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The Modern Virtuosi & Why They’re Saving Us From Ourselves

2011 September 7
by Guest Poster

This is a guest post by Bradford Werner of Classical Guitar Canada.

There is a long-time traditional in the classical guitar world that “our instrument is hard,” or “classical guitar is an imperfect instrument but we do our best.” None of this is true. I used to say it to cover up my own insecurities but I learned my lesson. I tried learning violin once and THAT was hard. Just go to a local violin student recital and you’ll hear whole studios struggling with intonation and bowing technique. But they work on it for years and years under good teachers and with the influence of an extremely high level of international vitsuosos. They also enjoy the experience of learning and don’t blame their instrument. I think that can now be said for classical guitar as well. The past ten years have proved that. The GFA winners, particularly the youth winners are showing us that we are simply catching up to the high performance quality of other instruments. Here are some possible reasons why:

The Pedagogy

Resources and methodologies are abundant. Even if 90% of those resources are awful, competition has led to a rise in quality level. Also, in the past three years I’m finally seeing a slowing down of “do it yourself” methods and a move toward teacher-based resources. Even the RCM school in Canada has started to ease up on the heavy editorial fingering and left the upper level scales in their technique book unfingered completely. Also, the rise of ergonomics in connection with the modern “large” classical guitar size seems to be secure.

The Repertoire

If you look at the repertoire being played, most of it is repertoire that works well on the instrument. As much as I love the works of Ponce or the arrangements of piano music out there I feel guitarists, particularly students, need to choose a different style of repertoire based on the new access to scores and new compositions. Students need good sounding pieces that actually work well on the instrument. This sparks their interest and when it comes to students, a high success rate in the early stages of study will ensure their continuing efforts at the instrument and the willingness to take the time to learn a difficult work. These days I really prefer sending my students out with a Dyens, Brouwer, or even a silly little work I’ve written rather than a Bach lute suite movement or a Granados arrangement because I know rate of success in performance is different. Once they are hooked and have a strong foundation they can tackle everything.

Chamber Music

The internet has made an abundant amount of chamber music works available to everyone. Finally we are seeing kids play with other instruments which immediately raises their musical level…or at least awareness of it. It has also taken off the pressure of playing solo material which is often difficult and hard to perform and can actually lessen the ability to focus on musical elements like phrasing or articulation. String players at least have piano accompaniment a majority of the time leaving them with purely melodic material to enjoy. It is also a social aspect to music that can improve our lives and build lifelong friendships. Chamber music = happy musicians.

The Internet and the New High Level

YouTube has kicked everyone in the butt. Everyday I see a video that shows a high level technical proficiency and musical maturity. Those sayings like “our instrument is hard,” or “classical guitar is an imperfect instrument but we do our best,” just can’t stand up to the millions of talented, and more importantly, happy classical guitarist out there. Also, online content brings this high level to every small nowhere town and lets them learn by way of example.

What should we learn from this?

We need to learn to enjoy practicing well. Don’t be lazy with your technique and don’t give up. We now know that quality is possible for everyone, not just a talented few (I don’t believe in talent anyway). What we do know is that there are millions of happy, successful guitar students and professionals playing at the new level so shut up and join them. Down with negativity…long live the happy practicers!

Three Reasons Andrew York Wins at the Internet

2011 August 9
by Christopher Davis

Andrew York wins at the internet. I doubt he consciously made up a plan at how he was going to do that winning (perhaps I’m wrong), but there are several things we can learn from him.

1. He’s Everywhere (sort of)

York is on twitter, facebook, youtube (not 100% on that one) and reverb nation.

Not only does York have a presence on those sites, but he interacts. Ask him a question on Facebook and he’ll get back to you. Tweet about liking one of his pieces and he’ll retweet it. This is not hard: we’re all human (probably), and humans interact. Its what we do. But most people don’t do it it well online. They forget to talk back.

More importantly is where Andrew York is not. He’s not on LinkedIn. Nor does he spend time on Vimeo. If you’re one of those folks that likes to plan, plan to find out that some social media sites aren’t worth it. The place where you get to have the most conversations is the place to be. Sometimes that means Facebook sometimes it doesn’t. Be open.

2. He Actually Updates

York sends out a new Facebook Update or tweet at least a few times each week. He also doesn’t make the number one website mistake: York updates his site. He has a blog, and makes sure his tour schedule isn’t full of concerts from five years ago.

3. He Posts About Non Guitar Things

This is a fine line. If you’re a fan of the CG Blog on facebook, you’ll notice that I pretty much stick to guitar. When I update on behalf of the CG Blog however, I am not trying to be an individual. I’m trying to be an organization that specializes in delivering classical guitar news and information.

As an individual, you can and should post things that aren’t always related to what you’re marketing. In short, be a real person and it all works out.**

But Shouldn’t I just Practice?

Unfortunately, marketing yourself involves work and time — time spent away from practicing. So the argument that most musicians make, especially college aged aspiring musicians, is that they should just practice. After all, if you’re good at what you do the world stands up and takes notice, right?

Afraid not. No one cares if they don’t know about you. There are so many extremely good musicians in the world who are and will continue to be under the radar. If you play music for a living, you do it to share that music with others. Marketing yourself is one of the natural extensions of that desire to share. Andrew York isn’t afraid of marketing himself, and neither should you be.

And, Mr. York, if you happen to read this: thank you so much for what you do. I enjoy your updates and videos.

**You can friend me if you’d really like some WordPress, python, tech and marketing nerdery.

The Paris Guitar Duo in Columbus, GA

2011 July 28
by Guest Poster

This is a guest review by Andy Jurik

Taking the stage after a brief delay due to nail issues, the Paris Guitar Duo nonetheless seemed calm and professional as they opened their concert at the 2011 GFA Convention. The duo, Judicaël Perroy and Jérémy Jouve, are both prize-winning French guitarists who program their repertoire with a special consideration for music from their native country. As such, the concert opened with a transcription of César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue et Variations op. 18, originally composed for organ. A sign of things to come, the group’s interpretation of the work was graceful and bit reserved, carefully colored and delicately handled as if to retain the cathedral-like atmosphere Franck initially envisioned for his piece.

François de Fossa’s transcription of Haydn’s Quartetto op. 2, no. 2 followed, exploiting the duo’s ability to act as perfect foils for one another. The arrangement’s charming voices and characteristics fit perfectly well within the guitar duo format, featuring virtuosic scale runs and whispered accompaniments that rang out utterly clear in the resonant acoustics of Legacy Hall at Columbus State University. As varied as their repertoire may be, the Haydn was a perfect example of the duo’s obvious love for 18th and 19th century music. The interaction between Perroy and Jouve was subtle and clipped, an obvious result of their refined communication. Again, the music was a bit reserved and somewhat subdued, yet the beauty of their playing resided in this, the delicate way in which they handle the gestures and the spirit of this music.

Napoléon Coste’s Grand Duo Concertant followed, building upon the drama an intensity of the concert’s atmosphere. This was the highpoint of the concert, the duo’s quintessential statement of their beloved French repertoire. Perroy and Jouve were purposeful throughout the piece as they built the music up into something truly special for the final movement’s dramatic conclusion. While alive and empowered, the performance still had traces of the cool reservation that had become the concert’s signature theme.

The final piece on the program, Giuliani’s arrangement of the Barber of Seville overture, fit perfectly in line with the duo’s musical personality. Any guitar arrangement of popular pieces runs the risk of sounding out of place with the material, almost like someone trying to fit into clothes far too big or small for the occasion. Nonetheless, the duo handled the material with responsibility and grace, interpreting the famous lines and gestures guitaristically rather than operatically, making the music work for the instrument rather than forcing the guitar to speak in an unnatural manner. Jouve in particular shined in this final piece, exploiting a light touch that spoke volumes more than an exaggerated accent would have. Their encore, the third movement from Gnatalli’s Suite Retratos, returned to the space and lush atmosphere displayed in the Franck.

In a sense, the Paris Guitar Duo are utterly romantic and respectful players. They don’t attempt to transcend the guitar’s abilities but rather exploit the instrument’s gentle nature to color their repertoire, pushing the dynamics only when the music truly begs for a demanding voice. Their contemporaries may enhance the drama and the dance of the format’s repertoire, but Perroy and Jouve prefer to let the music speak for itself, interpreting more like narrators than actors.

Johannes Möller in Columbus, GA

2011 July 27
by Guest Poster

This is a guest review by Andy Jurik

The winner of last year’s GFA competition in Texas, Johannes Möller’s performance in Columbus, Georgia was in anticipation of his upcoming tour booked in conjunction with his victory. Unlike most winners of past GFA conventions, however, Möller presents a program comprised in great part of his own compositions. More than a vanity project, his music has already been compiled for an album release, as well as publication by Les Productions d’Oz. Judging from the balance of repertoire in his program, Möller appears ready to present himself as a self-sufficient artist.

Opening his concert with Song to the Mother Möller expressed a decidedly tonal side of his work. While thick with modern space and atmosphere, the work retained diatonic and folk-styled elements, leaning more towards accessibility while still retaining contemporary sensibilities and phrasing. Moments of serenity were balanced with rhapsodic gestures, all the while conveyed with a very purposeful, lyrical touch. Brave in introducing his concert with his own composition, he displayed honest extensions of his musical personality as opposed to flagrant showmanship.

Möller’s next two pieces were the only ones in the program he did not compose, a momentary detour into his facility as strictly an interpreter. Lamento-Scherzo by Denis Gougeon was the set piece from last year’s competition, and Möller’s performance conveyed the meaning he still finds in the material rather well. Much like his opening number, his control of the music’s modern atmosphere was virtuosic in its sparseness and feel, characterized by a fluid touch and delicate contrasts of color. Perhaps the least accessible work on his program, Möller did his best to give gesture and shape to the agitated moments of the scherzo section.

Sueño en la Floresta by Agustin Barrios followed, introduced with his anecdote of hearing the piece performed in Buenos Aires and being captivated with the idea that Barrios composed the piece while longing for the comfort of his homeland. For such a lush, romantic piece Möller seemed a bit restrained as he eschewed rubato for a more regulated sense of pulse. Nonetheless, his steady control and touch well complimented the music’s personality. The only non-modern piece on the program, his performance seemed to reflect his fascination and respect for the music rather than a mastery of toying with his musical options.

Poem to a Distant Fire followed, returning to his graceful modern sensibilities as a composer. Inspired by the image of trees encircled by surrounding fog in his native Sweden, Poem challenged the audience with its excessive silence and stillness, both evocative and ambiguous. Rather impressionistic, the piece was saturated with a calm accessibility throughout the balanced peaceful and chaotic moments. Currently available on his Naxos cd, Poem will serve as a calling card to his musical sensibilities.

Closing his concert was Ananda, a Sanskrit word equating to “universal love.” A deeply Indian/Raga flavor drove the music, featuring exotic lines slinking underneath a growling drone. The soft-aggressive-soft flow of the modern compositions became a theme throughout his performance, yet it cannot be denied that Möller has discovered a programmatic format that works well for his abilities. His taste clearly focuses towards modern works, and while some may find this narrow-minded, it’s an undeniable fact that Möller has found his trademark as a young concert artist.

Möller is in a unique position. His success as a musician is tied with his prowess as a serious composer, and his upcoming tour will promote his career as an all-inclusive artist. Modern yet still accessible, Möller’s display of innovation and interpretation were bold and refreshing to see in a GFA competition winner on the cusp of a promising career.

Irina Kulikova plays Tedesco

2011 July 25
by Christopher Davis

Yesterday’s post about competition winners included a video of a piece by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Naturally, I was sucked into Youtube for a chunk of time and came across this video of Tedesco’s concerto in D major. The soloist is Irina Kulikova. If you like what you hear, check out Irina’s Guitar Recital CD from Naxos.

2011 Ligita Competition Winners

2011 July 24
by Christopher Davis

The The Liechtensteiner Gitarrentage was held July 2-9, 2011 in Liechtenstein. Each round was, for the most part, free choice. During the second, however, competitors had to include one piece by Bach; during the final round, a piece by Regondi was required. The first prize winner received a 5,000 Euro prize, a concert guitar, several concert invitations, and several other items. Third prize was 1,000 Euro prize, strings, and a sheet music voucher.

The Winners

First Prize: Marko Topchii (Ukraine)
Second Prize: Not awarded
Third Prize: Samuel Toro Pérez (Austria)

Watch Winner Marko Topchii Play

2011 Sierra Nevada Guitar Competition Winners

2011 July 19
by Christopher Davis

The Sierra Nevada Guitar Competition was held July 14-17, 2011 in Olympic Valley, California. Each of the three rounds of the competition was free choice with a slight variation: each subsequent round had to include a piece not played during the previous round(s). The grand prize was $1,000USD.

The Winners

First Prize: Edel Munoz
Second Prize: Paul Psarras
Third Prize: Matthew Fish
Fourth Prize: Ramon Fermin

Edel Munoz & Matanya Ophee

Matanya Ophee & Winner Edel Munoz

Watch Winner Edel Munoz Play

Ana Bragina plays Sergej Rudnev

2011 July 18
by Christopher Davis

Today we feature Ana Bragina performing Lipa vekovaia (Old lime tree). Rudnev is more of an arranger in this case: the piece is a variation set on on a Russian folk song. Matanya Ophee wrote a short article about this piece, including an old recording of it being sung. It’s worth it to have a listen to both.

Sergej Rudnev Himself

Thanks to Heike Matthiesen for the heads up about this video.

Three Ways to Perfect Your Rhythm

2011 July 7
by Christopher Davis

If you happen to follow Philip Hii’s Blog, a while back he wrote a series of articles on the importance of rhythm.

Rhythm can make a piece sound alive. It can take an ordinary phrase and turn it into something magical and moving. But rhythm only has that power if you are its absolute master. That starts with counting and understanding how the beats fit together.

Lessons Learned from Sight Reading

Anyone good at sight reading will tell you that the notes don’t really matter. It’s more important to keep the beat and keep moving. If you’ve ever been in an ensemble that had to stop every two bars to get people caught up, you know exactly why rhythm and counting are more important than hitting every not perfectly. Rhythm is kind of a big deal

On the other side of a the coin, Learning a piece is about developing and shaping habits over time. Nothing is perfect from the get go, but it’s your job to make sure every repetition is as close to perfect as possible. Develop a bad habit early only and you’ll spend hours fixing it later.

With an element as crucial and powerful as rhythm, it’s even hard to go back and reverse those bad habits. That’s why counting is so important. You cannot hope to push and pull a pieces beat, count and rhythm if you don’t fully understand it. So here are three ways to do that.

1. Put Down the Guitar

And Clap.

Too often we get so caught up in the finger mechanics of playing that we completely ignore the rhythmic aspect. Divorce the two. Your sense of beat and time should never be tied into the mechanics of playing the guitar, and one way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to practice reading rhythms separately.

Put down your guitar and try clapping the rhythms of each of the lines in your piece. Do it at tempo, slow, and fast. You should also clap rhythms while counting aloud (see point three).

2. Sing & Tap

Again, without the guitar, sing the musical lines of your piece in time.

If you do this without some sort of counting it doesn’t count (pun intended), so be sure to clap the beat or tap your foot while singing. The mechanics of music making should never be tied into your sense of time. This is another way to divorce the two.

3. Count Aloud

A teacher once told me that if you can’t count aloud while playing your piece, you don’t know it.

This is the only method of the three that involves your guitar. Count a loud while you’re playing a piece. But don’t just count when you play, keep a steady stream. In other words, pick the smallest subdivision in the piece and count that the entire way through. If that happens to be a sixteenth note, you’re count would be 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a etc. the entire piece or passage. In most cases this involves you counting more than necessary.

You should also try the opposite: count less than necessary. If you have a passage in 16ths, try counting only 8th notes

counting exercise

Counting Less Than Necessary

This is, like the previous two methods, about divorcing your sense of time from the mechanics of playing guitar. Counting a loud is a convenient way to do that.

Should I Use Metronome For These Things?

Sure. But know when to put it down. If you want to really have some fun, get your tempo from a metronome, then shut it off and play/sign/clap a passage. When you’re through, immediately turn the metronome back on. Did your tempo wander? Or did you stay in time?

Its never a bad choice to use a metronome, but be careful that it doesn’t become the only way you can stay in time.

2011 GFA Competition Winners

2011 July 4
by Christopher Davis

The Guitar Foundation of America convention, along with its International Artist Competition and youth competitions, just concluded yesterday (July 3, 2011).

International Artist Competition Winners

First Prize: Vladimir Gorbach (Russia)
Second Prize: Andras Csaki (Hungary)
Third Prize: Damien Lancelle (France)
Fourth Place: Jeremy Collins (USA)

GFA Competition Winners 2011

The GFA Winners (left to right): Vladimir, Jeremy, Damien, Andras

Watch Winner Vladimir Gorbach Play

Youth Competition Winners – Junior Division

First Prize: Thomas Pfefer (USA)
Second Prize: Ashwin Krishna (USA)
Third Prize: Sergiu Hudrea (Romania)
Fourth Prize: Jisu Lee (Korea)

Youth Competition Winners – Senior Division

First Prize: Xavier Jara (USA)
Second Prize: John Marcel Williams (USA)
Third Prize: Chaconne Klaverenga (USA)
Fourth Prize: Kyle Comer (USA)

Watch Winner Xavier Jara Play