Παρασκευή, 30 Νοεμβρίου 2012

Manuel Barrueco Talks to David Russell

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We're sitting in a restaurant in Baltimore after David's class at the Peabody Conservatory, and his recital last night. We are having dinner with about 20 students. Manuel has long wanted to do an "interview" with David, pick his brains a little bit. Here is a transcription of the conversation.

Manuel Barrueco: Is it my imagination or did I see your little finger shaking a little bit last night?
David Russell: I always shake a little bit just to make sure that the audience and the guitarists know that I'm not using beta blockers... (laughter)
MB: I wasn't expecting that answer.
DR: You're supposed to ask me if I can expand on that...
MB: Can you expand on that, please?
DR: I always get a little bit nervous when friends like you are in the audience. I want to play well and it puts a little bit of extra pressure. Sometimes I will finger things so that I don't have too many open strings. I hate having all the fingers in the air because they will all shake like hell, so I'll stick down fingers in odd places on notes that I'm not going to play even though I'm not particularly nervous. It doesn't seem to cause any great problems unless I get REALLY nervous, but it's a tremor that has been there since I was young. I've learned to live with it and it doesn't really cause me any problems. But I hate the fact that the first row or the first few people or sometimes even the whole audience can see it. I really don't like that, I wish it didn't happen. If they see it they sometimes think "He must be nervous, his fingers are shaking" even when I'm not particularly nervous my fingers shake a little bit, it's just the excitement of the situation.
I kind of like the challenge of a little bit of nerves.... it gives me an extra something. We concert players are a little bit like race-car drivers or mountain climbers, we do it because it's dangerous, except that we don't put our lives in danger, we just put our ego on the line. It's my challenge in life to do a concert as well as I can. Ok? expanded?
David continues: ... and I mentioned the joke about beta blockers, I've never taken them, never tried them. I've asked a few doctors about them and it is a subject, that if anyone is interested in taking them, they should always discuss it with a doctor first. I joked about it before, but it is really a serious thing.
MB: Have you done any other drugs....? No, just joking. I think that sometimes people that don't play concerts think that we don't get nervous. What was happening to me yesterday in your concert, was that I felt nervous before you came out. I was nervous for you. Then, all of a sudden, I was nervous for myself. I was thinking: "Oh my God, I'm going to have to do this..., why am I doing this to myself [playing concerts]? Am I crazy?" It's an incredible fear.
DR: We should really think quite harder about why we do it. We sometimes joke that there is a better way of making a living, but on the other hand there is something exciting about doing something that has a touch of danger, or that we feel a touch of danger, and that we are laying ourselves on the line. I really quite enjoy that challenge. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to move forward and try again or try better. We're lucky, when it goes well it's great, we get our egos stroked a lot, people say lots of nice things, audience are clapping for you and standing up. It's a really great high, and it's fun! But, it means that we have to continuously do things to maintain that. This is looking at it from a selfish point of view, regardless of whether you're in music or something else. Being on stage doing something that gets this kind of communication going, you find that you're actually manipulating people's feelings. You're doing something with music that makes them feel something within the music, that if you didn't do it, they wouldn't be able to feel it.
MB: What do you do to manage your nerves?
DR: I get really upset when I do have an off night. It's really not a nice feeling, very upsetting, embarrassing or whatever . But if I have done my work and I've done my best, my conscious is clear, I feel ok, at night I sleep. I've done my best and that's very important.
When I do mess up, instead of having this massive bad reaction and whipping myself and getting angry, I try to keep my mind on: "It's really sad that the people haven't been able to enjoy this phrase and the music so much". I have to avoid thinking: "The people haven't been able to think so much of me". If you keep that in mind, it avoids this thing about you being on a test. Also, when it goes well, I try to think: "It's great that you were able to hear how great this phrase could be".
For example [to a student] you played Barrios' Julia Florida in the class today. I know the first time you didn't play it so well and that you can play it better, but there were some bits that were great. So, as soon as you hit the good bit you have to say to yourself: "Oh that was great"! It's a strange thing that happens, you sit at home and practice and it's late at night and you say: "Oh this sounds great!" But you sit on stage and you say:" Oh that sounds horrible!" It's the wrong way! It should be that at home one is concentrating on practicing, and when in front of an audience you should think: "Beautiful piece, beautiful moment". You mess one up, but so what? The next one will be better. For me this is really important , it's very easy to be negative with yourself.
MB: We've talked about this often [to the student], when you see someone making a mistake and they get very angry and punish themselves. It seems like a humble thing but in fact it's not! One thing that helps me a lot, is to realize that I am going to make mistakes, so when I make one I'm not going to punish myself because I never expected perfection to begin with!
DR: I haven't heard you make one...
MB: Well I did, it was nineteen eighty...... (laughing) it took a lot of alcohol to get over that one.
DR: No, but you're absolutely right, and sometimes people make faces and I must say I've sometimes done it, but I've basically gotten rid of it. When you make a face, it's a bit like telling the audience: "I don't normally make mistakes!" It's silly, you only transmit your bad feeling to the audience. Next question!
MB: What happens when you're playing, for example, a piece like the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro [Bach], which everybody knows?
DR: [Laughs] ...
MB: No, really, I'm not putting you on the spot. Let me tell you a story, the first time I played it it was in Japan, and my agent was waiting for me when I got off stage, and he said: "Oh..... Prelude, Fugue and... Andante"
[lots of laughs from David] Obviously when you're playing something the audience knows very well, and especially if you're in a certain position the people expect a certain level...
DR: Yeah, when you play a well known piece, unfortunately, you've got to nail it! It is a different kind of challenge than when you play a lesser known piece, especially if it's the PF&A because it's one of the pieces that many, many people know.
If I feel that a lot of other interpretations of a piece are stronger than mine, I probably won't play it. At least until I find that my interpretation is valid enough, or strong enough, or different enough. There are some modern pieces that I feel that other people play better than I do, so I don't play them! Maybe one day if I really put my heart into it, I will be able to play them well enough that I feel that my contribution is worth it. Then I'll do it. With the PF&A I feel that my version is valid enough and personal enough for people to really enjoy it, and I feel that I play the piece well enough to where I'm going to be satisfied.
MB: So now you're at the concert and you're going to play one of these pieces.... because you've had this process beforehand, by the time you go to play the piece you're not aware of the fact that you're going to play something everybody knows?
DR: I understand what you mean, and no, I don't really think that's in my mind. I'm really not that aware of it. It's not so much if people have heard Pepe Romero or Manuel Barrueco play it. It's more like if you play something all the students play, which are often half your audience. I really don't like on the day of a concert or the day before, to do a master class where some of my repertoire is played in the class. I don't really like it. Today some people played the PF&A I played yesterday, and I felt completely free to be flexible and to work within that person's way of interpreting it. If it was the day of a concert or the day before I'm going to play it, they would have to do it my way! Then I'm not flexible enough to accept other ways. And it worries me if I press my ways and tell them that they really have to try this, then in a concert I'm far too conscious. I'm not just "doing it", I'm consciously doing it, it's not free.
I remember you once saying, and I've said it in many master classes when people ask me about memory. It was on the day of your concert in Quebec and somebody asked you: "Mr. Barrueco what do you do for your memory?" and you said: "Rule number one: On the day of your concert, never talk about memory!"
MB: Did I say that? That was pretty smart...
DR: I'm telling you I've used that - and even given you credit for it - because I agree entirely. And also, if possible, not to have to work on the piece either on a concert day.
MB: Another memory story: I was giving a lesson on how to memorize to one of my students and in the middle of it I forgot what I was saying! Next thing I know the student was on the floor laughing and of course I didn't know why, so I asked him why he was laughing and he told me that I had forgotten what I was saying...
[laughter]
MB continues: You have a very distinct style, there is a David Russell Style. Where does that come from, what are the influences?
DR: This whole thing about a distinct style is a big subject and I think maybe quite an important subject as each of us develop and grow up or mature. I think it's quite difficult to develop your own style on purpose. There are some young people who try to do it and they usually sound quite cocky. You Manuel also have a very distinct style, I hear you on the radio and I know it's you. That comes through familiarization, people hear you often enough to recognize you. I don't think it's something that you can consciously develop. You slowly become more and more aware of your own ways of approaching a phrase, your own way of distinguishing a classical piece from a baroque piece, how you make them different, how you approach cadences when you go into a real romantic piece. Of course you do it just by feel at first, but eventually there is a whole reasoning behind it. You are able to give reasons as to why this note should be there or not.
Going back one step to answer your question of where my styles comes from, I come from a very artistic family, my parents are artists and all my brothers and sisters except one are artists. We lived like bohemians in a van for years, moving around different places. When I went to study in London, I was lucky to live in the basement of a violinist's house and I studied the violin.
I think certainly some people have stronger personalities than others and maybe the person that has a less obvious personality maybe needs to work on it and think about it, find ways to develop it.
[To a student] If you think of Manuel and I, it's kind of strange, Manuel comes from a Latin origin and then grew up in an English speaking American culture, and I was the opposite, came from Scotland and then grew up in a Latin place. All these little cross over things make you perhaps have a wider range of experiences in terms of culture etc. We're both bilingual, and all these things help you. The more varied your life experiences are, the more you bring to your music.
MB: When I hear you teach, the musical terms and the language you use, I don't hear it with other guitar teachers I've heard. Is that something you've learned in the guitar world you've known, or is that something you've acquired in other places?
DR: There are a whole lot of things that happen within a master class. The whole psychology game with the student, specially because in a master class you have the person for a very short time and you don't actually know that person. You hope to find a little something you understand, or something you can connect with. There are different ways of helping people and the way it worked out today was through convincing them musically, because I wasn't going to have time to help them directly technically. Does this make sense?
MB: Oh, yes. But what I was referring to was that the way you sounded to me was that you could have been any musician speaking about music. That's not usually what I hear in the "guitar world".
DR: Well, I lived in London in a not very guitaristic world for many years. But we have to be careful, there is certain amount of Guitar Whipping, and I don't think that f. ex. the violinists are any better because they are so mixed up in their own world, or the Horn players. I used to play the French horn, my mother was married to a French horn player and they are all caught up in their own world as well. Pianists don't listen to anything but piano. In some ways they all suffer the same things we suffer. But if you go to other master classes from other instruments, you hear them talk about slightly different things but they also apply to us. So, what you're saying is probably partly because I played these other instruments, because of the people I was mixed up with in London, my interests at that time. That's probably the reason more than anything.
F. Ex. I studied with José Tomás in Alicante, Spain, and that was great. Very direct and very clear ideas. That's the way I'd like to be taught. He was able to crucify me without depressing me and that for me is very important. He was able to get to my problems and give me solutions. Teaching must be positive, negative teaching is useless. Isn't it funny that if you play for somebody and they say to you " You're slurs are not very good but your tremolo is good" you go home and practice your tremolo whereas what you should be practicing is your slurs! In my teaching I use as many things as I can hopefully without depressing or pulling down the student, regardless of their level or their talent.
MB: Do you think one can become musically knowledgeable within the guitar world?
DR: I think you can. I think any one instrument can become musically knowledgeable within that instrument. We tend to say: "It's either a guitarist or a musician" and I don't feel that's quite right, even though, of course, there is a certain amount of that. I think that our little guitar world is something special, but I would like to encourage guitarists to at least learn another instrument and have some experiences actively in music that are not only with the guitar. At least play chamber music.

MB: If I told you that listening to your concert last night I heard Segovia in your playing, how would you react to that?
DR: For many many years I was kind of an imitation of Segovia. At the age of 14, I could hardly read music but I could play really badly Dance # 5 and 10 by Granados, and Granada and Sevilla by Albéniz. My father and I didn't really read music well, we basically had taken the music from the records. He had all these 78rpm records with Segovia. So, of course, I copied his interpretations as well. For many years Segovia was my idol.
MB: Let me rephrase the question. If I told you that I heard some qualities of Segovia in your playing, what do you think I was referring to?
DR: Maybe about some moments in Torroba, but I really don't know. You're going to have to tell me what you mean.
MB: What I mean by that is Segovia in his playing has a sensuality, which can be heard in the more lyrical passages of your playing. Does that make any sense to you?
DR: Yes, it does, it is something that I enjoy in his playing. The word sensual almost implies sexual, and I think there is sometimes almost a physical pleasure in music at times. I enjoy the way the notes are almost tangible, you can see them shaking, growing, and that is something Segovia did extremely well.
MB: I was curious to see if you would take my comment as something negative, because a lot of people have criticized him.
DR: I think it's really important for our generation and the next generation to find a different way, that is just as expressive and just as sensual. There are many, many ways of being expressive. I know that I was very influenced by Segovia and I had to take away some of that when I first came to London, because I realized that basically all I did was copying him. That's the way I had grown up.
MB: I was trying to put together in my head what it is that I hear in your playing, as I mentioned, I hear these qualities that Segovia had, like your warm sound, but at the same time you seem to have a very modern training. I was wondering if it is this mixture that makes your style? Nobody sits in a vacuum, we all pick from others. And also, there is nothing wrong in saying to a student: "You should not sound like Segovia", that is not necessarily a criticism of Segovia. If I was a painter and had a student that was painting cubism I would say: "Listen, let's go on" but it doesn't mean that I'm putting down Picasso because of it.
Segovia was great for his time and I think he is very unfairly criticized.
It's very easy to criticize somebody's work. I think the problem is that some people thought of him as being God, and when you compare him to God, of course the guy falls short...
DR: You know, sometimes it's worthwhile consciously copying exactly what somebody else has done in their phrases. When you copy really consciously you actually have the physical experience of making the same sounds and the same phrases and the same mixture of sounds and the same balance. It's very difficult! Not just make a caricature, but really get as close to what they've done to find out how they did it. I think you can learn from that. When I got to London I was tired of the Segovia thing and then suddenly it was Julian Bream! He was a big thing when I first got there. I tried to copy it exactly the way he did it, where he made the sounds,I tried to come as close as possible to what he did. For me it was a really good experience.
MB: Did you have contact with Segovia at all?
DR: I played for him in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, privately because I wasn't in the master class. He was very nice, wrote a letter for me, and he said to me that when he was in London he wanted his wife to listen to me. I was very flattered and a couple of months later when he came to London I phoned him up and he told me to come the day after his concert. I went there but there was no wife there! I played for him and he started to tell stories which went on for a long time, over an hour. Then suddenly from the bathroom we heard: "Cling, cling" you know the sound when you drop a glass bottle in a sink it makes a lot of noise. Then Segovia suddenly said: "Oh dear, you have to leave, my wife is in the bathroom..." so I left and never met the wife! I can just imagine her saying that she didn't want to hear another young guitarist, and went on to have a bath. He probably just forgot about her... that must have been it because he was in the middle of telling all these stories, he was all excited, it was great listening to him.
MB: So he was very helpful?
DR: Oh yes, very. He commented to other people about me and was very nice. At that time I was moving out of London and I really didn't take advantage of his help. I was pretty immature in some ways, like business-wise, and I think I missed an opportunity there a little bit. He was great, it was good for my ego.
MB: It's funny because as I was listening to you in your concert I kept wondering what Segovia would have thought if he had heard you.
DR: He was great. I played him Capricho Diabolico by Tedesco and some Ascencio music and some Granados...
MB: Did he ever write one of these letters about you?
DR: Yes.
MB: What did he say?
DR: He said "My congratulations for your guitaristic technique..." or something like that, you know this stuff we all write... Something about a guitaristic technique and musicality.
MB: Another thing I thought would be interesting for the students to hear, because you said you had developed a lot between the age of 18-24.
DR: Some people mature much earlier both physically and mentally. I lived until I was 14 or 15 in a village in Menorca, Spain, of 800 people, with no musical influence except for my family and Segovia's records and the other records that my parents had. So, when I got to London I was way behind in lots and lots of things. I could hardly read music, that was ridiculous when I think about it, but I could play pretty well. But it took me years to learn pieces because I did it just by ear, and sometimes by working out - F A C E etc. on the finger board, it was really bad. So I had a lot of catching up to do. Also, I grew at least 2 inches after the age of 18!
MB: Really?
DR: Yeah, [laughs...] So there were a whole lot of things that at the age of 18 I was way behind on. I see many people now at the age of 18 that play better that I could at that age - and I see many 24 year olds that play partly better that I could. By the age of 24 I think I more or less had it together, even though I wasn't really ready. There were lots of things that were unfinished, and lots of technique problems. It would be great if we were all prodigies and could play the Chaconne by the age of 16 but that wasn't my case. In some ways it gives me a certain attitude towards somebody who is 24 and is still having certain problems, because I can sympathize with them. I have some old tapes of myself of that time, they are ok, but there is a noticeable difference between then and when I was maybe 28. At that time I think I started to hit my level. At the age of 24 I won all these competitions, I was certainly well enough prepared in comparison to some of the other people that were around in those years, but nowadays there are lots of good players, the standard is pretty high. [To the students] So don't give up hope, there is hope after the age of 28. Also, you can become a wonderful musician without having an incredibly rapid or incredibly agile technique. Certainly, more technique will help you as long as your musical desire is in front of your technical desire. I know some people who are technically limited, they don't have Manuel's technique or whatever, but they can play really good concerts. So you need to find out your limitations and your qualities, and show your qualities, develop your qualities.
MB: I find that a lot of times people think that when you are concertizing it's all glamor. One memory that I have is of seeing you in Finland. I think you had flown from the US, went on to teach a master class, and then you played a concert that night after having slept a little bit. Your eyes were right on the floor, red, but you went on playing a hell of a concert. Do you remember that?
DR: Thank you but I don't remember the concert.
MB: I guess what I'm driving at is that sometimes people don't realize under what conditions one sometimes has to perform, and even on our level it's very hard.
DR: Yes, for example last week, in 24 hours I played 3 concerts... two programs!
MB: How did you do that? I mean how did you fit it in 24 hours.
DR: Well, it was a evening concert, the day after a mid-day concert and a evening concert!
MB: So which was the best one?
DR: Oddly enough, probably the last one. I was well prepared, I worked very hard for it. The agents do all these deals for you, and sometimes I'm not too careful as to what's happening. I should be more careful because these things sometimes happen and you very often end up in a very unglamorous situation... I played 4 concerts and taught one master class in a couple of days. I'm sure you have had situations that are similar.
But I've done ones that are more glamorous - I have sat in the back seat of a car practicing on my way to the golf course, played a round of golf and then practiced on the way back and then I played a concert...
MB: Oh, you were that handsome guy in the back seat of the Lexus?
DR: [Laughing] No, by the way, did you get to play golf after your Lexus gig?
MB: No.
DR: But really, I didn't mean it as a joke! The last concert I did in Seattle I really wanted to play golf with these friends, so I sat in the car and practiced all the way to the golf course...
MB: I practice in the car all the time.
DR: Oh really?
MB: Yes, sometimes I just don't have time to do all the things I have to do. The New Jersey Turnpike is polluted with my sounds. In fact, when I did that commercial I was used to playing in the car because sometimes it's the only time I get to practice!
Talking about glamorous, sometimes people say that so and so does 150 concerts a year, as if it was a great thing! To me it sounds like slavery, it sounds insane! I guess it does represent a certain amount of success and a certain number of trips to the bank you know, but other than that...
On a different note, what other recordings are you doing?
DR: I just finished a recording of Torroba that will be coming out soon on Telarc. It's all the well known pieces except the Piezas Caracteristicas.
MB: Do you like recording?
DR: Yes I like it more and more. I have had some bad experiences and some good experiences. As time goes on I kind of remember more the good experiences and forget about the bad ones. I'm basically positive, which is why Phil wrote that piece called "The Good Luck" waltz, he said "You're just such a lucky bugger". I've had some really horrible recording experiences that I don't really like to remember, that were too hard or too uncomfortable, f.ex. the recording of Tárrega. I had a great time even though some of them were really difficult. So, I enjoy listening to it, it was a good experience. The Torroba was a good experience. I'm really looking forward to the record because it was a great couple of days.
MB: Where was the Torroba done?
DR: It was done in a place called Mechanics Hall in Muster, Massachusetts. It was far too cold, about 18% humidity. I had to keep on breathing on the guitar, cover it with wet towels, it was crazy, there were a lot of extra difficulties, but I thought the playing experience was good. We also lost hundreds of takes because of a bus-stop! Every time a bus would stop, the rumble came through. During the Barrios one, hundreds of takes were also lost with women with high heals walking past the hall. It came through - tack, tack, tack, tack...
MB: So my final question: I'm told that your wife María is getting fed up with all the trophies you are winning playing golf...
DR: (laughing) You know I'm much more proud of having won the J&B Whiskey Championship for second year running, than my Barrios record... I love playing golf. I love doing things outside. I used to play tennis a lot, but tennis is not too good for your hands. It makes you a bit too muscle bound. I can play golf all morning and play a concert in the evening it doesn't really matter.

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