If you were to single out one particular recording that had the biggest impact on your work, which one would you choose?
It would be unfair to single out one recording. I would prefer to single out a generation! The generation I would call “The Greatest Generation.” This generation starts with Rachmaninoff and ends with Rostropovich. It includes many Russians in between. People like Gilels, Oistrakh and Horowitz but also Kreisler, Heifetz, Ricci, Rubenstein, Isaac Stern, Rudolph Serkin and of course Wanda Landowska. Then come two who were my most important mentors: Ralph Kirkpatrick and of course Andres Segovia.
If there was one single recording that ended up being pivotal from all the gallery of these great people it was by chance (not by choice!) one recording of Segovia’s, called Three Centuries of the Guitar, an old Decca 33 LP. By chance this was my first Segovia LP and therefore became the most influential recording of my life.
It began with the now somewhat obscure baroque guitarist Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739), carried on through with some slight studies of Fernando Sor (1778-1839), a Sonata by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), the Fandango by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999), some works by another baroque guitarist, Ludovico Roncalli (1654–1713) an aria of which was used by Respighi in “Antiche Arie e Danze,” and ended with Enrique Granados’ Spanish Dance No. 10.
I can still remember this LP because seemed to speak of better and grander worlds than the one I inhabited. It spoke with a voice veiled in the gossamer mist of the gods. I had to follow that voice, had to find its source. Little did I suspect the long path that was thus begun through the magic of Segovia’s art.
How has this recording influenced your own way of performing?
I always loved Segovia’s capacity to make magic out of little, and I loved the scope of his repertoire which stretched back into the 16th century. I loved his way of reinventing things in his own way. Back then this was the voice of GOD to us guitarists. Now we can listen with more perspective perhaps, yet his achievement remains remarkable.
I have tried in my own way to maintain the glory of the great romantic tradition while adding some things with the pizazz of today that Segovia would possibly not have been able to accept: works by Robert Beaser, John Corigliano, George Rochberg, Kurt Schwertsik but also works from the more dissonant side of the contemporary music world by Luciano Berio, Cristobal Halffter, or Hans Werner Henze. Like Segovia I have worked with contemporary composers but have arranged and transcribed a lot of music from the past as well. More recently I have been transcribing music by contemp. composers as well such as Rochberg, Corigliano, Berio and C. Halffter. Some of these transcriptions are I am sure!!! destined to become repertoire pieces for the guitar.
Nonetheless, music for me still comes from the voice and from the dance. I have less patience with music that is generated by composers’ mind games and mathematical calculations…altho there is often a very cerebral aspect to a lot of great music. On the other hand I don’t like air headed music that is only created out of instrumental cliches either…so I am always looking for my own version of the golden mean Segovia so brilliantly found for those 80 years he bestrode the concert stage.
So I remain very much part of Segovia’s artistic progeny although as one able to enjoy “die Gnade der späten Geburt” I was born late enough to make use of the knowledge created by the great musicologists of our own age and to exalt in dissonant works written for me like Berio’s Sequenza XI .
Do you think that a recording like the one by Segovia that you mentioned would have sounded as good if the recording technology back then would have been the same as it is today? In other words, is part of the charm, that these performances were truly live in the sense that almost no editing was possible?
No, the LPS I am talking about were edited as well! I know this as I myself also made a recording with Israel Horowitz, who produced most of the great Segovia recordings I grew up with. Iz told me when we were recording the CD called “Guitar Fantasies” that they even cut out squeak sounds on occasion. But for sure Segovia wasn’t the one to do little bits of takes. He did lots of complete takes instead. I am similar to him in this preference by the way! I always wear out the recording engineers because I do so many complete takes and not much patching!
But for sure the way of recording has not improved. Today we may have a more clinically correct sound but many times today the sound is less good than it was in the past. There is too much obsession with numbers and technical measurements and not enough use of the ear. The big old fat ribbon mikes may have had slightly less definition but their inherent sound was to my ear often more beautiful than today’s automatic sound. Today’s CDs sound to me like always using the lighting of the sun at high noon when sometimes you might want candlelight or the light of a sunset or anything with a little possiblity for some genuine magic. The equivalent of a harsh overhead light in sound is not necessarily a more accurate sound. The human ear has taken a million or more years to evolve through the inexorable wisdom of nature. How is human technology going to better the ear in a few decades?
Interview by Matthias Röder