1-Q: What guitar do you use, what made you chose it and is the instrument adapted for a specific genre of music?
A: I have two guitars at the moment, very different. One is an Australian guitar made by Gregory Smallman. His instruments are very contemporary in their design. Guitars look similar from the outside but itís what goes into the internals, the strutting system within the instrument and has a very different sound- extremely resonant, its strength in mid and lower partials of sound waves. The instrument Iíve got with me here was made by French maker Daniel Frederique which is at the other end of the spectrum. Itís a much more traditional instrument in terms of construction of the fan strutting. It has a very refined sound; itís a brighter sound- it has depth but not in the same way as the other one. Itís not that one is better than the other ; just totally different. And I quite like that. A lot of musicians or guitarists tend to like instruments of a certain ilk but Iím not like that. So rather than being adapted for a specific genre of music, itís more the tone or qualities and the way the instrument speaks that Iím drawn to.
2-Q: Could you tell us how you chose pieces to play such as the material you performed for us in Dubai?
A: That can vary a lot. It depends whether youíre working towards a tour, whether youíve played in those countries before, what youíve played there, what you might have in your repertoire in a particular season. There are all kinds of influences. A lot of the music that Iíve chosen for this particular tour are sort of centered around what Iíve just been playing in England. I did a number of concerts in England recently and it was returned visits to places so I didnít feel that I wanted to play music that Iíve already played before. I had to pick a programme which would suit not only what Iím doing here but also what I did in England to avoid having to prepare too much material on the tour which is what I donít like doing because you donít have that much time to practice. So it wasnít so much specifically chosen for Dubai but more for the tour I would say, more than anything else.
3-Q: Some modern compositions seem to be typified by the use of atonals- like Koshkinís superb musical adaptation of Edgar Allen Poeís The Fall of the House of Usher- is this accurate and what does it say about twentieth century sentiment?
A: Regarding Koshkinís work, it is a tonal piece but he uses a lot of percussive devices which add to the dynamic of the piece, making it one of the most exceptional pieces of the 20th century guitar composition. Itís very broad in its sort of musical spectrum but itís essentially a tonal piece and it tells a famous story. But as for atonal music-thereís less of that being written now Ėthings seem to be focused much more on a tonal base and I think that is music in general, really. Colour, full range of the dynamics of the instrument and the possibilities, percussive and otherwise, seem to be the dominant feature of a lot of most recent compositions for guitar.
4-Q: In your performance, you do not use a foot stool but a propping device. Could you explain the particularity of your playing position?
A: I quit using a footstool a long time ago for postural reasons. I had some lower back problems which actually sent me into the hospital. I went to see an orthopedic surgeon who asked me to bring in my guitar to his surgery the next time Iíd see him, which I did. I sat there with a footstool and put the guitar on my leg. He said there must be another way to play because this distorts the body and the alignment of the hips; everything is wrong about this. I said thatís how we play but he suggested finding another way. I had in my mind a way of correcting this position but it required some sort of device in order to do so. It wasnít available at the time but shortly afterwards I was in a guitar shop in London and saw a prototype of what I now use. I asked what it was and was told it was a new form of support for guitar which has just come from Japan. I tried it and it was absolutely immediate that it was the way to play for me. Basically what it does is centralize the guitar. The position that I adopt now is really a Flamenco or traditional Flamenco guitarist position (because Flamenco guitarist these days seem to play cross-legged not like what they used to). It centralizes the guitar which enables the back to be set square and not twisted at an angle which footstools do. If you use a footstool, the centre of your guitar is placed on your left leg, not where it needs to be which is central to your body. So everything is off-centre. Thatís why I no longer use it and it facilitates movement of the fingers because you donít have to hold the guitar; it sits there with this device on the left leg. You can sit more upright and spine alignment is much better. I think I was the first professional guitarist to use this but now many people do and I notice going around the world doing master classes that there are very few music schools where a form or rather of what I now use is not in place. I think the days of the footstool are numbered. Iíd say in another generation you wonít find them used at all.
Julian Byzantine tutoring a young DCGO member
5-Q: Is skill ever completely transcended by the act of interpreting in performance? (How aware is the performer of technique in the midst of translating an emotion through music and particularly with guitar?)
A: This varies with individuals and depends on the degree of the technical difficulty of what youíre doing. If youíre on the limit of your technical ability for a given passage, of course you will be more aware of the technical requirements of performing that than something so comfortable for your hands and relatively easy to play just by using muscular memory. It depends on the difficulty of what you have to do but to a degree, what you have to control in a technical sense is always there in your mind. It can never be removed. Muscular memory does take over in many instances but I would say probably itís in the upper reaches of the demands of a particular piece or passage that one becomes more aware of technique and you have to balance that with interpretation. But interpretation shouldnít suffer. Itís just that the technical requirements come more to the fore.
6-Q: To aspiring guitarists, who are some of the artists that you would recommend listening to?
A: There are so many good players around these days. Different players are good at interpreting different things. Itís a matter of personal taste. I think you should listen to some of the great names of the 20th century and hear very different sorts of players. Iíd say pick a selection of very different players to hear what can be achieved on the guitar given the different sort of techniques and viewpoints of what youíre interested in. Certainly everyone should hear Andres Segovia because heís the father of modern guitar. He transformed the instrument from what it had been in the 19th century to the concert instrument it is today and is responsible for many of the great pieces we now play. He has encouraged many of the great players. He had a marvelous command of the instrument and wonderful sound. His interpretations may be old fashioned now but he was a product of his generation. Many instrumentalists of his era would by modern standards have old fashioned approaches to interpretation but nonetheless heís a person one should listen to. Thereís Julian Bream- who is a highly individual player. Thereís also John Williams who is again a very different player; a very perfect player, probably the most perfect player that has ever existed, in living memory and still retains that elevated positions. And then you have other generations of people like David Russell and Manuel Barueco. There are so many but these are some names.
7-Q: Could you describe your experience with DCGO today?
A: I Ďd like to say how surprised I was when I was contacted by Valentin about doing a class for a guitar orchestra in Dubai. I had no idea anything remotely like this existed here. I was amazed by the level of competency and good tuning- to get 35 guitars in tune is quite a feat. Considering the different levels of the players, itís quite astounding. Theyíre having very good tuition here and a concept of style. Good things are happening here and look to the future.
Mr. Byzantine was interviewed after DCGO workshop on 29-Jan-2008. He is currently head of classical guitar studies at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Australia and author of highly regarded publication ďGuitar Technique RationalizedĒ.
©Soleyma Abiad 2008.