Manuel Barrueco: If you were the president of the guitar world, what would you do?
Eduardo Fernandez: Quit!
MB: [laughter] There is something very curious that I am seeing in connection to us turning 50...
EF: Oh, you are 50 too? How wonderful!
MB: No, I'm 49 and will be 48 next year... By the way, we are not the only ones turning 50 you know. Within a period of one year, a number of us will...
EF: Yes, Elliot Fisk, Alvaro Pierri, David Russell, Sergio Assad...
MB: Thinking back, we met when you played your New York debut...
EF: Yes, and you know how special it was for me.
MB: I can only assume that. I was very impressed with that concert and all the events that surrounded it. I've never seen before or since, such a powerful review. The whole thing was magical. I remember the review said that you ranked among the top world guitarists, and what people perhaps don't understand, is that in those days for a reviewer to say something like that about somebody who had just made his debut, was pretty damn amazing. The review also said that it was the most impressive debut concert that reviewer had seen in any instrument! Eduardo, seriously, I've never seen that before and have never seen it since!
EF: It was a very special case. I had come to New York thinking that if it didn't work out, I would go back to Montevideo and finish my studies of economics and forget about guitar... it was a gamble.
MB: That's a connection I feel that I have with you. I was there with you and we were both young and sharing experiences.
EF: Yes, your record had just come out with Villa Lobos and Chavez... wonderful record.
MB: It was a different world than today... At that time there didn't seem to be many players between the age of 40 and 50. There was Segovia, and there was Bream (who must have been in his 40s) and Williams, but there weren't many players in between like you could see with pianists. Therefore there were not a lot of different influences when we were young. But I think around that time, with our generation, there was an explosion of young players with distinctive styles of playing, like your style, Elliot Fisk's style, etcetera.
EF: It's not healthy when you have only one model, it's much better to have 20,000 models...
MB: To be fair, it was also more of a virgin territory back then. I remember when I started in my very early 20s to go out to play concerts, people would tell me that I had the strangest right hand position! It was a more naive time, there was more ground to be broken back then. It is more difficult for young players to break through now.
EF: Yes, the noise level is much higher now. It is so much easier to make a recording now than it was in our early days.
MB: Also when we were young, some people that were considered top players then, would not be considered that today. Some people were able to break through on the basis of speed for example, today I don't think anyone is going to make it just because of how fast they play.
EF: No, any midi instrument can do it much better, any computer can do it better. I always go back to this: Playing the guitar is not a sport, it's not a question of running faster or jumping higher or lifting heavier weights. It is about an art that has its basis in sound. I find so many students that don't listen to what they do. They don't notice when things are wrong because they are not listening. They only focus on how fast they can play which I think is a completely wrong attitude to have. It doesn't work.
MB: Maybe we're beginning to sound as if we're 50!
EF: We sound like 80 by now!
MB: I remember the only opportunity that I ever had to play for Segovia, he kept telling me: “Too fast, too fast! “ ... and I wanted to tell him: “But Maestro, you recorded it even faster than this...!”
EF: I'm not saying that one cannot play fast, I'm simply saying that it is not the objective. Actually I think speed comes as a result of control. Many students try to play faster by putting more effort in it and it never works, it never works! It's completely counter productive for them. I know because I went through this too. I felt very empty when I was doing this, I felt so empty that I didn't want to go on any more. At some point I just threw the metronome out of the window, literally, I just opened the window and threw it out, and started playing. I think I was reborn as a musician at that moment.
Aaron Shearer: Manuel, you have said this on many occasions as well, that the young players today don't seem to have the intellectual curiosity...
EF: I can't understand how people can play a piece by Bach and not be interested in knowing about Bach. Who was he? This music didn't come out of the blue, someone wrote it for some reason. Maybe I'm just too gossipy, but I can't stand playing a piece and not knowing about the composer or the piece, at least try to find out something about the text. You have to do a reading as a player, it's not just about playing the notes, any computer can do that much better than any player. You have to understand what's happening. This is a human function and we should exercise that to the utmost. Imagination, fantasy, knowledge, they are not opposites. ... and this all has to do with being able to listen.
MB: There are also certain luxuries that we can have in our position, that a young player does not have. They have to prove themselves in many ways and I think as I get older, I see beauty where I didn't see it before. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm hearing that a bit from you also. You are hearing different aspects of music making that perhaps you didn't before?
EF: Yes, I think I was much more closed before, I've opened up a lot in the last few years.
MB: I'm wondering if it has to do with the 50s and maturity and so on...
EF: I don't know about maturity, I don't think if one ever matures... I try to be as immature as possible, for as long as I can. But I think that if I had to give one advise to young players, it would be to have fun with what they do, have fun in the most informed possible way, because it's more fun that way. Don't just go for the hamburgers, if there are steaks, go for the steaks. We live in a world where you can go and buy anything. There is a story about someone who wants to kill his neighbor, in the old time he had to learn martial arts to do that so he spent years learning martial arts, and in doing so he learned some kind of discipline. So when the time came that he was ready to kill his neighbor, he wouldn't do it, it wasn't interesting any more. It's very much like that when you learn to play an instrument if you want to become a musician. You have to develop yourself in such a way that when you get to the point that you actually can play the piece as fast as you wanted when you were 18, it's not so interesting any more just to play fast, because you've discovered so many interesting things about the piece that it doesn't make sense to go for speed only. And I'm not against speed. But there is much more to things than this physical dimension.
MB: The physical dimension is very limited.
EF: Of course, but you don't realize it if you are 17 or 18 and you are just trying to play as fast as so and so's recording...
MB: Well my experience is that those players are not going to go very far. They won't, you can't just hear someone play fast for an hour and a half. It's very boring. One can be very impressed with fast scales, but I don't know if I want to go to hear someone play scales for an hour.
EF: Absolutely. Well, I'm against people practicing scales in general.
MB: Really, why?
EF: Because it has nothing to do with music!
MB: But there is a physical aspect to it, and I'm sure you agree with this: The more technique you have, the more you are able to realize your musical ideals.
EF: Yes of course, but technique is not gained by working on technique, I think. Of course it is a paradox, but the more you concentrate on technique and the physical aspects of technique, the less you are able to do it. I've seen this happen many times.
MB: Some young players think of technique just in terms of playing fast scales, but that's just one aspect of technique. Technique is much more complicated than that... to me a great technique should be invisible!
EF: Of course, technique is about control. But to control, you have to aim at some kind of target. Playing the guitar is really about control and about how can you make the sound you have in your head come out physically. Of course there are many ways to this, many different approaches but basically it's about sound, here and now. It is not about practicing exercises for about two years and then being able to play, it doesn't happen that way, this is counter productive. You have to focus on the result you want, and work towards the result. This takes a lot of moral courage in a way because it is much easier to sit down and play through a book of exercises.
MB: So, if you think someone shouldn't practice scales, then how does somebody develop scales?
EF: You work when you need that and you work towards that specific target. If you're playing “Un tiempo fue ItÃ¡lica Famosa” by Rodrigo, of course you have to practice THOSE scales because there are thousands of them. But you practice those scales, in this context, with this particular music in sight. You just don't practice scales in abstract.
MB: But do you ever practice scales?
EF: I did for about 2 weeks...
MB: Really? Because my experience is that there are so few scales in the guitar repertoire that to depend on that would not be enough. I actually encourage my students to practice scales because of that.
EF: I think someone asked Alvaro Pierri in an interview how much he practiced scales and he said: “Never! If I ever play a concert of scales I will practice them.” I think that's absolutely perfect.
MB: So, how do you feel about guitar audiences?
EF: They are a special group. Sometimes you have to decide these days - and it is a very sad decision to have to make - if you are going to play for guitar audiences or for general audiences. And I don't think you should aim down when you play for guitar audiences because then you are really underestimating your audiences.
MB: There are a lot of different types of audiences. At least in the US you may play in a cycle where there are mostly pianists and violinists and they put in one guitarist. And that is different from an audience of a guitar series, which is also different from a series where there is a variety of programming, where you might have a pianist and following that a jazz group and maybe a circus and maybe then a guitarist...
EF: In what sense is it different?
MB: Obviously the expectations are different, why they go to the concert is also different...
EF: I think there is a basic question here, the question between art and entertainment and I think it is what Schoenberg said about water and wine fits: “Wine has water, but if you put water in wine...” Nobody says that art should be boring, but to oppose art to entertainment is to imply that art is boring, so you end up with a very low form of entertainment.
MB: But that is the reality we have to face...
EF: I didn't make this split you know, and I'm not going along with it, but I think good music is very entertaining as well as being something much more than that. And I love entertainment and I'm not disbursing here but I think we should try to play works that really challenge us to do the best we can, not merely to satisfy an appetite for something preestablished. This is a moral question. I'm not a puritan and I don't want to be a puritan, but I think we really should aim higher in programming. We are musicians and music is an art - a very deep art - and it's something that should be transcendent. On the door of every concert hall there should be a sign saying “This is an entrance to a different world.” If we all thought of that, maybe things would be different.
MB: But I still think that in a practical sense, if you go play in a series that has just had a folk group and before that a jazz trio, this audience is going to walk in with different expectations. I'm not saying WHAT we should do...
EF: I had a very interesting experience about this in Argentina. Juan FalÃº organizes a festival there that covers about 60 cities in the whole country. They send everyone that plays in the festival to 4 or 5 places besides Buenos Aires and you may end up playing in a place where nobody has heard a classical guitar before. I did that tour and I was playing a whole Bach program. You play for 20 minutes and have a chance to talk also. I explained to them who Bach was, when the pieces were written and what they meant for Bach at the time, what I thought of them and then I just played. And they loved it! It's not a question of having access to information or education or whatever, it's about sensitivity and people have that. People really have that and we should never underestimate audiences in this sense. We should never play down to what we think they want or what a promoter thinks they want because people are not stupid. At least I believe that very strongly. People can tell the difference if someone is just trying to impress them or if someone is moved by what he/she plays. Like FranÃ§ois Couperin said: “A player must have a sensitive soul,” and this situation of the player being moved by the music, is what moves people. This is as true now as it was in the 18th century and people can feel this, people can feel if the player is just going through the moves or if the player is really into the music. I'm sure you've felt that too. This distinctive response when you know that you are tuned into the music. I saw you in Nettuno and I remember, years ago.
MB: To be honest with you , I wish I could feel that as strongly as you do. I don't quite feel that strongly about it, although I understand and I've had that experience also. I've found wonderful audiences where I never thought I would, and bad audiences in places where I did not expect to have bad audiences.
EF: Of course. In many places people have lost touch with what it means to make music. But even with this audience you may have 10% that were genuinely moved, and that's what we are here for, to move people.
MB: So, what do you see as being our job in the society?
EF: I think music has the same role as dreams have in a life of a person. Something that is not in the forefront but many times it directs the whole sense of life so maybe like Schoenberg said again: “Music expresses the essence of this and other worlds.” And people feel that we have some kind of truth to give them, and they feel when it's true and when it's fake. They can tell the difference. I don't mean that one should play only contemporary music for example, it is the attitude of the player - you have to have some kind of integrity - you shouldn't play pieces that you don't love. It's all about love, really. It doesn't have to be solemn, it doesn't have to be serious or profound, but there has to be love in what you do. Love, fantasy, imagination, you know.
MB: You should be able to feel in order to be able to communicate it.
EF: Yes, this is not a naive way of feeling because you are a professional and you have to understand what happens in the music and you have to be able to feel it thoroughly. It's not just a physical sensation, it implies all your being, it implies all your intellect, all your memories, all your life experience and what ever you are able to read into a work is many times what you bring as baggage to the work. So your reading of a work is going to be different from mine because we are different persons, but also there is a lot that is objective, that is in the score. Those are the intentions of the composers and you have to go through all this analytical baggage of music history, styles, biography of the composer and analyzing the work and then try to make it sound as you want and somehow you have to forget all this in the moment of playing because you can't play from the professor's chair. You have to play the music and become the music at that moment. And I think people can feel that very well. Maybe they cannot verbalize it or conceptualize it but it's there. That's why people love rock and roll, because it's authentic. I think it is very primitive most of the time, but it's real. And there is no reason why classical music should not be even more real than that. It takes time and it takes dedication and you can't talk down to audiences but you have to try to reach them in some way and not only by the way you play. I think music-making is a very serious thing. I'm not saying it's boring I'm saying it's very serious work.
MB: To be honest with you, it's really nice to hear you talk that way because I tend to think that we are living in cynical times.
EF: Yes, and sometimes you see it in the performer's attitude. Some people put the music at the service of their ego, the music is something that makes them shine or be accepted. Music should not be means to an end, it should be the end. You should put yourself at the service of the music, because music is much greater that you will ever be. If you are going to do justice to a work, if you are going to play a work as it should be played, you have to put yourself at its service.
EF: I think guitarists usually don't really use their intellect very much, I'm not talking about you. I think that you are quite a lot more intelligent that I am in many ways. I think we guitarists have been out of the loop for so long in musical terms. I think we are more or less in the same situation as the black people were in the 50s. To be accepted, we have to be 20 times as good as players on other instruments. We have to be able to sight read at least as well as a pianist, to analyze things at first sight better than a conductor, and so on.
MB: Do you really think that the music world can tell the difference? You forgive me but I'm not even sure that all conductors can tell the difference between a good violinist and a great violinist.”
EF: Well, I think maybe some professionals can't tell the difference, but the audience certainly can. I think people have an instinctive feeling for quality and I think we should never underestimate that. I remember once I did a one-hour TV program in Montevideo, and the guy had interviewed me several times before so he suggested to do something different this time. And I suggested to do something on Berio's Sequenza for guitar. So, we talked about the piece for 45 minutes and then I played some excerpts and analyzed what was happening, and in the last segment of the program I just played the whole piece. The next day I went to the market to buy tomatoes and the guy who is selling them to me said: “What a wonderful piece that was you played yesterday!” and this guy has absolutely no instruction, no education.
MB: Well, I don't think he represents most tomato sales people, although I do understand your point. There have been periods in my life and even today, where I put much more value on what someone with no knowledge but sensitivity thinks or hears in my music, than somebody that has already some knowledge and some preconceived ideas of how it should sound. I guess it's the typical “A little knowledge is worse than no knowledge at all.”
EF: Yes, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing of course. Sometimes intellect can be an evasion. You have told me that before. I don't think I use it this way. Maybe I'm not intellectual, but just repressed?
MB: But that's not what I hear in your playing. I mean a lot of the things that you said in your class here at Peabody were very intellectual, although you emphasized a lot the mechanics of making music as well.
EF: I think the basics are very important and many people don't even think about that.
MB: About your program, I thought about it a lot when you were playing, you said how rare it is to see a more substantial pieces being programmed and it was nice to see the reaction in the concert, you got a standing ovation...
EF: Yes, people like it. People actually go to concerts to listen to music so we shouldn't be shy about what we do.
MB: I've had similar experiences, f. ex. in some countries when someone says: “Oh you can't play a Bach suite here,” and I've played it and people have liked it. I also think that the contrary can be very unsatisfying, when one plays a whole program that is light and mediocre pieces, and you feel that you just had a meal of junk food.
EF: You feel cheated, because you were cheated, because went there to have some kind of a musical experience and you didn't. Even if it's very well played and it's the case nowadays very often when you find people that play very well with a lot of control and they play not very good music. It's not good for the instrument.
MB: By the way, I loved listening to he second Lute Suite in your program... I've played it for so many years, it was part of my first program and I have worked it and reworked it so many times. You said in the master class to look at a piece of music from a rhetorical point of view and I meant to tell you a couple of times that sometimes I tell my students to put words to the music from beginning to the end. It forces you to not only to think of the phrasing, to find the right words and the right accentuation, but also to identify emotionally what is happening at each moment of the piece.
EF: I think it's a very good idea. In fact I think not enough is done about Bach this way, certainly not for the guitar. We have lots of good editions, we have facsimile editions, all kinds of fingerings, but nothing that really helps you to understand the text. You need to know not only stylistic usages, performance practices and so on, you need to know about how Bach thought, how this Allemande relates to another Allemande and what Bach does with the genre Allemande for instance. , I'm writing a book on the interpretation of Bach, which is almost finished. I'm very linguistic oriented. How a text is read is very important.
MB: The way that I always see him, he was not an innovator, he just happened to do it better than anyone else.
EF: Yes, this is the accepted reason, but I think it's completely wrong. I think it's the opposite. If you read Cristoph Wolff's new biography or Lawrence Drayfus' book about Bach, it's quite clear that he never took things for granted. Let's talk about the 3rd Lute Suite/ 5th Cello Suite: This is really a way for Bach to legitimize the cello as a solo instrument. He takes the style of the French viola da gamba and he writes a piece for solo cello that should sound just like viola da gamba solo music, like Marais or Forqueray or whatever you want. Of course he does many more things and this is all translated into a suite for lute. So, we have to read this through many layers of meaning really. You have to know about French style, but it's not enough to know about French style, you have to know how French style applies to this particular case in Bach. If he wrote dotted rhythms, is it really just dotted rhythms or is it written-out inequality in the French style? When is it dotted rhythms and you should over dot them, and when is it just written out unequal?
MB: To which conclusion have you arrived and how did you get there?
EF: I think that for instance in the slow section of the Prelude, when he writes 8th notes dotted and 16th notes, it's written out inequality. And when he has quarter notes dotted and eight notes it's really dotted rhythms and it should be overdotted. Basically that's it.
MB: And how did you arrive to that?
EF: Well, it is context; you could not write it out because it's a performance effect. But you have to know how to read it. So dotted rhythms can be underdotted or overdotted, according to the context. It's all about context in Bach. It's not so easy, you can't follow rules, there are no rules in Bach, he never followed the rules. In fact he always tried to break them. In this regard I think Bach was very modern, he was so modern that people thought that he was old-fashioned. I think Wolff's biography is absolutely clear about this.
AS: When is your book coming out?
EF: The first volume should come out by July I think, in Spanish at least, and I hope in a couple of months to have it in English. We're going to do two volumes, the first one more general: rhetorics, semantics, ornamentation, and the second volume an analysis of specific pieces. Maybe it's not the definitive work, but we guitarists need something to start from. In my book, I specifically start with the Prelude of the Second Lute Suite. I think you can identify every part of rhetorical speech there.
MB: Have you ever put words to it like what I was saying?
EF: Not in this sense.
MB: I haven't done it in the way in which you've done it. That would be interesting for me to try.
EF: What I did was to first identify the section of the speech and then try to work out the relationship between the parts. I think it is best expressed with prepositions. You have for instance: thesis - “Because;”- arguments in favor - “Nevertheless;” arguments against- “And;” conclusion. Something like that, this works fine. Also, the Allegro from the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro is a good example of this.
MB: In your performance of the Prelude of the first Lute Suite, in the introduction passage, sometimes you would put some tenutos on some notes, are those notes that you have decided to hold, do you always hold the same notes?
EF: Most of them yes, but there is always room for some spur of the moment decision but basically I have it thought out. I remember once we talked about this motivic relationship thing in the 1st Lute Suite I think you are very right in this.
MB: I'll be happy to take credit for it, so what was it that I said? At the end of it all, I was a bit distracted with the Gigue and the Double in the concert. You didn't take the repeat of the second half?
EF: No, because I think they were always meant to be used as ornamented repeats. But if you do this in the Gigue, you have a huge anticlimax in the start of the second section of the Gigue. So I found the solution was to play the Gigue without repeats and the Double without repeats. It could also be done the other way but I just think it doesn't work very well. What I don't think makes sense, it to play both with repeats.
MB: Are you trying to tell me something??? [laughter]
EF: Oh, is that the way you do it? Oh, that's right. [Laughter] I think this Gigue was meant as a kind of light hearted ending to a very serious piece. It has a lot to do with the St. Matthew's Passion... Christoph Wolff dates it in 1740 in Leipzig. Both the Second Suite and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro have to do with the St. Matthew's Passion.
MB: Well, the Sarabande is almost exactly from the final choir of the St. Matthew's Passion.
EF: Also the theme of the Fugue of the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro is a not so free inversion of a famous Chorale that appears on the St. Matthew's Passion. And the Fugue comes from there, and you can read it in my book!!! [wink]
AS: I was surprised at of how quickly the time went by at your concert.
EF: Thank you, that's a big compliment!
MB: Also it was a lot of fun for, because we have met each other in very important times in our careers and specially from the beginning with you, I feel like I was a witness to all the things that happened and sitting there I couldn't help thinking about these things and what I enjoyed a lot was your experience. The experience of the guy that has done it. I sat there thinking: He's going to do it! It's comforting.
EF: Enjoyment is a very important concept. I see so many guitar concerts in festivals where you see people that are good, but they are suffering on stage, and the listener absorbs this too.
MB: I was surprised of how much you were not looking at the guitar. Not only surprised, but impressed by that.
EF: You don't really need to look most of the time.
MB: I think that might depend on the confidence of the player, I think if you can have the right frame of mind that you trust your body to do the things that it has always done, that requires a certain amount of confidence that perhaps I don't have very often.
EF: Oh, come on...
MB: No, but I'm being sincere with you. Often I work from a certain kind of negative energy, that things are not going to happen, which in turn makes me then try harder...
EF: I don't know if it's a question of confidence. I think it's maybe you take things too seriously.
MB: Also my whole attitude has always been that I go out there and I'm not going to remember any note, and should I remember some, I will miss them...
EF: But this is very negative meditation that you are doing.
MB: It is! Negativity has always been a part of me. I've always had to fight with that.
EF: You read too much Sartre I think...
MB: Maybe... Some people do have a positive attitude and some people don't, and for me I have had to fight that and to try to learn to have a more positive approach to it. I once played with a conductor here and I happened to ask this guy: “Do you get nervous?” And he just said, “Nervous, of course I don't get nervous, that's a very selfish thing. If you concentrate on the music the way you should be then it's not about you, it's about the music.” And I thought, God he's right! But I'm telling you, when he started conducting, I saw the baton shaking...
EF: If you are really into the music there is not much room left for nerves. But you can't do that on stage if you haven't practiced it. I tell this to the students all the time, you have to practice the way you are going to play, you have to try to make music every time you pick up the guitar. Because on stage you will have to and if you haven't practiced it before, maybe you were practicing baseball and you have to play football, so it won't be very good.
MB: I also tell them the same thing. I tell them, you could sit here and pretend you are going to be there and be all relaxed, but you may know now by experience that has not been your reality and that you might be nervous and that you might be doubting yourself. For example the memory part: If you are the type of player that will be doubting your memory during a performance, then you can better prepare yourself for that by making sure you have things extremely clear so that when the doubts come in, you have the answers. The same if true for some difficult shifts if you know that if you trust your body that it's going to do it. But also you have to ask yourself: Am I the type of player that when I go out there I will trust myself? Am I going to let my body do it? If not,then I must prepare accordingly.
EF: It's actually two different levels you know, if you are thinking about the music then you are actually giving up control of your body, you are not aware of what you are doing physically, not very much. But if you concentrate very much on what is happening physically, then it's very likely that you are going to loose your thread. It's like riding a bicycle, if you are looking at the horizon that's no problem but if someone crosses in front of you, then your attention goes to that and it's not the same. This shift of attention is what causes most of memory problems.
MB: Yes, doubting oneself, distractions, going back into it.
EF: All this comes from an attitude towards music making really. If you go on stage thinking: All these people came to the concert to listen to what I want to do, to listen to music to enjoy themselves, they are not here to judge me, maybe some guitar students are here hoping for some accident to happen, but that's his or her problem, not mine. But most people are there because they are prepared to like what you do.
MB: ... and those are the people we should be playing for anyway.
EF: Of course, even if they are virtual, I don't mind. You are not going to take a poll of people to ask them why they are here. You have to suppose that they have a positive attitude and you are part of an experience being the instrument by which music becomes concrete in the physical world. Which is a very mysterious thing. If you think that someone thought of this idea for a piece and wrote it maybe last week maybe three hundred years ago and this is not material and you are actually the link in this chain between the composer and the listener. It's a wonderful thing and very mysterious.
MB: Sometimes I talk to my students about what I call perspective on the a piece, how close or detailed or how far one should be. And of course in my usual poetic way I tell them to imagine that they are looking at a big mural on a wall with a farm scene. There are some cows and one just took a poo-poo and then you get right in front of it looking at it very closely, and you ask: What is this mural about? And you say it's about cow poo-poo, but you move further away and you see it's a farm scene. I think with each piece of music we have to see how close or how far we need to be, in order that the music flows.
EF: Yes I agree completely . Actually I think I have both points of view because on one hand music is outside time so you have to pay attention to structure to functions rhetorical functions or whatever, these are all bird's-eye view of music and then you have the moment-by-moment thing which is very important also because that's the way you get to the other, to the listener. The two should be there. This also happens in composing. Sometimes you structure a work from a bird's-eye point of view, but then you have to work it out on the terrain. So, both things should be there and most people are good at one, but not the other. Some people have a very good sense of shape, form of a piece, but they don't make the “why it happens” interesting. They just walk you through the parts. And some people have a very good understanding of what happens moment by moment, this phrase, this color, this note, but don't relate them to the general shape.
AS: How do you put together a program?
EF: Well, you may organize half of a program around one work that you want to shine particularly, so you would put things that would relate to it or contrast it. Once I did a first half that was all about Folias, started with Ohana's Tento, then Giuliani's Variations on Folias and then Ponce. Just for the heck of it, it works. And once I did a half of a program of pieces by guitarist composers...
MB: OK, I'm curious, what did you play there?
EF: I don't remember, but certainly Brouwer would have been there, Narvaez, Giuliani and Sor...
MB: Oh, ok. I was wondering if it was contemporary composers.
EF: I think I played some of my pieces in that program too. Which is very rare, I almost never play my music.
MB: You probably should play it more, I would have liked to hear it. I suspect you play it very well, with a certain amount of understanding of what went into it, and also it would show another facet of your artistry.
EF: Yes, but maybe it's a face that many people don't like. I write very strange music you know.
MB: Personally, I don't think it matters. They may not like it, but they may respect it anyway, and it is an artistic statement.
EF: I find it very difficult to write for guitar, it's much easier to write for string quartet than it is to write for a guitar. Specially if you know it. I mean if you don't know it, it's difficult because you don't know how to work it out, and this happens to many composers, but if you know it, it is also difficult because it's very hard to avoid all the cliches.
MB: I've always had a difficulty with, composers asking me how to write for guitar. I think we sometimes get over enthusiastic and say well the guitar can do so many things, it can do four voices and this and the other. And the composer sits down and says how come I don't seem to be able to write anything that works that way. I think it's almost better to look at it from the inside out and say it's not much that the guitar can do and I think if you look at it that way you can find a lot of freedom. If you can imagine writing for solo violin, it's like that, but you can do more.
EF: I think it's sort of midway between solo violin and piano.
AS: Like simple piano music
EF: Yes, like writing for a left hand piano. It's very simple and every note counts. Every note has to be essential.
MB: That depends on the style of the composer
EF: Of course.
AS: Any pieces that you have not played, but that you would like to play?
EF: Many! Quite a few. This year I'm taking up two works that I've been wanting to do for a long time. One is the Denisov Sonata and the other is Guastavino's first Sonata, which I think are both in different ways very good pieces of music.
AS: They are certainly not pieces that are very often played.
EF: No, and I wonder why, because Guastavino is very accessible. Maybe it's because it's published in Argentina. And nobody knows about it. It's very good music, like Brahms using folk melodies from Argentina. And Denisov's is a very original work, I think it's a masterpiece, very difficult. My wife Ana (Torres) has a wonderful piece for solo guitar also. We recorded it for Decca and I've played it many times. It's about 15 minutes in three big sections, quite difficult, but very accessible. Actually, when I played it in New York in an almost only 20th century music program, the New York Times said that it was the best piece in the program, which included Berio, Takemitsu and others. It's a good piece. She's a very good composer and I've only been able to get her to compose one piece for guitar so far, but now she's working on another one.
AS: Is the CD available
EF: I suspect it's the first CD Decca deleted from the catalogue, being contemporary music...
MB: What seems to be happening a lot in this country, is that radio stations don't want to play contemporary music. I've had a number of situations when I've had recitals and I've been asked specifically: No contemporary music please!
EF: In this country it happens a lot. I think it's very dangerous, it's a form of censorship really. Music has a function in society, it sounds puritan but music expresses something important to people. It's a voice that tells people many essential things and when you don't want to confront this voice something is deeply wrong. Something is completely out of place in the makeup of the society, and it doesn't happen only here. Of course music went through a not very pleasant period in the 50s, but this is over now. People don't write this kind of impossibly complicated music very much any more. I think that if you play a difficult piece for the listener with no warning, without explanations, without context, the listener is going to feel aggressed. Because it's something that might be out of his listening experience. Maybe they have no way of knowing how to listen to that, so you have to give some context and information and program notes and maybe talk about the piece, and this way the reception is a thousand times better.
MB: There are some people that believe that if you have to explain it, it's not working...
EF: This is fine in theory, but what happens is that people are surrounded by music, they are surrounded by tonal easy listening music all the time, in planes, elevators and shopping malls. Your ears are set to a certain type of thing, want it or not. So, if you are going to do something different, you have to put it in context. It's not explaining to put a spin on things and convince people that this piece is wonderful when it isn't, it's just giving the work a fair chance of being listened to. It would be fine if people were not conditioned, but people are conditioned, specifically guitar audiences. If you take someone who has been listening to Piazzolla all his life, and he thinks this is the ultimate achievement of music, if they are going to play even Bach, you have to give some type of context because they are waiting for the drums to come in any time. What has happened really is that audiences have increased incredibly, how many people listened to Mozart or Bach in their time? Maybe you can count them in the thousands, but today it's in the millions. And of course many people come to listen to the music maybe for the first time with a completely different set of expectations. If you watch MTV music is mostly trivial and they make up by visuals or dancing or whatever, what is lacking in the music itself. And if you are conditioned to that, you are not conditioned to listening, you don't know how to listen.
AS: The attention-span of 15 year olds with the video clips with edits every second, I don't know how they can sit down and listen to a classical concert...
EF: It's not good training. And it's also not good training for studying or reading. You can't become a surgeon if you don't have a good attention span for instance... People also have to exercise their judgment a lot more these days than they used to, now we have the Internet, you enter and everything is there instantly. People have to start thinking for themselves which is a very good thing I think. This is good training for listening, very good training.
MB: For a while there, you were bringing out a recording every week it seemed. That must have been so difficult for you.
EF: Well you should know, you know... It was very stressful. I've seen friends like Shinichi Fukuda do that much more than I did. If you turn your back on Fukuda, he puts out a new record. I don't know how it's possible. I spent 10 years of my life just living for the studio. I want my life back, please!
MB: That was very impressive though...
EF: I don't know if it was impressive, I'm not very happy with much of what they did at Decca in terms of sound, I think I'm not very much in agreement with what the engineer did, I'm much happier with Arte Nova in this sense. I have a feeling that I worked a lot and the results were not what I wanted.
MB: How many recordings have you done with Arte Nova?
EF: Only two so far. One of Bach Suites and one of 19th Century works with a period instrument.
MB: Any plans?
EF: Yes many, maybe I'll do some Latin American, or slightly crossover or maybe some Sonatas record.
MB: Slightly crossover...? How slight is that?
EF: Say some Argentinian folk songs by Juan FalÃº...
MB: Are you going to sing on the record?
EF: No I don't think so. But I have a lot of admiration for FalÃº, he's one of my idols because he has this composer's head doing improvisation and folk music and I think it's fantastic. I think there are very few people that can do that.
AS: I would like to know more about the Villa Lobos Etudes you played in the second half, the manuscripts... Why do you play the manuscripts?
EF: I think they are more faithful to the original idea.
EF: Well, there is this manuscript in the Villa Lobos museum which is completely fingered by Villa Lobos with lots of implications that are not in the printed score. And Segovia in the preface to the printed version refers to the fingerings that Villa Lobos wrote and he says that he didn't even think of changing the fingerings even if they are uncomfortable, “...it's what the composer wanted and he knows the guitar very well.” And there are no fingerings in the printed edition, so what Segovia was referring to was something different, this manuscript I think.
MB: But do you think Villa Lobos was the type of composer who would have allowed Segovia to make any changes to his music? Because I don't sense that.
EF: I don't think so, Villa Lobos was very strict with his music and he wanted to be in control of things, but you see the Etudes were written in 1928 and they were published in 1953. That's a long time. There was a World War in between and they didn't meet very much. Everything must have been conducted by mail and there must have been some kind of misunderstanding there. I'm sure.
MB: But do you think Villa Lobos was waiting for Segovia's approval?
EF: Of course not, no, but if you think that Segovia was maybe the only guitarist who would ever hope to play these Etudes at the time, he had a very special place in the music world then. So I don't think Villa Lobos felt bound by Segovia's opinion, but Max Eschig probably would. We don't know the whole story. I would love to see any letters from Villa Lobos to Segovia on this, or to Max Eschig, but they are not published or available.
MB: If I remember correctly, I remember reading a letter from Segovia to Ponce basically saying that he didn't believe in the Etudes anyway, that only a couple of them were worth playing...
EF: Yes, he never understood what Villa Lobos was trying to do and it is not surprising because Villa Lobos was about 50 years ahead of his time in this sense. So I am not surprised by this, but I think that the 1928 version is much more modern than the published version in many ways, and it makes a lot more sense musically I think.
AS: Why is that?
EF: Because it's more faithful to the idea, say in Etude no. 1 for instance, there are no repeats which musically makes more sense. Also in Etude no. 2 all those awkward endings are not repeated. They make sense if they go to the next measure but if you repeat them it is not logical. The section in Etude no. 10 which was suppressed in the Max Eschig edition, I think it's wonderful. The cut made in Etude no. 10 was done very poorly because they should have kept the transition that happens at the end of the second A section of the Etude and what they did was to use the transition to the first section to the B section, and use that into the next pentatonal section. It doesn't make sense. You have to end with a glissando to a determined place and then go to a pentatonic part and it doesn't make sense musically but the original version makes a lot of sense.
MB: What happens after the glissando?
EF: You go to an unpublished section, 35 bars which are fantastic, it's completely Indian music and it makes even more emphasis on the native Brazilian elements of the music. So this is very strong music. Sergio Abreu told me that he thought that Etude 10 was better without this section and maybe he's right, I'm not fanatic about this but I think it is very important to make it known at least. It should be heard and then you can make your decision, I think Max Eschig should have published both versions and leave the player to make the choice. Because this manuscript, when you see it, is so intended for publication, it's so carefully written and everything is indicated, fingerings, dynamics, much more than the printed version. So I think it is a shame that it was not published like that. I don't think they would have done that if Villa Lobos was German. They did it because he was Brazilian. This Indian you know, ok he doesn't know so we do something better with his music. I think there was an element of that.
MB: This is assuming that Villa Lobos himself didn't edit it out?
EF: Yes, of course, I don't know, we don't have the data on this. Maybe Villa Lobos after 1948 he had a heart problem and was in the hospital when this edition came out maybe they said this section in Etude 10 is unplayable it doesn't make sense so let's cut it out. And he said ok, let's cut it out. He had written 800 works in between...
MB: I don't know if it is the last bar or the next to the last bar, in the 2nd Etude, the harmonics, are they clear in the manuscript?
EF: Yes, very much.
MB: What does it have there?
EF: What you do is that you play the written notes normally and you also play with the iÂ?finger the notes behind the finger.
MB: You pluck with the left hand... now I'm going to argue that one for the hell of it. Those notes are out of tune...
EF: Exactly, but you have something quite close to D sharp, D natural.
MB: But if Villa Lobos had never written anything like that anyplace else, how can we assume that this is the right answer to that?
EF: Because he wrote it in Portuguese: “Play with iÂ?finger of left hand.”
MB: It's the first writing of micro tonal music at the time...
EF: Not micro tonal, let's say out of tune music... I don't think he attempted anything micro tonal.
MB: Because that is the reason why I never played it like that, and I had heard about that before. I just could not understand or think of any other examples where he used that.
EF: No, he never used that before or since. But then I think he had in mind very much the example of Paganini playing pizzicato with left hand on the violin and he wanted to do something similar.
MB: Except that these are out of tune..
EF: Yes, but Villa Lobos ate spaghetti with his hands, you can't expect him to be very much refined. So if it was close, it was good enough I think.
MB: Which do you think are the top 5 composition for guitar? Have you thought about that?
EF: I've never thought about it. I don't know if you can consider Bach there...
MB: Let's say originally written for guitar...
EF: Well, Sor's 2nd Sonata is one, Villa Lobos' Etudes for sure, Britten's Nocturnal for sure. These are what I'm very sure about. Maybe La Espiral Eterna as well. That makes four...
MB: You feel that strongly about the Spiral?
EF: Oh yes, absolutely. I wrote an article about it that you can find on my web page.
AS: What about Rodrigo?
EF: Well the Aranjuez of course is a masterpiece.
MB: Do you want to put it as number 5? ...and I grant you the right to change your mind later...
EF: Thank you, sure, let's put it number 5. There are many others though. But I don't think a student should graduate without knowing these.
AS: Do you have any advise to students in general?
EF: Some obvious things that are not usually remembered: If someone is studying guitar it is because basically they want to be musicians. It's not any different than if you want to be a singer or conductor or a violinist, you have to know about music. You should never start a piece unless you feel that you understand what the piece is about, the general shape or form of the piece, do a very specific analysis of what's happening, and get all possible context such as the composer's biography, other works by the composer and so on. It is a lot more fun that way also.
AS: What else are you doing?
EF: I've been doing a research project on learning mostly based on the ideas I wrote out in my book “Technique, Mechanism and Learning.” It's quite radical but I think we have to go back to the basics in many ways. In this research project, we created a group of more or less representative students in the university school of music in Montevideo, 27 students out of the whole group, and I did 4 very intensive seminars with them about mechanism, group improvisation, sight reading and technique. You know, working on specific problems and we have to see how they improve compare to the rest of the students in the school. If it works we implement the ideas into the school program. I hope it works. But even if it doesn't work, we have learned a lot from this. One of the things I learned and which surprised me a lot was that if you work specifically on sight reading, it doesn't matter which level of competence you are at, everybody advances exactly the same! We had people that had maybe two years of guitar studies and people who were in their last year of studies, and they all had the same level of improvement with this. So, it's a skill that has nothing to do with how well you can play the guitar. Sight reading is something that you can develop at any level. For me it was very surprising because I thought that people that were playing at a more advanced level would do better. Two of the seminars were on mechanism and I know they work because I've worked on them with individual students, so I wasn't surprised to see that they worked.
AS: And by mechanism you mean...
EF: I mean basically the set of reflexes that enables you to play the guitar. Mechanism is what you mean when you say: “I play guitar.” How you sit, how you move, how you make slurs, how your right hand moves, this is all mechanism. Technique would be how you use this specific skill to resolve a problem. If you want to make a parallel: Mechanism would be how you learn to walk, technique would be how you learn to run the steelplechase for the Olympics. Technique is more like training for a specific target. Those two things I know they work so that was not surprising to me. Group improvisation was interesting because I worked on basic musical elements in the group, like tempo or dynamics or color, and I had very structured exercises for this. That was interesting. The students who were basically beginners in playing, advanced as much as very advanced students in sight reading. This could mean either that the advanced students were not so good in sight reading to start with, or that sight reading is a skill that it completely independent of competence. I don't know, but we'll find out once we finish the research. Regardless, I think we all should work a lot in sight reading.
EF: It's a basic skill for music making, if you can't read a text well, how can you be an actor?
MB: But sight reading is more than that, it's being able to read it on the spot, right away.
EF: To read and to understand, it's all together. It's not only decoding the part of it, it's also being able to understand what the code means and I think we need to work on that a lot, all of us. It is a basic part of music making, how you relate to a text.
AS: How do you work your memory?
EF: I don't work specifically on memory most of the time. A few times I've had to memorize something in a hurry, and I try to go into the structure very rationally, to map out the piece and try to remember the general shape and modulations. Because I think it's much easier to remember something that you understand, you need less bytes. It's like compression software, if you have to describe something pixel by pixel it takes forever, but if you can define it as set, then it's much easier. The same thing happens with memory. Also repetition plays a part, everybody remembers his or her phone number or social security number or passport number...
MB: You mean everybody remembers that? I don't! You may not believe me, but I do not know our cell phone number. Actually, I have NO idea what the number is. No idea whatsoever, every time I have to give it to somebody, I have to look to see what the number is. I don't remember people's ages or birthdays, except that I am very much aware of people that are turning 50 this year... But, I've finally come to realize in my old age...
EF: Huh, old age...
MB: ... that spending my life going around making music is not the worst thing in the world.
EF: Of course, I think it's wonderful. Everyday I thank my stars on heaven that I'm able to do this and actually make a living out of this.