Photo Courtesy – Mr. Arnaud Devic
(This is the transcript of an interview with Nandini Sudhir, a very promising young concert guitarist. This interview was taken at the Calcutta International Classical Guitar festival 2016)
Note – ‘PGS’ is Pune Guitar Society
PGS – Hi Nandini! Tell us about your masterclass with Maestro David Russell
Nandini Sudhir – It was very interesting. I played the Campo from the Preludios Americanos by Abel Carlevaro for him. It was actually Maestro Abel Carlevaro’s 100th birthday that day. David Russell told me a lot of important points to look into and practice. The first thing he told me was that while playing, if you play a note and you are not happy with it, do not go back and play it again right away, but go on. He made a very nice comparison…he told me that human beings are not perfect…when i was playing i went back and played some notes..he instructed me to avoid doing that and to try to establish some security in my playing. Secondly he told me many technical things especially in regards to the piece i was playing […Here Nandini demonstrated a few things which David Russell had talked about in the masterclass…]. In the first section of this piece, the melody is in the bass but in the second part the melody moves to the treble. He asked me to stress on a few notes and make the melody in the higher register louder and try to make it sound more magical. We could only cover half the piece in the masterclass.
PGS – How was the overall experience of the masterclass…
Nandini Sudhir – I could not believe that this legend was sitting in front of me and i got the opportunity to play for him. It was really lovely and is something i was looking forward to since 2012.
PGS – How has been your experience this year at the Calcutta Classical Guitar Festival?
Nandini Sudhir – This is my most favorite festival…in all the festivals that i have been to!
PGS – Which festivals abroad have you been a part of?
Nandini Sudhir – First i went to the Thailand Guitar festival after i won the national competition here. The prize was an opportunity to go to the Thailand festival. There on the jury was the guitar-recorder duo ‘Duo NIHZ’. They invited me to the Nordhorn guitar festival in Germany and since then i have been going to that festival for the last four years. I have won some prizes there. I won the second prize at the Nordhorn festival for three years in a row and last year I placed first at the same festival. I won the first prize at the Twents Guitar Festival in Enschede. Aakash Saha won a prize there as well a few years ago.
PGS – Lets now come to the CCGS festival here in Kolkata. Tell us more about your experience here…
Nandini Sudhir – This is family. This is home! Every december i keep this week free to come back home to my family! Its like a home festival. I can be myself here. Everyone is one big family in spite of the fact that everyone comes from different parts of the country. Its a nice time to share music and other things..
PGS – What are you working on currently?
Nandini Sudhir – I have been working on the Campo by Abel Carlevaro. Then i have been practicing this piece composed for me by my teacher Annette Kruisbrink. She was on the jury at the Nordhorn Guitar festival. We really got along well and she gave me a masterclass and then we got the idea of having Skype lessons to continue our work throughout the year. This year, in May she composed a piece for me called RagaNana. Nana is what my close friends and family call me. This piece is in the Indian Classical style and composed for the western classical guitar, it has three movements – Vilambit, Madhya and Drut laya. It’s a very beautiful piece…[Nandini played a little bit of this piece..]
PGS – How do you look at your journey with classical guitar going forward?
Nandini Sudhir – Definitely i want to pursue music as my career and profession. Currently i am completing my bachelors in Psychology, Economics and Sociology in Bangalore. After this, i hope to join a conservatory in Europe and pursue my music studies there. Maybe do a bachelors degree in music performance…i really want to use music to help people and reach out to people. I might consider music therapy for this..I will be completing my degree in psychology next year…but music performance is my main passion.
PGS – Would you like to share some thoughts for players and students of your age or younger?
Nandini Sudhir – You should never be discouraged by what you might consider ‘failures’…everyone has their share of good and bad performances. But i think its important not to get disheartened if you make mistakes and it’s also important not to get too proud either. Its very important to stay humble…I think every young guitarist should keep in mind that patience and commitment is required.
PGS – Do you spend time listening to music?
Nandini Sudhir – I listen to a lot of classical guitar music. My favorite player is Marcin Dylla and i listen to a lot of his music…and also all the other great classical guitar players. Last October i have also started teaching at the Bangalore School of music. I have three students..they are 9, 10 and 14 years. One of them has composed a piece of his own at the age of nine and i am very proud of him! He is very musical..
PGS – Thank you Nandini and best of luck for your future musical explorations!
Maestro David Russell was invited for the 2016 Calcutta Classical Guitar International Festival in Kolkata. He had an intense schedule with concerts and masterclasses, but he was extremely gracious to give us time for this wonderful interview. Here is the transcript of the conversation with Pune Guitar Society’s Kuldeep Barve.
Note – ‘PGS’ is Pune Guitar Society
photo – davidrussellguitar.com
PGS – Thank you for your time. We would love to hear your thoughts on Clarice Assad’s works.
David Russell – My knowledge of Clarice Assad’s music is quite limited. I have heard her play her crossover, jazz, Brazilian style. I have heard her play with the family, because i have been good friends with Sergio and Odair for many many years. A couple of years ago i was in New York and i met with Sergio and he took me to Clarice’s house. Me and my wife, we went for lunch. I enjoyed meeting Clarice and she gave me one piece of music that a friend of hers had arranged…lovely song! So, i arranged it a little more and i sent her a little video as a kind of present saying thank you..because she had invited us to her house. Later she put it on Youtube or Vimeo, so i also put it up too. It’s a lovely lovely tune….for me it was a nice experience to know her and to know her music.
PGS – Your thoughts on Maestro Sergio Assad’s music…
David Russell – He is making a big impact. He has become a very important composer in the guitar world. I have played one of his first solo guitar pieces – ‘Aquarelle’. He had already played the slow movement, the ‘Valseana’. He then wrote the other two movements of ‘Aquarelle’. I played that one..fantastic piece, very difficult, but great piece. Then some years later, he composed a piece called ‘Eli’s Portrait’, a portrait of Eli Kassner and it was a present for Eli’s 80th birthday, so i performed that one. Some years later he wrote another portrait called ‘Sandy’s Portrait’. That’s a newer piece, maybe three four years old, which i have played too. In between he has written many many pieces. I have not played everything he has written of course, but I will be playing some other pieces of his next year. For me, he is a genius and i love playing his music.
PGS – Can you elaborate on his compositional style and the aspects of his music you like..
David Russell – We are all looking for new music which is accessible for the audience, which the audience can enjoy. As a guitarist it is also very enjoyable. His music is challenging but its guitaristic. If you work hard with his music, you get a good result. It doesn’t go against the guitar. Even if it is physically difficult to play, it is very satisfying to play. Musically, he has found a connection between Brazilian music and classical music. I think its a connection which for me is more classical with a Brazilian taste. Some other people might think that it is more Brazilian with a classical taste. Doesn’t really matter. I also see it as music written by my friend. There is a personal and human connection and i know he has worked for months to write it. I am going to work for months to make it playable. That connection i find very very enjoyable.
PGS – Do you play Leo Brouwer’s music..?
David Russell – I have played it. There was a time when many people were playing Leo Brouwer’s music. I was really looking for something else. But of course, when i was a student, i have played his Espiral…i cannot remember all his pieces, but pieces like Danza, the Fugue..i recorded for the BBC along with several others. I know him. But now, i have not included him in my programs for some years now. Probably because a lot of people are playing his music..
PGS – You have seen and heard his music being performed over the years..with his Concertos..
David Russell – I have played one of his Concertos. The ‘Concerto Elegiaco’. I have played it several times at different places with different orchestras. The Elegiaco is a fabulous piece. It is a deep and strong piece. Sometimes some music can seem flashy, but this one does not go for the flashy element; it goes for the depth. It is also a piece which works fantastically well for the piano and guitar. It really works beautifully for the piano/guitar reduction. There are not many pieces which you can do piano and guitar. it’s always is a bit of a struggle. The ‘Aranguez’ is OK but it loses so much. But Leo’s piece really works well for the piano/guitar. I have only played it once with the piano, but i have seen a good friend play. It was fantastic; it was almost better with the piano/guitar than with an orchestra, almost, because of the power they got between them.
PGS – Stylistically, how do you look at Leo Brouwer and Sergio Assad, two of the most prominent composers for the guitar?
David Russell – Very different. The way they started writing; the way they used the folk music. I must say that Leo Brouwer is writing a lot of new pieces. I heard some recently and they are really exciting. I do think that he is still producing excellent works. I think perhaps Sergio at one point was influenced by Leo’s work, like many composers of course, but Sergio is completely mature and he has really found his own personality..
PGS – With so many classical guitar players and composers writing for the guitar, how do you look at the present and the future of the classical guitar?
David Russell – There are many things happening. There are many composers who are trying out and finding ways to become more popular, which was not done in the 70’s. Was that a mistake? …Well..The composers in the 70’s were writing what they wanted, not what the audience wanted. As a performer, i am caught in between. I would love to play some pieces, but it doesn’t fit for this audience or for that audience..at the same time how far can i go to satisfy the audience? Should i satisfy myself, the composers or the audience? It is a bit of a problem. It’s a situation in which some composers became super atonal, very contemporary, which the audience did not want to go forward with. Some people did, but lot of the general audience did not, unless it was promoted very well. Then there was a compositional attempt at more contemporary ‘popular’ music. I think that we are somewhere in between at the moment. There are some beautiful pieces written in this vein, which develop this more popular idea, but not relinquish the emotional and intellectual content which is possible in popular music. It’s a thing that classical music is struggling for its audience and with the invasion of the internet etc. and basically because of the influence of pop music everywhere. For instance, when you turn on the TV, when do you hear one classical note? You could watch it one whole day before you hear something which is not electronically produced. So the young people are growing up with it(classical music) not being a part of their experience..their musical experience. It’s a pity, but it is what is happening. But classical musicians need to work, we need to fight to not lose out completely. Percentage of CD sales…classical music at one point was 20% of CD sales in the 80’s and 90’s. It was pretty good. Now it is not even 3%. The companies cannot sell much which means the promotion and money in classical music is much smaller than it used to be compared to other music in general. It’s a very big subject. As classical guitarists we are kind of outside that a little bit and hopefully we can get enough people who love jazz or rock music to come to classical music through the guitar. They might not want to go to the opera just yet, but they might come to a guitar concert! So we can perhaps offer a little bit of a bridge and hopefully…simply because the instrument, the guitar is so popular that hopefully we can get people to listen to classical music. People just do not know this beautiful music and if we do it well then we can get people come again and again and listen to concerts of young players.
I would like to add to this…we should always show our enthusiasm for our art. If we are enthusiastic, energetic and exciting about it, then it is easier to pull people in. If we are boring and intellectual, then even if we have something fantastic, it sounds boring. We must not be boring..
PGS – Do you think this is because guitarists have been living in their own ghettos and have not really made that attempt to reach out..?
David Russell – At one point, yes. At that time it was not necessary. There were enough people involved with classical music generally. It dint matter if a few people did not want to listen to it. It’s not longer the case. We have to work hard, study the past, the history etc. but we have to bring it to life…
PGS – How do you look at the guitar in the context of the larger world of classical music today?
David Russell – I think we have always been on the side, kind of fringe element. Even in the times when the lute was played. Lute was part of all the groups but solo lute was slightly aside..If you think of the great classical period of say Mozart of Beethoven etc. the guitar was around, but was always on the side..in the salons. Always kind of little bit on the side. Now, in the present with all the fantastic orchestras, London, Berlin etc., the guitar is there, but still on the side.
PGS – Do you think this can change now with much improved amplification..?
David Russell – Perhaps. We have to accept that, i think the guitar sounds beautiful un-amplified. But the amplification systems have got better and the microphones have got better. We can hopefully amplify without sacrificing the qualities of our sound, quality of musical expression if you like..i think it’s possible.
PGS – Your thoughts on guitar pedagogy and the changes happening in learning/teaching methods?
David Russell – The old systems of learning..if you look at the books written by Fernando Sor or Carcassi, they are still OK to look at, but i think many of the teachers have adapted methods which perhaps work better for our society, which has changed. Unfortunately all instruments are difficult to play and now the young people are growing up with kind of life where you learn something very quickly. Video games etc..everything is short attention span. In older times everything took longer and people expecting to be practicing for the extra hours. The discipline required to play an instrument like the guitar or the piano is enormous. So the young people who get excited and want to learn, hopefully they learn the discipline which also help them be an engineer, a doctor or an architect which also requires study of many hours and absorbing a lot of knowledge. So i think when children learn to play an instrument, even if they do not become virtuosos, its part of learning discipline and learning how to concentrate for longer periods. Everything you hear on TV etc. is all short and sweet. Very few long scenes, even in big films. Everything has changed really, whereas before scenes were longer..I do not want to say one is good and the other is bad. It’s not that, it is the way it is. So, for young people to learn an instrument is a fabulous thing. But we must make it interesting for them. The teachers..i do not have a method or anything, but if i was going to teach young children i would make them excited about learning. And if they get excited, they will put in the time. When you realize the more you practice, the better you get. So the new methods are designed accordingly. There are some Suzuki methods where the children play together. Those things are working very well. Especially for the initial stages of learning. It’s another matter you know, who reaches the really high level and becomes a professional or hopefully an aspiring professional. But all the people who are learning, they will have a fantastic time learning the guitar. They wont be professionals and that is OK.
PGS – Maestro, our last question. Please share your thoughts on the act and the art of listening..
David Russell – It all goes together..the art of listening is also perhaps not the way it was. Pieces used to last for 30 and 40 mins. Now most pieces are 4 mins. Short pieces go well with audiences. Except for experienced audiences. To become a good listener is to learn to enjoy it. If you learn to enjoy it, you obviously have to learn to experience it a lot. You cannot suddenly listen to the Bach ‘Chaconne’. You have to start with shorter pieces and if you like those, then eventually you might listen and enjoy the Bach ‘Chaconne’. But do not start with that. Start with smaller pieces. Maybe if you go to a concert, you might get some long pieces. It’s always a good experience. But for the young people, perhaps they have to put in the effort and the time. For most people now, they have the CD and they have it on the phone and they jump from piece to piece…I do the same! I am not saying its bad..we all do it. We listen in a different way compared to when we listened to LPs. When i was a young man, with LPs you could not do that. You would have to ruin your record! So, you put it on and you listen to it. Now its just so easy..you have your telephone and you just jump it from one track to another..Maybe the musicians and players have to consider that. In the concert, luckily people cannot zap you. In the concert, you have got them and they have got you. So the ability to listen in general needs more work. In the time of your or my parents there were no beeps..the noise was much lower. It’s now very different. The human society likes excitement. If you have two shops and one is playing loud music with beats, most people will be attracted to that. Of course some people will go to the gentler place. But not the first time. The first time they will go to the place which seems more exciting and only when that excitement has worn off, perhaps some people will turn to western classical music, which is more gentle. Even the more exciting western classical music is more gentle than say rock. Some people perhaps need to go through the more exciting things before they look for something more quiet…if their personality likes that. Its OK. We have to learn to live with these differences. We classical guitarists play an instrument which has a very low volume in comparison to the level of volume in our life…
PGS – Do you think listening should be included in guitar or instrument learning syllabus?
David Russell – Perhaps that is a good idea. But when something is made into part of pedagogy, it becomes very strict. If the children are playing the guitar and they have some guitar music on their phones or iPod or something, they will listen to it, if they are excited about listening to it. Its up to the teachers to keep them interested. If they do not lose their interest, they will stay with it. If their interest stays long enough, they will get good at it. Sometimes, even if the teacher is using a bad method, but if they are excited about it, then it is good. Another teacher might have the perfect hand position and the perfect method, but if they are boring, then the students get bored with it. So it is about mixing these two things. Get good hand positions, good musical knowledge and keep the excitement as well.
Photo – http://www.tar.gr/en/content/content/print.php?id=371
by Kuldeep Barve
A few years back, my dear friend and guitar player Veda Aggarwal gave me a copy of Maestro Roland Dyens’s Lettres (Letters, published 2001). I had heard a few of his works before. To name a few, Tango en Skaï, Libra Sonatine and Hommage à Frank Zappa. Although i had tried my hand at Tango en Skaï, these works always felt beyond my technical and musical capabilities at the time and so i made up my mind to try these out at a later date. When i got the Lettres from Veda, I read through its introduction and realized that Dyens had written these pieces keeping musicians like me in mind and i quote him from the Introduction, “…I think what gives me most pleasure is the thought that at last my music will be accessible to a large number of guitarists who, for obvious technical reasons, felt until now somewhat excluded from the majority of my work. I hope, therefore, that this gap will be consigned to past history.” More importantly, he goes on to say that combining good quality music with relative ease of playing was for him the most difficult thing to do in composition and this was his attempt at taking up this challenge, so to say.
‘Lettres’ is a set of 20 letters. Each of these addresses one or more technical challenges never foreshadowing the musical intention and compositional integrity. Each letter stands on its own as a piece of music. There are many aspects to these so-called ‘technical’ challenges, which caught my attention. The more i read through the elaborate notes written by Dyens in the Foreword, the more i understood that Dyens is trying to do away with many notions in guitar pedagogy and learning which had now been solidly entrenched. Dyens elaborates on the three primary axes to which he thinks musicians and particularly guitarists have not paid much attention to. These three axes are, to put it shortly – Tuning, Eliminating unwanted notes and Unnecessary ‘squeaks’.
When you go through the set of letters, you realize the depth and breadth of Dyens’s thought as a composer, teacher and performer. Although these letters are posited as a set of miniature studies, the musical and pedagogical thought that has gone behind the writing is far more fundamental to overall musicality, musicianship and performance in general.
- Tuning – Tuning has never been a big subject in the guitar community till recent past. Although it still might seem like an obvious and overrated subject for most guitar players, it is a deep subject which requires extra attention and awareness. The changes in guitar construction in the last century coupled with the kind of music written for it especially after 1950, has intensified the concerns about tuning. Dyens has been very concerned with the guitar being always ‘almost’ in tune. This has a direct connection with what the player is capable of ‘hearing’. Unless the performer is acutely conscious of the overtones generated by the guitar(even after damping the unwanted strings), he/she will never be able to appreciate the minute tuning adjustments that need to be done. Moreover, this harks back at the fundamental notion of how the performer delves into the composer’s ‘intent’. Dyens notes that ‘western’ musicians need to look at tuning as a pleasurable ritual, much in the way Indian classical musicians or Flamenco players have done. To that effect he writes, it should become part of the performance, rather like a prelude to a piece of music. Being right in the centre of an active indian classical music milieu , this makes complete sense to me. On numerous occasions as a listener, i have drowned along with the performers in the deep joy and meditative involvement which goes into tuning the Taanpura (an accompanying instrument), the Sitar or the Veena/Been for instance. For musicians who are exposed to Indian Classical Music, it should come to us naturally then to be conscious and aware of fine-tuning our instruments. Although i was very conscious about this in the Indian music context, it was Dyens who first made me aware of fine-tuning a ‘tempered’ instrument such as the guitar. I also owe it to a dear friend and teacher, Jayant, who through his interesting expositions and discussions on ‘Modern’ music has stressed on the importance of tuning and how the idiosyncrasies of guitar tuning(and by that logic the overtones generated) are built into a lot of music written for the guitar especially post World War II.
- Eliminating unwanted notes – From the foreword : “…how many guitarists, whether beginners or experienced performers, commonly put into practice the techniques that will efficiently eliminate unwanted notes(…produced or implied by vibrations of open strings..)…it is an important part of putting the message across on the guitar, leading to greater clarity of parts in contrapuntal passages, and clearer harmony in the chords”. Again, this is an area which according to Dyens needs to be looked at very seriously. The guitar has a propensity to set in motion the open strings which then in turn create their own overtones. The issue of damping and being extra conscious of the creation of overtones via open strings is a focal point in this set of pieces. Dyens is extremely meticulous in his writing, sometimes explicitly directing the performer to silence strings because of possible overtone creation, even if that particular string has not been played before. In many indian instruments, all strings(including the main and sympathetic strings) are tuned to the notes(swara, स्वर) of the raga. They are ‘meant’ to be set in motion when the performer plays on the main strings. This creates a rich tapestry of overtones (naad, नाद). This musical outcome is required and necessary and is built into the aesthetics of the music and instrument making.If we look at the guitar, it has no sympathetic strings. The main strings on which we play are tuned in fourths if we start from the lowest(in pitch) string to the highest(except the third and second, where the second is tuned a third from the third string). This system of tuning possibly has roots in the guitar’s complex history as a folk instrument spread across a wide geography and being at a meeting point of ‘western’, ‘middle-eastern’ and ‘eastern’ influences. As mentioned earlier, when a string is played, it creates its own overtones. Additionally, it sets into motion the open strings, which in turn create their own overtones.Now consider the fact that on the guitar, the frets are placed according to the tempered scale. Now the note is played by pressing the string on a fret(tempered note) and it creates its own overtones. If the open strings are not dampened, they vibrate creating ‘natural’ overtones(Since the open strings are not played by pressing the string on a tempered fret). So, here we should consider ‘tempered’ notes with their overtones on one hand and open strings creating their own overtones on the other hand. In effect, do we create a mesh of tempered and non-tempered notes and overtones, if we do not silence the unwanted open strings? This is amongst the many questions which have come up in recent discussions with friends and colleagues regarding guitar tuning, guitar construction etc.
- Unnecessary ‘squeaks’ – The lower strings are steel wound nylon strings and when we move our hand to higher frets from lower frets on the same string, there is a possibility that there is a squeak. This happens especially when there is a glissando in the music. There are some other kinds of sounds generated during pull-offs or hammer-ons which are strictly not a part of the music per se. Should these be completely done away with? Here is where i am not completely on the same page as Dyens. For him, it is an unwanted sound. In my own thoughts, it is something to do with the nature of the instrument. Also having played steel string guitar before in folk-blues contexts, the little squeaks were in fact adding more texture. Nevertheless, i do think while playing classical music, this need not be the case and Dyens makes an important point in making us conscious of these unwanted sounds.
Besides the fact that i have liked his music, Dyens is an inspiration in another respect. He has revived the age old tradition of the performer-improviser, which had been lost for the last 150 years in mainstream western classical music. My friend and teacher, Jayant Sankrityayana (a jazz and classical musician) says that most of Dyen’s music sounds improvised. I take this to mean that he has kept a lot of that spontaneity in improvisation alive in his music, choosing not to smoothen out those aspects when writing or revising a written work.
Thanks for all the letters, essays, thoughts, performances and most of all, your music, Maestro Dyens.
by Jayant Sankrityayana
The Pune Guitar Society(PGS) organised a combined guitar and piano solo recital on 3 September 2016 at the Mazda Hall in Pune. This, a premier venue for classical music recitals in India, was made available through the kind support of the Poona Music Society.
Since its inception, the PGS has considered the facilitation of bidirectional exposure between the guitar and other instruments as one of its core aims. Pune boasts a strong culture in piano music and a long lineage of teachers who have kept this tradition alive and vibrant. Tanaz Irani is one of these, with a reputation for excellence and a corpus of dedicated and capable students who have gone on to contribute to the study of the instrument, in turn. Tanaz responded graciously to the somewhat tentative request made by the PGS – would she like to recommend some of her students for a joint recital with guitarists?
I was aware that Kuldeep had been busy behind the scenes setting up the event, even while I was unable to find the time to be seriously involved. So it was almost as an unprepared audience member that I arrived at the Mazda Hall that Saturday.
I deliberately shut my ears away from the rehearsals that were already in progress, with the pianists trying out their repertoire for the evening on the Blüthner grand (magnificent instrument, that), the guitarists awaiting their turn, desultory conversations between bystanders, and the brooding weather. I had every intention of preserving my hearing for the actual performance.
The guitarists played first. We knew that the dynamic ranges of guitars and pianos are practically in alternative universes, and that it would be advisable for the pianists to play afterwards. I sat back and allowed the sonic texture to settle over me. Rather than going through a piece-by-piece “concert review” in the usual sense, I would only like to comment on the highlights that each performer brought to the stage.
Jake Samuel, a core member of the PGS, opened the recital with a Leo Brouwer Study. It is always sobering to consider the oeuvre of the preeminent living guitar composer – he shows up at every level, everywhere, from neophyte student repertoire to some real masterworks for various ensembles. Jake approaches all his music with that matter-of-fact intellect which I know him to have as a person. The Study was demonstrably well-understood and expressed – and I would like to say that, in Brouwer, Jake has found his own path for expression and growth as a guitarist.
I have heard Eesha Randad, young at fourteen, play at a few meetings of the PGS. This was the first time she was onstage at the Mazda. What always strikes Kuldeep and I is her complete lack of stage fright, and the absolute confidence with which she sets about her musical tasks at hand. Her rendition of Astor Piazzola’s Milonga del Angel demonstrated how far she has come in a short time, without any access to high-quality instruction, without even an instrument that can square up with her level of playing.
Kabir Dabholkar was the last guitarist to play. He has excellent tone, an understanding across genres of music, and palpable sonic presence. Again, Leo Brouwer was in evidence, in the last movement from El Decameron Negro. Kabir enjoys playing this, and it shows.
After a short intermission, it was the turn of the pianists.
Rahel Shetkhatkar commenced with Claude Debussy’s Prelude from Suite Bergamasque. I’ve always found some resonance with a statement made by Dan Morgan, author of two interesting guitar methods, that “compared with pianists, us guitarists are very much do-it-yourself musicians”. Well, us guitarists can’t really help it. Our repertoire never featured composers who could match their contemporaries on other instruments (well, not until recently, anyway). Rahel’s interpretation was shaded beautifully.
Azriela Maben proceed to delightfully express another Debussy – the Minuet from Suite Begamasque. My jazz persona identifies quite happily with Debussy, and I could hear echoes of Ahmad Jamal’s Poinciana as well as John Abercrombie’s Ralph’s Piano Waltz in this work. Who knows if there are actually inspirational connections? Azriela is an unassuming, quiet young person who is totally transformed, united inexorably with her piano, when playing.
Amar Mane and Sachit Ajmani proceeded to play Frederic Chopin’s Grande Waltz Brillante and Ballade in A Flat Major, respectively. Both pianists had completely different expressive approaches, but similar degrees of passion. Amar demonstrated a controlled, almost rational treatment that capably celebrated the structure of the music, while Sachit was more introspective, almost pensive, in his interpretation.
Finally, Tuhin Rao, a teacher in his own right, closed the recital with Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in B Flat Major. This set of variations, based on a theme from Schubert’s own operetta Rosamunde, is sonically quite predictable, but comes up with interesting changes in tone colour. We can see Beethoven’s influence in Schubert’s compositional style. Tuhin was entirely at home with it, and I found myself wanting to listen to this accomplished pianist in a setting with more modern repertoire.
In his closing remarks, Arnaud Devic, President of the PMS, emphasized the need for students to perform formally as much as possible, and commended the PGS on the cross-instrument initiative that had been taken.
Subsequent to the recital, Jake, Kuldeep, Tuhin and I made our way to the Poona Coffee House along with Meghana Dharap, a pianist student of Tanaz’s, and Aditya, her brother and a guitar player.
Sitting back and listening to the conversation that ensued, I was caught by the realization that this little recital, organised almost experimentally by the PGS, could potentially instigate a new cycle of freshness in the Western classical music ambiance in Pune. It was a sheer delight to know how Leo Brouwer had touched the pianists in the gathering. It was an equal delight for us guitarists to be reminded so directly how monumental the piano repertoire has been in every period, with its enormous, varied sonic legacy.
I personally believe that the classical guitar is a young instrument, as Western classical instruments go. I like to declaim wryly that we’ve never had someone of the stature of Chopin, Liszt or Debussy writing guitar music, at the time when these legendary composers were creating what has become an indelible part of human cultural history and has been vastly influential across time, instruments and genres.
It took some essential technological innovation for the guitar to be heard, literally. Nylon strings, as a consequence of materials research approximately around World War II, organised acoustic engineering resulting in fundamentally new methods of guitar construction, modern amplification with its complete sonic transparency: all these have led to completely unprecedented compositional approaches. Any of Leo Brouwer’s Concerti would not work unless the guitar is properly amplified. Even for the solo guitar, I can’t imagine Toru Takemitsu’s All in Twilight being performed successfully for a concert hall audience by a Segovia-era guitarist un-amplified, on an instrument from that time (though the dedicatee Julian Bream might, legitimately, disagree!).
Tuhin voiced a question – can a guitar really duet successfully with a piano, given that, superficially, both instruments have a pronounced attack with a quick decay (paraphrasing moderately). I responded that, in my understanding, the modern amplified classical guitar would provide a substantially different tone colour from the piano: possibly just enough to make well-written duets rewarding and worth listening to. And then, pianists can always use their pedals to create harmonic textures which are the envy of any guitarist.
There must be some music out there which genuinely puts the piano and the guitar together in an effective duet context (rather than relegating the piano to playing orchestral reductions). In the meantime. Tuhin has proposed some very intriguing ideas which are likely to take shape in the next few months.
Do watch this space. Sonic palettes, from very diverse backgrounds, are poised to mix.