Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion played by Leo Garcia

This haunting milonga is one of my favorite pieces by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1982). Though there are plenty of arrangements of this for guitar (and two guitars and other instrumental combinations), I stumbled upon Ryuhi Kunimatsu’s arrangement very recently and loved how he captured the essence of the song so well.

Hope you enjoy it.

Artist Profile and Interview: Julia Trintschuk

If you have not heard the brilliant young guitarist Julia Trintschuk you are in for a treat. Hailing from Germany, Julia has been on stages all over the world and performed Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez at age 16 to launch her career. With a seemingly endless amount of technical skill, a refined and elegant sound, and a natural musicality, her interpretations transcend the guitar. Fortunately for Six String Journal readers, Julia recently took some time to share some of her experience, tips, and advice! Enjoy.

Julia Trintschuk


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

Actually I first started playing piano at the age of four. As my mother was teaching me the piano and my father was always playing the guitar, soon I also became interested in playing guitar and started having the first guitar lessons with my father at the age of four as well. From then on I continued playing both instruments.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

In general I’m only choosing pieces I enjoy playing and working on, to join my repertoire. But it also depends a lot on my mood and the piece itself. What I like a lot is to have a big contrast and variety between the different pieces, for example a couple of technically very demanding and virtuosic pieces, some musically difficult pieces and a few very beautiful and simple piece.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Mostly I’m playing on my guitars by Fernando Mazza with a cedar top and my Antonio Marin with spruce and satin wood. It’s a very colorful guitar and makes it easy to create a tender way of making music and not focusing on the technical issues too much. Apart from that I like to use my other guitars with a cedar top for a more powerful repertoire or chamber music.

As for the strings I am very happy to be a part of the Savarez family since 2017 and I’m using the Savarez 510 MJP Cantiga Creation Premium High Tension.

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

My teachers Prof. Mario Sicca, Martin Wiedmann, Mateus de la Fonte and Prof. Joaquin Clerch definitely had the biggest influence on me. Musically speaking also my long-term piano teacher So-Ryong Chuoa had an immense influence on me and led me to two of my biggest inspirations Evgeny Kissin and Sergej Rachmaninov.

Are you planning to record a cd? What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

There are a few projects ahead, that I’m excited about, but they’re still in the process of making, so I’ll be happy to share them soon, when things will get more precise.

Technique and Performance

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

Usually I practice around six hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes a bit less. But structure in the practice is one of the most important things in my opinion. I think it is very important to have an overview on all projects that are going on and to set deadlines.

Another benefit that structuring your practice brings, is that with the time you get to know how much time and which precise steps it requires for you to refresh old pieces, which can be a big help, when you have several programs you have to prepare. All in all I believe a structured practice plan is the key to a good time management that saves you from wasting both time and energy in the wrong way.

What has to be included in every practice plan in my opinion is a warm-up/technique session, a few sessions for working on new repertoire, and one session where you refresh old pieces or keep current pieces “alive”. The most important is to separate these blocks by breaks, in order to keep focused and be able to go through all of these parts daily.

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

As we change our perspectives and points of view constantly during the process of development, I don’t believe it is ever possible to achieve the state of an absolutely controlled, constant total perfection and be “completely done” with the work with the instrument. It’s just that the focus on what you want to improve, lies on different aspects in the different phases on top of the basic feeling of a general comfort with the guitar.

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

In most cases the memorization comes while I’m practicing the piece, but sometimes if I want to support or accelerate the process I like using the technique of mental practice (without guitar) and also to analyse the harmonic progressions.

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

I have done a few arrangements, that I didn’t publish yet, but I’m definitely planning to do that in the near future.

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

My favourite parts from my usual warm-up routine are minor and major scales through all tonalities and the 12 etudes by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Apart from that I also like warming up on the piano by practicing different technical exercises, before practicing the guitar.

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

Apart from the usual filing and smoothing with a common nail file and nail papers I don’t use any specific products.

Advice to Younger Players

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

Practice slow with a lot of patience and love what you’re doing.

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

Apart from the classical “competition repertoire” that every ambitious guitarist goes through, in my eyes the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos and the 20 Etudes simples by Leo Brouwer are essential, because it doesn’t only include all technical difficulties that one learns to master during the process of learning these pieces, but these pieces also give a perfect fundament for deepening the understanding of harmony and finding a personal way of applying music to at first glance seemingly technical studies.

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

I believe especially in a young age it is very important to get familiar with the recordings of the most important, diverse legends of the guitar such as Paco de Lucia, Andres Segovia, Julian Bream, Manuel Barrueco, going through all generations and “schools”, to be able to understand and develop your own taste and style. In order to evolve a personal style of musicality in my opinion it is even more important to listen to meaningful other instrument, chamber music and orchestral recordings.


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

The last book I read is “The Prophet” by Khalil Gibran. Among my favorite authors are Paulo Coelho, Jane Austen and Bernhard Schlink.

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

I like to stay active in my free time and try to do different activities and I do some home exercises and yoga. I also like cooking a lot, but I don’t follow a specific diet. Everything just has to be fresh and tasty 🙂

Do you meditate in any way?

To me focus and concentration, mental health and spiritual development are very important, so I try to keep it up in different personal ways, also including meditation.

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

I love searching for inspiration, when I’m not practicing. That doesn’t only include all the activities that are connected to being a musician like listening to music, reading, playing other instruments, but also visiting theaters, art galleries, dancing, spending time with family and friends, meeting interesting people, cooking, trying different activities, visiting saunas and spas, enjoying the beauty of nature – so shortly: discovering all the beauties of life itself. 🙂


Julia on Facebook

Julia’s website

Julia on Instagram

Featured Artist and Interview with Thomas Athanaselos

Hailing from Greece,  guitar virtuoso Thomas Athanaselos recently took some time to share his thoughts about his journey with guitar. Equally comfortable playing jazz arrangements, his own evocative compositions, and classical repertoire, Thomas’ playing is musical, fluid, and direct. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about him here.


When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 11. My influence was a teacher in primary school who always accompanied the school choir with his guitar and he really seemed to enjoy it. Next year my parents just signed me up for a Music School. As time went by I realized my passion for the guitar and music generally.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I have always loved playing various music styles from different music periods. The last years my repertoire includes music from the 18th-19th Century but also contemporary compositions of mine and other composers.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Over the last years I’ve performed on a guitar built by Vassilis Sigletos (GR) and I use Knobloch Actives (Carbon) high tension strings.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Throughout the years I have also played the electric and acoustic guitar, so my first influences were guitarists like Steve Vai, George Benson, Robben Ford and Al Di Meola. At the age of 16 when I focused on the classical guitar, guitarists and musicians from 18th to 21th century like J. S. Bach, Augustin Barrios Mangore, Fernardo Sor, Isaac Albeniz, Joaquin Rodrigo and the great Paco de Lucia had a big impact on me. Of course, I can’t dismiss Astor Piazzolla’s music.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I recorded my first album ‘In Memoriam’ in 2018, which received very good reviews so I could say for sure that this is the recording I am proud of. Recordings are always hard to satisfy you 100% so I hope the next one will be even better.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Right now due to the situation Covid-19 caused, we are facing a different routine and lifestyle which is something new for everyone. That makes it difficult to arrange concerts so I am focusing on composing and studying new repertoire.

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
I am always careful to keep my mind and my fingers in a good condition. When I have arranged concerts I practice every day 2-3 hours.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
I don’t have any specific way to memorize music. Sometimes the harmony and the melodic line of the piece makes it easier to memorize it. In any case I try to be careful and concentrated when I first study a piece. Many repeats and slow playing also helps me to find the details and deeply understand the score.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes, I have published four compositions of mine through Bergmann Editions.
You can find the scores here: Bergmann Editions.publications.jpg

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
For sure, I always try to take some time to relax on my own and not to get in touch with many people. This helps me to stay calm and concentrated on my program. I like to play some scale exercises or some slow tempo parts of the pieces. To me  these are the essentials. The ideal preparing for me is maximum 45 minutes before the concert.

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
I think young players should first start training their brains. They should try to create their own personality in music generally and this will lead them to new paths of playing.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food?
As our ancestors used to say ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. So I always try to exercise because it also affects positively my mood and my playing and I have healthy lifestyle in general. I don’t have a specific pre-concert food. A good meal for sure and maybe a bar of chocolate just before the concert!

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Running, cycling, watching movies, listening to music, and spending some time walking around with my dog!!




Yuri Liberzon’s New Release: ¡Acentuado!

I’ve had Yuri Liberzon‘s new recording dedicated to the music of Astor Piazzolla ¡Acentuado! for a few weeks now and have listened to it several times. In addition to the tour de force performance of the seldom heard Tango-Études (originally for unaccompanied flute or violin and transcribed by Yuri’s former teacher and guitar legend, Manuel Barrueco), Yuri is joined by virtuoso flutist Josué Casillas in a beautiful rendition of perhaps one of Piazzolla’s most well-known and beloved pieces in the guitar chamber music repertoire.

¡Acentuado! is wonderful on so many fronts, it’s hard to know where to begin. For starts, one gets the sense that there is nothing Yuri cannot do on the guitar. His virtuosity is understated and elegant and despite the way it serves the music, it is noticeably impressive. The Tango Études are not easy pieces, technically and emotionally, but in his hands they sound effortless and precise whether he is driving rhythms forward or sinking into a meditative cantabile. In a way, Piazzolla’s music with all of its intensity, accents, and precise rhythmic articulations is perfectly suited to a player like Yuri who plays in such an articulate manner.


Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango is always enjoyable listening but it is more enjoyable here as it seems to come across more like a live performance to my ears than a studio recording. Josué Casillas’s playing is brilliant and alive and Yuri grounds the ensemble strongly through all four movements.

This is a great recording all around from a two outstanding musicians. Order a copy of the CD. This will be one you listen to a lot.

Guitar Talk with Yuri Liberzon

Here is the transcript of our guitar chat. Lot’s of great advice in here.

Leo: So we were going to talk about common mistakes that guitarists make. Do you have any that you could offer us as tips?

Yuri: Maybe we should break it down into young guitarists, beginning guitarists… Actually, among all ages and especially beginners, if they do not have a great teacher or are self-taught, a most common mistake I see in the left hand is flat or inverted wrists.

Leo: Hyperextended?

Yuri: Yeah, they don’t have the correct arch. So the way I think about wrists, the right and left hand should have similar arches. I also personally prefer a little bit of arch in the right hand wrist. It gives me more power and gives me more control rather than the straight wrists. But I think it also varies with the ratios and proportions of someone’s hands. In general I do think I can get more sound. It also changes the angle with which you attack the string. So another issue related to the left-hand is that many students keep the inside the knuckle or the inner side of the palm too close to the curled first finger and to the bottom of the fingerboard. That shortens your potential reach and it actually puts a lot of strain on your pinky because then you end up using the [the tip] joint.

Leo: The furthest joint instead of the near one?

Yuri: Yes, the knuckle joint, and that can lead to injury. Or what I often see is people bend right at the tip joint. So I see a lot of calcium buildup right here [points to left hand pinky tip joint], I’ve seen guitarists that have that, and that has to do with a not ideal position of the left hand. I view each finger as an equal, so they all should kind of follow each other’s shape. So when you see something out of balance then it deserves attention. Another issue is the inability to play on the tip of the finger. Instead, beginners tend to use the pad. So what I usually recommend for my students is starting with a very simple exercise where you don’t even have to play. So you just start with one, you add two, and try to keep exactly the same shape, and then the same thing backwards. So just one, two, three ,four but what’s important is when you release your fingers you don’t do this [fingers splay away from neck]. You stay controlled and that really helps you learn to control the movement. [Exercise is simply placing finger 1 on a fret, then 2 in the adjacent fret, then 3 in the next, and then 4 in the next. The hand stays still.]

Leo: So that’s a good one for just general left-hand hygiene, right?

Yuri: Yeah, and I like to start it around 5th position or 7th, and the reason is because right here there is no[right arm pronation] like when you play in the lower positions. You are not coming at an angle like this, your forearm is actually more perpendicular to the fingerboard. And actually the 7th fret is probably … 7th or 8th, where you can really have arm at 90 degrees [to the neck].

Leo: And also there’s much less extension, too.

Yuri: Right, so it requires less work from your left hand. And you can just do it on one string, or you can do it on all strings. Also, another exercise is something as basic as putting one finger down and taking it off, and putting another finger and taking it off, that’s not as easy as it may seem. Having that isolated movement is also important, to kind of analyze how the finger moves. Because it has three joints, and I like to think of it as distributing the energy over all the joints, rather than overusing one of them. Like you don’t want just one joint and keeping the other one like this … it’s kind of all of them working together.

Leo: Would divide the energy evenly through all three joints? Or would the proportion shift to primarily come from a certain joint depending on what you were doing, like slurs?

Yuri: I do think the knuckle is the primary joint, and the power should come from … well actually that’s a whole other topic, where a lot of people press with the thumb and they don’t use a lot of the knuckle muscle. Because you pretty much don’t need your thumb to play. It’s just there to …

Leo: It’s like a balance or pivot somehow.

Yuri: Right. But you don’t hold the guitar. I’ve had students say, “Well if I don’t press here I feel the guitar is going to fall off.” Sometimes it’s psychological. From playing power chords and not doing them the right way. Usually what I do when I warm up, I combine left hand and right hand. So for example … maybe we should talk a little bit about right-hand exercise [see first video in previous post]. So actually that’s the last step of that exercise. So the parts of it are using one finger [see 2nd video] and then doing the same with a [see 2nd video] and then the same exercise except using m and a.

Leo: Do you do ia as well?

Yuri: No, I find that i and a have really good separation.

Leo: Just by doing the two other pairs [im and ma] they seem to …?

Yuri: Well, in general I find that I don’t have to work much on ia. I think i and a are separate joints anyway. But I do find that making even pinky stronger is helpful. It really helps me actually when I start playing with one finger. And then eventually when I get to the end of my warm up I start doing im. So I start with the hardest thing possible. One finger, m and a, sometimes pinky. And then eventually I get to im and it feels so easy.

Leo: Natural.

Yuri: Yeah. Like I started working on [Villa-Lobos’] Etude No. 7. And I would just play the scale with i and then I’ll play it with m and only at the very end will I play it with im. So that feels much easier at the end. Oh, and also, I work on extensors [see 3rd video]. That helps, too. Like you can do the same exercise. [playing] Or maybe not that on the 6th string…

Leo: Yeah, it’ll destroy your nails.

Yuri: This really does help too. [see 3rd video] Also I like to do ami scales. So, for example, any scale, always going ami.

Leo: So a does all the crossing? Or does it just depend on the …?

Yuri: No it’s just always that pattern: ami. And you can start with whatever finger you start. And in the beginning once you start developing this technique it’s difficult to keep track of which finger is next, but over time it becomes so automatic.

Leo: Great. What great advice.

Yuri: Well, you know, I know pretty much all of us—all guitarists—want to develop better scales, have more accuracy, play faster. How do you push that? How do you consistently get better at that? I think these exercises are pretty much it, not the secret, but the way, to get better at it.

Leo: And do you do this using a metronome?

Yuri: Yeah, sure. I mean, the more you do it the better, of course. The more precise you are the better it is. I mean, there’s a danger of course of doing too much of it. You don’t want to injure yourself. So you’ve got to build it up over time. And you’ve got to be very disciplined about doing it every day, a little bit, and seeing how you feel. Because if you overdo it … that’s the major mistake I find by many teachers, who are just like, “ Oh, just do these exercises and you magically will start playing better.” Or, “The more you do the better you play.” I don’t believe in that, I think there is a sweet spot of how much you have to do before you start feeling fatigue in your hand. And when you do start feeling tired you do have to take rests. Stretching is very important. I mean I have some experience from getting injuries, but now I know, basically, that’s red zone, don’t cross over there.

Leo: They say the same thing with running mileage. That you can’t go out and run a marathon, right? You have to slowly build it up, and never increase mileage by more than 5 or 10% a week or 2 weeks.

Yuri: Well, I’ll give you a perfect example. I have a trainer, I work out with him for an hour a week. And I’ve worked out before, but it wasn’t with a trainer, it was all by myself. And I would find myself getting frustrated. I would work really, really hard one day, and my whole body would ache for another week, and then I’d be like, “Well, I can’t do anything because my body hurts.” And then you come back and you’re just not motivated. And so, with the trainer, he would give me just enough so that I would feel some fatigue, but not to the point where I didn’t want to come back. But over time he started increasing and increasing …

Leo: the physical demand…

Yuri: the intensity, yeah. And I think that playing should be exactly the same way. Taught the same way.

Leo: But it’s difficult, because you’re often training yourself. And so, if you don’t have a teacher or you’re a professional, you have to have this fine understanding of what you’re doing.

Yuri: Yeah, and often if you don’t have a good teacher it’s very difficult I think, to gauge. Because we all think the more the better. But not always. There has to be the right amount.

Leo: And intellectually, too. Not just physically, right? You only have … or at least I know I have limitations in terms of how much I can focus. I can go strong for an hour or two and then I need a break, and another hour or so. But if I hit 4 hours, I think that’s about the limit of the psychic energy that I have available for intense practice.

Yuri: Yeah. And sometimes you will be practicing and you’re not really accomplishing anything, you’re just simply playing the piece. Which in itself, yes, it’s beneficial, but I think if you compare it to concentrated and focused practice, it’s much, much better to do that rather than just noodle on the guitar.

Leo: Right, I feel the same way. You’re better off going to do something completely different.

Yuri: Yeah. Because sometimes in half an hour you can accomplish more than in two hours, if your head is not in it, your mind. Yeah, it’s like, the secret is just consistency and regularity in practice.

Leo: Do you take days off?

Yuri: I do, when I’m overloaded with teaching (laughs). I still try to at least play somewhat. I try not to skip days.

Leo: If you have a limited amount of time, like just one hour, say, what do you tend to focus on?

Yuri: What I would sometimes do, I would pick a small passage or I would pick a small scale, or even just do one of those exercises I was doing, reconnecting with myself, with my hands, with the guitar, with the feeling. It’s very, very important I find, to connect with the mechanics of playing, and if you have that connection you can pretty much play anything. So I try to maintain that. Not necessarily a specific piece.

Leo: But just the feel of what it’s like to be mechanically on…

Yuri: Yeah, at the end of my practice I want to feel that, yes, I can play anything right now, my hands are capable. Well, it’s also interesting if you don’t play for a while, and I don’t know, it happens to me, I start thinking, “I just don’t know how to play anything. I forgot how to do this.” It’s like when you lay in bed for a day, and you start wondering, “Can I still walk?” But the fact is, yes, we, I mean certainly professional guitarists or musicians, we’ve been playing for so many years, for so many hours, the chances of us completely forgetting something are very, very low. But I think there’s something psychological about the daily practice that makes us feel that we can do this. Yes, better or worse, but if you don’t do it for a few days you start really thinking, maybe I just …

Leo: I lost it, right?

Yuri: I think there’s an element of magic to playing. It’s not all completely clear to us what is … how it’s happening. That’s what I think. When you sit with the guitar it’s like “Oh, wow, this is incredible.”

Leo: It’s a box of wood and some … it’s like a drum in some ways. What about, you know, common mistakes, just to come back to that. You were mentioning a couple of things for beginners. What about for conservatory students, or students that you’ve taught master classes to?

Yuri: Oh, sure. You know, one of the most often mistakes that I see … or, not mistakes, just underdeveloped ability to be able to play evenly. And that evenness could be developed. I like to think of it as a clean slate. So being able to play on the beat. So playing in time. The other part is having control of volume, and having the control of tone, having consistent tone. Being able to change your tone when you want to, as much control as possible. That’s why fingerings are extremely important. I often think of fingerings as … each finger has a different position on the string. Of course you can move your hand as a whole, but i will always be more towards the left, m will be towards the middle, a will be more towards the right. So ideally people’s i finger should have the warmest tone. Because it always happens to play near the soundhole unless there’s some problem with the nail of course. But generally, i should always be the one that you should look for to get a nice tone. m for me is the power finger. It’s longer, it’s also a little brighter. And a is like the third wheel [laughter]. It’s like it’s there to help you reverse the fingering, or it’s there to play the arpeggio or play tremolo. So it has a very different function. And I know some players actually never use a, or try to minimize the use of a. I don’t know if I completely agree with that. I think a is a good finger, and it definitely has to …

Leo: It deserves to be part of the game [laughter].

Yuri: Right, right. [laughter] But it has its own function.

Leo: So overall you would say that controlling your volume and balance and rhythm, that should be something that students should focus on?

Yuri: Right, well I can give you a little example [see 4th video]. Let’s say Etude 1, Villa Lobos, right? So obviously the pattern is this. [playing] Now what I often hear is unevenness, let’s say [playing]. It’s a little chaotic. Now what I would like to start with is having all notes even. [playing] Then we can start talking about shaping the phrase. The way I see it is, it’s going up, it’s going down. There are also little accents on every other note, where you hear this … actually, the fingering that is chosen, pi in the beginning automatically adds a little weight to the first, third note, every other note [playing] right? So not a lot is needed to be added to make it sound …

Leo: Musical and controlled.


Yuri: Right. So we can use whatever is already in the pattern. If I don’t do anything, if I simply play notes evenly, it will still be there. [playing] So that’s the beginning step, where you try to make everything even rhythmically, even in terms of accents and having control, and then you decide on the interpretation. The other problem with this piece is really interesting. When you play it, the higher you play, the further down you press the strings. So what ends up happening for the right hand is the strings get displaced. And on top of it there is another issue of pressing hard with the left hand, so having tension in the left hand transfers to the right hand, and that’s when the right hand gets confused and starts making errors. So, keeping left hand in check, tension in check, also practicing right hand alone, making sure it will be able to sustain the changes of the left hand, the misplacements … not misplacements, but being able to adjust to the …

Leo: The slight adjustments of the strings. The depressed strings.

Yuri: Right, right. Keeping in mind that the higher you play, the more careful you have to be. Of course when you play here [lower positions], the changes over here are not very significant. Yeah, I discover all these things actually from teaching.

Leo: Yeah, you notice it, and you try to solve it for a student, and then you’re like, oh, good to put that into practice.

Yuri: Actually another issue … well it’s not an issue, but it’s a quality of guitar. The higher you play, the more on the sharp side the note will be. That’s what the compensation is for in the saddle and the nut. But yeah, the higher you play the more out of tune you’re probably going to be.

Leo: Do you use etudes as warm-ups? Or do you tend to focus on very basic but perfect movements, and then you move on to your repertoire?

Yuri: I usually take elements out of etudes. I don’t think I get much out of just playing them but it depends on the etude, of course, but generally I try to save time by playing just shorter passages.

Leo: So you wouldn’t, say, play through an entire piece to gauge your mechanics? You know, to sort of touch base with where you are physically, or …

Yuri: I think if I’m really practicing a lot, I would do that, because I want to also feel my stamina, how am I feeling, because if yesterday I was able to play a whole piece, I should be able to do it today as well.

Leo: That’s a lot of very, very good advice. Just to shift gears a bit, one of the questions that I imagine most guitarists would be interested in knowing is what steps you take or that are very clear to you when decide to learn a new piece?

Yuri: Steps in learning them?

Leo: Yeah, in absorbing a new piece.

Yuri: Well let’s say if … it also depends on the piece. If it’s a piece that has been played before, if I’ve heard it before, or if it’s a new piece that nobody else has played, I think the approach is a little bit different. If it’s a more traditional piece, I will usually try to listen to the original. Say it’s written for a different instrument, if it’s a transcription or an arrangement I will usually listen to the original. And more than one performance. If it’s a piece by Bach, like a violin sonata I will listen to it on violin. If it’s a new piece I can’t do that, so you have to live with a piece for a while. You have to perform it, you have to see what works, what doesn’t work. But at some point you do have to take it on stage, and take the risk, and see how it goes. But generally the process for me is always … my fingerings have to be defined. So I never leave a single fingering up to chance.

Leo: Right. You have to know exactly what each hand is doing at all times.

Yuri: Right, and I have to also know, why is that fingering there, what’s the purpose of that fingering and not the other finger on that note. So there are many, many decisions that have to be made before I can even play the piece. Now, the decisions about making those fingerings, they’re very … they’re not an easy thing to explain, and every guitarist has their own way of thinking about fingerings, different experience, different hands, different nails, different experience with discovering what works for them, different repertoire … so of course everyone has different preferences. But there are some things that are not up for discussion for me. So that has to do with posture. There is not that much variation in regards to posture, or how the fingers should move in a way to minimize chance of injury and to optimize efficiency. So there’s really not that much room. And there used to be, you know, the Segovia right hand, today nobody really plays that way. So that went away, and I think many other things eventually will also fade out, because they will prove that they’re not efficient. But with the guitar being a new instrument, it will take some time to get to that place. Unlike piano or violin, where it’s not up for discussion. The teacher will basically not work with you, and say, well, study with somebody else …

Leo: You can’t develop your own technique on piano.

Yuri: Right, right. This is a hundreds-years-old tradition, and there is a reason why things are the way they are. The chances of you coming up with something really new related to how we use human body on these instruments is very low.

Leo: Exactly. Unless you don’t have the usual human body.


Yuri: Unless you are an alien…

Leo: And so once you have fingerings and you’ve gone through that process, what’s the next …

Yuri: Well the fingerings process is also …

Leo: That almost makes you learn it, right?

Yuri: Yeah, but at the same time, fingerings and interpretation are so connected. So that when I make decisions about fingerings I also think about, what is this music about? What is this phrase, what am I trying to do with this phrase? Should it be rest strokes or should it be free strokes? It’s not only the ease of playing, it’s also, what is the gesture I’m going after? Is this intense gesture, or is it a light gesture? Should the phrase end with a rest stroke, is the last note important of a scale or of a passage? How fast does it need to go? Is this arpeggio pattern going to allow me the easiest way to play it fast, that passage, at the tempo that’s required? And sometimes you say, I will give this a try, I’ll play it for a while, see if it works, or eventually you may replace it with a different fingering. Many, many masters will change fingerings as they get more experience.

Leo: I almost feel like fingerings are really never set in stone, except at the beginning, when you first learn the piece, and then as it evolves you perhaps will adjust, or if you re-learn a piece you’ll come back to it and choose to do different things.

Yuri: You know, that’s a really interesting topic, talking about when we get a piece of music, it already has some fingerings, right? Now, the publisher doesn’t know the player’s experience. And the player, if it’s an advanced player, most likely they will take some good things out of the fingerings that are on the page and they will maybe change them as needed, or not … but then, if the player is not advanced, what happens then? Should the music have all the fingerings or not? And I’ve had … well when I do my arrangements, I finger every single note, every single finger. And the reason why I do that is because for a not advanced player, this is a way that works. This is one suggestion that has been given thought, that’s been tried. For an advanced player, they can erase whatever doesn’t work, they can change it, but at least they have hours and hours of thought already on the page. I also understand that a lot of publishers don’t want to spend time putting the fingerings on the page, but …

Leo: Well, there are also plenty editions out there that have horrible fingerings, that aren’t well thought out. There was a time where I was watching a master class by David Russell a long time ago in a tiny little town in a little village in the Andes, and this great player played Bach’s Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro, played it very well, but was playing mistakes because of the edition. So David Russell told the player, “I could have helped you more, but we have to fix the mistakes of the editor instead of yours.”

Yuri: Well the other interesting story is Segovia’s masterclass, have you heard that? Of course. Where, “Oh, you’re not playing my fingerings? Just, that’s not going to work, come back later.” [laughter] So I don’t know.

Leo: It’s a different era.

Yuri: Well it’s a controversial topic. Especially when the ego gets involved.

Leo: Then there’s no hope. [laughter]

Artist Spotlight: Yuri Liberzon

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Russian born and Israeli raised classical guitarist, Yuri Liberzon, is certainly carving out a name for himself in the rising generation of gifted classical guitarists. Watching Yuri play elicits incredulity at his extreme level of control. And once you get past the impressiveness of it all, you realize that what holds your attention is both the beauty, subtlety, and intensity of his musical interpretations.

A graduate of the most elite conservatories in the world, Yuri’s time with acclaimed guitarist, Manuel Barrueco, is most noticeable in his playing and in his repertoire. In a recent concert, he played through Scarlatti, Bach, Piazzolla, and Brouwer with an abundance of elegance and refinement. Active as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist, he also spends time teaching and publishing very detailed editions of his repertoire.

Stay tuned for one of Yuri’s favorite warm-up exercises and an interview!