Featured Artist and Interview – Tariq Harb

Tariq Harb, an acclaimed Jordanian-Canadian guitar virtuoso, is arguably one of the finest young guitarists to emerge on the scene these last years. Always polished, always musical, Tariq’s playing has been praised on many stages across the world and he’s been lauded as “Canada’s next classical guitar superstar” by CBC Radio’s NEXT! Fortunately, Tariq had time to spend sharing some of his journey with Six String Journal readers. Hope you enjoy this one!

Personal
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
With the classical guitar, my story is a bit unusual. It started at 26 years of age, having restarted my violin training 2 years prior, at age 24. I write “restarted” because I actually picked up theviolin at 6, for 2 years until I was 8, then I received an electric guitar as a Christmas gift from my mother, and all hell broke loose LOL! Anyways, what drew me to the guitar in general at first was Slash, the guitarist from the LA rock band Guns N’ Roses.What drew me to the classical guitar was the classical/jazz guitarist Roddy Elias, who happened to be my composition teacher during my undergraduate violin degree at Concordia University. Basically I left the violin twice for the guitar!

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
Baroque, Latin American and Spanish repertoire. I also enjoy playing the blues quite a bit.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?
Currently I’m performing on a Douglass Scott, 2018 spruce top guitar and on a Martin Blackwell, 2019 double cedar top.I use Savarez CR 540 strings mainly, and I also like the La Bella 2001 and Argento series normal tension basses.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?
Slash at first, for sure. The lyricism in his solos on their records was an incredible ear-opening experience for me. The discovery of “goose bumps” even, happened first as I remember from his playing on those cassettes. What an incredible feeling! That same feeling was experienced at a high level of intensity later in my life, when I was listening to Itzhak Perlman, playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas on violin while I commuted to work, training to be a Mutual Funds Advisor, which prompted me then to pursue music as a full-time profession. Those two musicians have left a lasting impact on my musical character on the whole, I would say.Today I cherish recordings by many great artists. Classical solo recordings by Julian Bream, John Williams, Andrés Segovia, David Oistrakh, Glenn Gould, Hélèn Grimaud, Daniel Barenboim, Amandine Beyer, Itzhak Perlman, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifitz, Josef Hassid, Nigel Kennedy, Kazuhito Yamashita, Janine Jansen and Paco de Lucia come to mind at this moment.

If you have recordings, which recording/s are you most proud of?
I am actually most proud of two of my latest releases: my album “Copla”, an all-Spanish repertoire recording, and my “Harb Plays Carcassi Studies” recording and educational DVD. The latter is an educational DVD first, made possible through a collaboration with Diego De Oro, owner of De Oro Music Publications. The performance tracks from the DVD have been compiled and released as a separate album. I’m also happy about a recent YouTube video recording I did of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 arranged by Edson Lopes and recorded by Drew Henderson in a beautiful church in Toronto.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?
I really like the sound on Florian Larousse’s Laureate Naxos album. There is something magical about the sound there! I also like the sound on John Williams’ “The Great Paraguayan” album. Even though I’m not a big fan of the Smallman sound, somehow Williams makes it sound regal.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
I’m very excited about a tour that I got selected for next year’s season, which I can’t really share the details of because it hasn’t been officially announced yet! I’ll share all the concert dates on my website (tariqharb.com) once they’re made public. Prior to that I’m looking forward to officially getting back on stage, November 2020 in my second home Montréal, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, a gorgeous church that is perfect for guitar, and that I’ve always dreamt of performing in after attending some concerts there. I also can’t wait to perform concerts that were postponed due to the pandemic, including an Aranjuez concerto performance with the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Isle. Next year will be their 20th season anniversary, so it worked out even better!For new records, I’m planning on recording an album consisting of my original compositions (the score to “Spirit”, a five-movement work for solo guitar is now available via Les Productions d’OZ: https://productionsdoz.com/product/8769-spirit) and pieces that are dedicated to me by other composers (like “Hyperion” by Harry Stafylakis: https://productionsdoz.com/product/936-hyperion). I’m also planning on recording an all-Bach album, sometime in the near future!

Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
40 hours a day, à la Ling Ling! (@twosetviolin reference) Jokes aside, a morning practice session is important for me to maintain a healthy routine, which usually lasts between 3-4 hours. After that, anything goes; I can play through pieces in the evening, which sometimes turn into performances if I am outdoors (!),or not play at all, because of teaching or other tasks. The morning session is quite consistent so that would be the real practice time that I do.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you are still working on?
Oh, I’m working on it all the time! I don’t think there is such a thing as not practicing at all yet still having a polished technique, unless one is on tour. What is also true, I find, is if I practice well, say during one full winter season, the coming spring and summer seasons I often find myself just playing, and not really practicing methodically, which is ultimate fun as you may know! Then however, come the fall season, I start feeling certain aspects of technique need maintenance, and so on the cycle goes. It’s a way of life more than something separate from one’s life, at least in my experience. Having said that, there is no real struggle pertaining to playing the instrument. It is more of incorporating it in one’s life, if one chooses, in a way that enhances the quality of one’s life and improves it. I guess reaching that point and finding a working balance might be considered a struggle at first.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
For me the more complicated the music the easier it is to memorize. But that doesn’t apply to the music of J.S. Bach! Simpler or easier repertoire is easy to sight read ‘a tempo’ and does not require special attention allotted to either hand. So my eye doesn’t have to leave the page and therefore I’m not encouraged to memorize it. In general, playing a piece, reading it multiple times usually imprints it in my memory. If there are tough spots I tend to use visualization, both visualizing the score and both hand movements on the guitar.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
Yes. I have several editions published via my online store (tariqharb.storenvy.com), including my most recent edition of the Carcassi 25 Melodic and Progressive Studies, Op. 60. Arrangements of music by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Bach and others are also available. I have an arrangement of Britten’s first Cello Suite that I am excited to publish once the royalties are sorted out. I also have some compositions published via my store and via Les Productions d’OZ, mentioned above.

Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up? 
I usually try to visit what I like to call ‘the five pillars of technique’ when I warm up: scales, arpeggios, tremolo, left-hand slurs and some rasgueados. I do a bit of each at a comfortable pace and try to enjoy the feeling of gravity helping me out executing each of them.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I try to relax on the day of the concert and do minimal practice. Back stage however, I do some breathing exercises and usually like to have an orange or a clementine; they hydrate really well and therefore help with the talking part during a concert, as I do like to say a few things to the audience about the pieces I perform!

Do you do anything to your nails or shape them in a particular way?
I like to file my nails to a blunted shape with a bit of a ramp on the index and middle fingers (pictures attached). I also attach a piece of a ping pong ball under my thumbnail to re enforce it.

Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Revisit the basics often and apply variety in your playing. By that I mean be creative with the way you practice, the way you handle the guitar, the way you warm up. Don’t do the same thing over and over again, especially if it’s not yielding consistent positive results. If possible, learn another instrument well, especially one that is not from the immediate family of the guitar. By doing that you are providing enough variety for your brain to stay healthy and encourage plasticity, which in turn improves your learning abilities when you go back to the guitar.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?
All the simple and advanced studies and lessons by Sor, Aguado, Carulli, Giuliani, Carcassi and Coste are important for young students to play well, because they will help in understanding and learning to navigate the guitar’s interface successfully. They will also teach, by osmosis, sort to speak, the idiomatic nature of the guitar and it’s idiosyncrasies.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
The recordings of the great old masters: Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream, John Williams are essential for every classical guitarist to know well, simply to become aware of the coloristic and expressive possibilities of the instrument early on.

Tangent
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
“Music in the Castle of Heaven” by John Eliot Gardiner was the last book I read.Two of my favourite authors are Paulo Coelho and Clive Staples Lewis.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 
Yes, I exercise 4-5 times a week doing either a run outdoors, or engaging in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which has become a game changer as to how I can incorporate exercise after guitar practice. Exercise usually happens in the afternoon after my morning practice session. I don’t follow a particular diet as I do pretty much eat everything (thankfully no allergies). But I do prefer a more protein based meal before performance. I find if I have mainly carbohydrates before a performance, I tend to feel heavy overall and a bit lethargic. A high-protein meal gives me sustained energy, and a clementine or an orange before going on stage keeps me hydrated and keeps my mind sharp.

Do you meditate in any way? 
Not so much, every now and then I do meditation. But it has never become a steady routine.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
Spending time with close friends and family, cooking, swimming, enjoying the outdoors, watching thought-provoking movies and space documentaries, and occasionally annoying my cat through forced affection LOL!

For more info on Tariq check out the links below:

Website: www.tariqharb.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/tariqharb

Instagram: www.instagram.com/tariqharbmusic

YouTube: www.youtube.com/teeharb

Online store: tariqharb.storenvy.com
Faculty profile at Concordia University: www.concordia.ca/faculty/tariq-harb.html

Artist Spotlight and Interview: Michael Kolk

Hailing from Canada, guitarist Michael Kolk has been praised by Liona Boyd as, “…one of the most brilliant and expressive guitarists I have heard in my time.” Known for his musicianship, his technique, and his interpretive abilities, Kolk is one of Canada’s top guitarists. Despite the quiet performance scene at this time, he has just launched a wonderful CD of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas. Fortunately, he had a bit of time to share some of his insights with Six String Journal. Hope this inspires you all.

Personal

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings? I perform mostly on a Martin Blackwell spruce/cedar double top from 2015. It’s a very rich, full, warm sounding guitar, but with ample tonal variety as well. I have a really nice Roberto de Miranda traditional cedar as well that was my main guitar since 2007, and I still play it, though not much in concert anymore – the Blackwell projects better. I used Savarez New Cristal/Cantiga for years, but I’ve recently switched to Alliance trebles. I had tried them and couldn’t ever get used to them, but recently I warmed up to them and figured out how to make them work for the sounds I want.

Which guitarists have had the most influence on you? Julian Bream was the first big influence – he was the guitarist that really excited me when I was a teenager (aside from Jimi Hendrix, but that’s a different story…) There are so many great guitarists these days, but I guess in terms of influence I’d say Fabio Zanon, Roland Dyens, and then two guitarists whom I’m very close with, my former teacher Jeffrey McFadden, and my long time duo partner Drew Henderson. I’ve learned a lot by playing with both of them and just sharing ideas about guitar,

Michael Kolk and Drew Henderson (HK Guitar Duo) playing Ravel

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about? Things are pretty quiet right now – as I’m writing we’re in the middle of the Covid pandemic, so concerts are not happening, and I haven’t pursued online performances. Last year, however, I was really busy with projects. I was playing concerts with the HK Guitar Duo, as well as a couple with a violinist named Laurence Kayaleh, and working on a solo recording of 20th Century Guitar Sonatas which I chose to edit and release myself. Laurence and I also recorded an album of violin/viola and guitar Sonatas by Ferdinand Rebay which was recently released on Naxos. So I’ve been taking a bit of a break from playing classical music and have been exploring creating music by recording rock songs and studying composition. Whether this work ends up seeing the light of day or not, I felt it was important to try writing my own music to develop my creativity, and gain a deeper understanding of music, from a composer’s perspective. I remember Roland Dyens saying in a masterclass that we should all be both performers and composers, and it makes a lot of sense to me. 

Michael playing ‘Round Midnight (Monk/Dyens)

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
These days I practice strategically, mostly. I don’t have as much time as when I was younger, to just sit down and play without a real structure. I usually practice in 30 minute segments. I put on a timer and make sure to get up and walk around a bit when the time is up. If I’m on a roll I’ll sit down right away and do another session, or I might take a break and do something else and come back to the guitar when I’m fresh again. The total amount of time depends on what’s going on in my life. If there are other projects that need attention I may not play much for a couple weeks. When I have performances or recordings coming up I aim for 3 solid hours of practice in a day. If I’m focussed during that whole time, I can’t really handle much more practice. I may play guitar beyond that, but it would be more messing around or playing for fun. 

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
Tremolo has always been a struggle for me. It takes a lot of work to get it flowing and it never feels totally secure. I think some players have a very natural tremolo, and others don’t even though they may be good players. I have to train right hand speed in general much more than left hand, but I guess that’s fairly common.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?
I’ve recently self published an arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the 2nd movement Allegretto, for guitar duo. Earlier, Drew Henderson and I had our arrangement of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (selections) published by D’Oz.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
If possible it’s great to have a walk during the day, and a nap. If I can fit those things in I feel pretty good come concert time. Then 15 minutes before the concert I have a banana, and at intermission I have an apple. To keep the blood sugar up.

HK Guitar Duo playing Michael’s Beethoven arrangement


Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Well, I think everyone has to find what works best for themselves when it comes to improving at guitar. And it’s not always about drilling technique and being as efficient as possible. Make time to play for enjoyment to keep your enthusiasm. But when you’re feeling sharp and motivated, practice with deep focus and attention to detail. And try not to build up tension – form good habits of posture and relaxation and they will translate to performances. I guess that’s more than one piece of advice…

Michael playing the 1st movement of Cyril Scott’s Sonatina


What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?
I think there’s a standard repertoire that classical guitarists should at least be familiar with, even if they don’t learn all of it to a performance level. Bach, of course, the 19th century guitar composers like Sor, Giuliani, Aguado etc…, the Spanish repertoire like Tarrega, Albeniz, Granados, Rodrigo, and the Segovia repertoire like Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Torroba, Turina, etc…, then music from the Americas like Villa-Lobos, Brouwer, Barrios, Lauro. There’s a lot, and it takes time to get through. At the same time, I think students should also play lesser known music and try to expand their repertoire beyond the classics.

Artist Interview: Carlo Marchione

The great Italian guitarist Carlo Marchione likely needs no introduction to a classical guitar blog. A consummate virtuoso, teacher, and arranger, Carlo has had a life full of music and has graced many, many stages across the world. Carlo recently took some time from his busy schedule to share some of his insights and philosophies with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!


Personal

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

I started at the age of 10 to regularly study guitar. In my family, everybody played at least one instrument so it was quite natural for me to come close to music. But it wasn’t until I made a trip to Spain to visit my brother (who was living there by then) that I chose to play guitar.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

Uff, that’s like asking which food you prefer…I have not really preferences, my programs follow my mood of the moment, my emotional needs, so to speak.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play by now a guitar constructed by Daniele Chiesa, with Savarez string on it.

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

Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Mozart.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I don’t really want to look snooty, but I love all my recordings. Each of them has its strong and weak points and has been done with profound enthusiasm and conviction.

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

The Tilman Hoppstock ones.

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

I am excited about any concert or project, if I wasn’t I would not go into it. In the next weeks I will be performing in Berlin and Moscow. As regards to my projects, besides my teaching activity in 4 different Academies in Europe (Lille, Maastricht, Palma de Mallorca and Rome), I am very much into my online activities such as teaching, lecturing and publishing my transcriptions at my Online Shop (www.carlo-marchione.com/shop). It is a great thing which is going fantastically well.


Technique and Performance

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

Due to my super narrow schedule I try to optimize the few time I have at disposal for practicing. I can stay 2 days without touching the guitar and 2 days practicing 8h, it is difficult to make a monthly average from it. To me, it works very well to memorize a piece and understand its structure and then to work on the problematic passages.

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

Well, all of them, one doesn’t really finish to learn things! Due to the particular shape of my pinkie finger of the left hand, I have always to be very creative in finding alternative fingerings, so, as you see, that’s something I will work lifelong on…

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

As a kid I was always encouraged to read prima vista and learn fast the new pieces. On the top of this, I had a fantastic harmony and composition teacher. This makes possible that I can learn by heart a piece very quickly. For some kind of musical styles (like baroque or classic) I already know it by heart after reading the piece from beginning to end. Natural predisposition, solid knowledge of the music and prima vista reading, that’s the best combination for memorizing a piece fast and good.

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

Some of my transcriptions had been already published in the past (Scarlatti’s Sonatas K.208 & 380, for instance) but, as I mentioned before, in the last years I have been working very much with my online activities and among them there is my own online shop where I publish my guitar solo/ensembles transcriptions. This was possible only thanks to my fiancée, Merce Font, who constantly develops and runs my website. Among many other things, one can find transcriptions, from Schumann to Telemann’s solo flute Fantasias, from Wagner to Haydn or Mozart, Albéniz or Paradisi. We are enormously happy and proud of it!

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

To me it helps very much a short program with pieces containing tremolo on one or different strings.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Actually, I don’t, but I could never go to play without getting the last “break a leg!” from my sweetheart… : )

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

Well, I think everybody does it according to the type of nail she/he has. I know just by looking at my nails which must be the length and the basic shape, after this, I polish them until I get a clean finish to have a smooth sound.


Advice to Younger Players

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

My advice would be: get to know as much music as you can, but not only in terms of “I heard the 6th Symphony by Mahler”. Always keep deepening your own knowledge of the harmony and musical form, google and find the score and listen the music with the score, try to make your own analysis, ‘feel’ the emotional-philosophical message of the composer (maybe starting with something easier : ) ). Piano Sonatas by Mozart are true gold for this. It is needless to say that for this generation it is a piece of cake to find scores and recordings on the web. Just catch the chance.

As a second advice, I would like to give to them this: if you want to participate in competitions it is really fine, they are a great spotlight for your carrier, but don’t let them limit you as a musician. I see too often young terrific players traveling with the same 3-4 pieces already years and years. Enlarge your repertoire as much as you can.

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

Among really wonderful things, I still consider the whole studies by Sor like the real “must” of a guitar player.

Why?

Because they teach the student from the very simple ones to deal with articulation, polyphony, phrasing and structure. In particular, they are the best exercises one can do for the left hand. Besides that, they contain true jewels of our repertoire (hence, they are good also as concert pieces).

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

Complete Cantatas by Bach with Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Bach. I think it is needless to say why. : )


Tangent

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

Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven and Clara Janes’ La vida callada de Federico Mompou.

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

I do really try, but my schedule of life makes it very challenging to keep a structure on that. As a pre-concert food I love pasta or potatoes, they give to the body lots of energy and are not heavy to digest.

Do you meditate in any way? 

Actually, I don’t…my best friends in Italy are both top yoga teachers and I meditated with them many times, so according to them, I am really good at it even though it’s not a regular practice of mine. I feel I need a different kind of action. Of course, from time to time I take a time out from my crazy schedule, but I guess you refer to another kind of meditation. I can say that making music is my way of meditating.

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

I love to stay with my fiancée (she is also musician) and travel together. This summer we have been in Salzburg during the Festspiele. It was amazing! But if you refer to the free time during the day, well, in the free time I listen to music, read music, transcribe music…I do really think I am 24-7 for the music there. Ah, I like to watch series on Netflix, when the time allows it to me (really seldom).

Any things else you’d like to add?

Yes, thank you very much for asking to me to participate to your blog! : )