of rep, 1 hour of reading, etc… If I’ve been playing regularly, I might do a 15 minute technical warm up then dive right into what needs to be worked on. If I’ve been a little lax with practicing and I feel like my hands aren’t as in shape as they need to be, I might do 1 hour of different technical exercises for a couple days. I’ve tried keeping logs and practice journals both on paper and electronically. It would last for a few days then I’d drop it. So I decided instead of wasting time writing and planning, I rather just sit down and do it. I’m better off just remembering and going by feel. However, that doesn’t work well for everyone. For a lot of my students, keeping a log or having a specific structure to their practice is better. This also really depends on your level. When you are still in the developmental stage, you need to do technique everyday, because you are still building your technique and that takes consistency. After years of experience, you know what you need to do at that particular moment to improve your playing. I usually have some sort of goal, fixing a specific passage, or working on specific phrasing, or building my stamina for a particularly difficult or fast piece, etc… And that keeps me organized enough.

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

I wouldn’t really call it struggle, but I think there is always something that needs to improve. If we stopped trying to be better than before, then we give up and stop growing. Every time I learn a new piece, it’s a challenge. I tend to always choose pieces that are pretty difficult either because they are transcriptions or because I gravitate towards pieces that are passionate, emotional, sometimes fast paced and rhythmic. And to add to the fire, so to say, I like to push them to their limit. Usually, I already have an idea of how I want it to sound. I never want them to sound like they’re difficult, in other words I want the technique to be invisible. At the same time, making the technical execution seamless and effortless while keeping the energy and the passion of the piece alive, makes it way more difficult to play. It’s easier to take it down a notch and play things neutral and straight, but that sounds boring to me. I always end up pushing it to the limit in volume or speed, and that gets me if I’m not two hundred percent prepared. So I’d say my struggle is to take it down a notch.

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

I do make a point of memorizing the piece as soon as I can, but since usually I don’t have a set deadline for it I just let it happen naturally. Whenever I did have deadlines, I would break it down into small sections and deliberately memorize it, either by visualizing in addition to playing it, or playing and trying to actively make my brain understand what’s happening so I can repeat it without the music. If you do it in small enough sections then put it together, it becomes less of a daunting task. I think memorizing makes us play the piece better, we can connect with it better without being distracted by looking at the music. And from the technical point, when you have to fly around the fretboard, it’s a lot easier to land in the right place if you see where you’re going.

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

I have four books published for Mel Bay Publications, but those are instructional books. In terms of editions, I haven’t really made my own. Honestly, a lot of it is the time commitment. It requires a lot of time to transcribe something, and then to also put it into legible notation. The transcription of La Vida Breve that I did, I just memorized, because rewriting everything is a task I didn’t have time for.

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

One of my books is on warm up (Complete Warm-up for Classical Guitar), in it I share the main drills that I do to warm up. It’s nothing fancy, it’s short, but it covers all the bases I feel that I need.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not really, no. I like to keep it simple. I prefer to sleep in as late as possible and I prefer not to have to do anything else like teach that afternoon, that way my brain is fresh for the evening concert. I wouldn’t really call it a ritual though, because sometimes you won’t be able to do any of it and if I had something I relied on for a good performance, it would be like a crutch and who knows what would happen if I wasn’t able to get it. So aiming for some rest and peace is good enough for me.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Don’t just play, actually practice. And practice super slow, I mean painfully slow. It’s amazing how much you can see when you zoom into time like that and analyze what happens with fingers in between notes. I’m talking about 50 on the metronome, for each note you play (sometimes two notes, depends on the piece).

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

I don’t think there is a specific set of pieces everyone absolutely has to play. We’re all different and our tastes are different. However, I think it’s important to learn music from all different genres, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary. Learn them, even if you don’t like them, and when you leave school you can choose never to play them again but I think some familiarity with the different genres is important.

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

I think we should all be familiar with the guitar legends, Segovia, Bream, Williams… they are part of our history. However, we should also keep up with current times because guitar is constantly growing, better and better players are coming up every day. With YouTube and the Internet in general, we have incredible access to so much. We shouldn’t be stuck in the past, explore and find what you love.

Tangent

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

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is the last book I “read.” I say “read” because I didn’t actually read it, lately I’ve been using audiobooks on my commutes. And for authors – I loved all the books by Dan Brown and Alexander Dumas. They are fun to read.

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

I got into running about 2.5 years ago. For almost a year I did it regularly, 4 times a week at minimum and even ran a 25K trail race (took about 3 hours though, not much of a threat to everyone else on the trails). Now I go when I can for a 5K in my neighborhood or if I have a long enough chunk in my day, a 10K loop around Central Park (NYC).

I don’t have a particular diet. I usually eat pretty healthy, not into fast foods or fried foods. My weakness is sweets, but only chocolate, gelato and pastries (with chocolate), no random candies. So as a responsible human who cares about not eating too much unhealthy sweets, I try to limit those. I don’t always succeed.

No specific pre-concert food. I usually go for a late lunch of whatever that will carry my through the end of the concert. I try not to be high maintenance for the people who are hosting me or the presenters who invited me.

Do you meditate in any way? 

No, I can’t sit still for that long.

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

I like walking around the city or going on hikes.