On the couch with Andrew and Ariel, MGF podcast episode 2

Michael:               Welcome to the second edition of the Melbourne Guitar Festival podcast. Firstly, I’d like to say a very special thanks to our concert supports Old School Audio, Dainton beer, Delinquente wine, CutCommon magazine and the Luthiers Lounge.

Michael:               Today on episode two we’re joined with Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi as they prepare for their upcoming concert for us on March 9th. So we’ll dive straight in to the questions now and we’ll just go live.

Michael:               Welcome. We can see you.

Andrew:              Hello.

Michael:               Thanks a lot for joining us today. We’ve got Ariel on the left and Andrew on the right. You’ll be doing a concert for us on March 9th at Parkville, at 7:00pm with further details at MelbourneGuitarFestival.com. We did a shout out to our subscribers and they’ve submitted a bunch of great questions for us today. So we’ll just kick things off and jump straight in to this first question from Josh.

Michael:               And he asks, “I’d be interested to know, and interested in your insight too playing in MGQ Michael, is that given the classical guitar is traditionally a very solitary and unaccompanied instrument. Do you feel it’s important that all classical guitar students participate in chamber music early on as part of a well balanced musical education?”

Andrew:              I would say absolutely, yeah, definitely. Apart from the things it teaches you about just playing music, like you can’t have bad rhythm really and play well with others, and gives you another insight in to learning music. But it’s just so important to learn to listen to others and be able to lock in. It’s a fundamental musical skill so yeah, I’ve got to agree.

Ariel:                     Yeah, I agree as well. I think there are a lot of very kind of competent guitar players in the kind of technical and soloistic sense, but often they’re not the best chamber musicians. You want to develop that skill, just like every other aspect of your playing. Without it, I think your possibilities as a musician are far more narrow. I think just being able to work with other musicians, to play in ensembles is incredibly important to opening up your opportunities.

Michael:               Definitely. I’m just going to pause for one moment because I’m getting a little bit of an echo. I think we have the audio on in the background. I’ll just turn that off and we’ll go back to the live video. I definitely agree with you as well. I know guitarists … Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of playing in orchestras and things like that. Yeah, I think it’s great what you’re doing and what a lot of other guitarists are doing, is just expanding from the solo instrument and trying to get as much chamber performance as possible.

Michael:               We’ll move on to the next question from Tom. And this one is, “One special question to Andrew if I may. Can you share some of your guitar teaching discoveries form your PhD thesis/research?”

Andrew:              Ah well. Let me think about this. You know, because I’m not kind of … project isn’t quite at that stage where I can just neatly give you some sort of findings so to speak, so these are just preliminary observations. But a couple of things that might interest you is because I’ve heard people remark on the technical ability of a lot …

Andrew:              So I mean for people that don’t know, the PhD I’ve been pursing for the last couple of years on classical guitar pedagogy. I’ve focused on case studies on Timothy Kain, a guitar teacher who taught at Canberra for a long time, and still does some private teaching there. And Judicaël Perroy, who’s sort of a famous teacher now teaching in San Francisco and taught in Paris for quite a long time. He’s quite well known for teaching a lot of competition winners and that sort of thing.

Andrew:              A lot of people particularly remark about the technical ability of a lot of Judicaël’s students. But also I’ve heard, believe it or not, people also comment on the technical ability of ANU guitar students as being quite impressive. I think probably the thing that would surprise people is that in my observation of … Although I haven’t done case studies on any teachers other than Tim and Judicaël, it’s my observation that they’re so much more, if I could say music focused that technically focused, which I think would surprise people considering the kinds of results that tend to happen.

Andrew:              So it’s something about the way I see what they do. Remember this is just like my preliminary sort of thoughts about it, they’re not developed in a systematic thing, but it’s that they’re really focusing on developing the musician in you and kind of the ability to clarify your mental thoughts about how you’re going to interpret and form a piece, and the way that kind of connects to your instrument in an integrated and fluid way so that you can just play.

Andrew:              And then … yeah. I don’t know if that really makes sense. But it’s not like you do two hours of exercises a day and then you’re going to play technically brilliant. It doesn’t work that way.

Michael:               Unfortunately, because that would … It would still be hard work but at least we’d have a clear route to get there. I’ve got another question from Raul and he asks, “Where do you think you can find more new source material for guitar duo; in the transcriptions of classical composers or in solo guitar compositions adapted to a guitar duo?”

Ariel:                     I’d probably say listening to the likes of classical composers. There’s obviously an enormous amount of great music out there. The trick is just knowing what will work on two guitars, so having an ear for that.

Ariel:                     But I think Andres Segovia once said in this little article he wrote for Guitar Review, that if a piece can gain an expression and a colour on the guitar, it’s not only kind of possible that a transcription should be made but it’s mandatory. So he really thought we should be transcribing the pieces that would work on our instruments, which I think is quite cool.

Ariel:                     I think adapting a solo guitar piece to two guitars could be a little bit musically unsatisfying. You won’t necessarily have a proper bassline or a very detailed melodic line. And then you’ve got all that spread across two guitars so it might be a bit boring. It might be a bit better if you were able to find a piece that’s been reworked by the composer for two guitars. So say like Nigel Westlake’s Mosstrooper Peak or I don’t know. There’s probably others out there, I can’t think off the top of my head.

Andrew:              I mean in a similar way I thought MGQ’s reworking of William Walton’s Five Bagatelles was really interesting concept of taking a solo piece and kind of expanding it out. And then probably, I don’t know, probably used that concerto as a bit of an inspiration. Was it a concerto or?

Ariel:                     It was a concerto or something.

Andrew:              I think that’s an interesting concept.

Michael:               Definitely. Raul also asks, “Do you think that one of the major advantages of playing music in guitar duos, is the possibility of having a one to one musical confrontation and create a dialogue between both guitars beyond the typical arrangement of solo with mere accompaniment? Which of the works you play allow for this stance?”

Andrew:              The Tango Suite does that a lot. Yeah, so that’s Tango Suite, it’s sort of a piece in three movements by Astor Piazzolla. And that does a lot of part swapping where one person has a bit of an accompaniment and the other person has the solo. And that’s really, truly fun.

Ariel:                     And often you’ll find that the rhythmic patterns or the accents and I guess the groupings of the meter in both parts are different at the same time. It kind of creates its own little conflict. And they have, I guess, different musical intentions or something.

Andrew:              Absolutely, yeah. I think that’s something I would love for us to strive for, is to find as much conflict between us as possible, in a way, because that’s where all the interest in music comes from. Dissonance is conflict. If a whole piece was just consonance and metrically expected accents and that kind of thing, it would be totally boring. It’s all the other stuff that makes music interesting.

Andrew:              So I think the more we can find the way our parts oppose, probably the more interesting our performance would be.

Michael:               And we have one more question from Raul. He asks, “Traditional compositions written for guitar duo, as works from Giuliani and Sor are not often played. Do you think it’s necessary to create a new repertoire based on the advanced technical playing of today’s guitarists?”

Andrew:              Oh, a loaded question.

Michael:               Yeah, it is.

Ariel:                     I’d probably say that there already is a so-called advanced repertoire with the modern technique in mind. There’s the Piazzolla, there’s the Rodrigo Tonadilla, there’s a piece by Bogdanovic – that’s a sonata of some sort. Pierre Petit wrote a couple of pieces, very virtuosic. Brouwer’s written stuff, Sergio Assad’s written stuff, Houghton has three guitar duets. Yeah, so there’s a fair bit out there that’s already drawing on I guess a more advanced technique or something. But it would be nice to get more music.

Andrew:              If I could jump in there as well I’d like to … I find that an interesting thing that frequently comes up as well when people describe technique as having advanced compared to the past. I just think that’s an interesting concept to talk about as well, in and of itself. Geez, I mean a lot of the Giulio Regondi repertoire from the 19th Century, that’s like unplayable to most. I mean a lot of professional guitarists do not want to get up and play a Regondi piece in concert because it is so difficult.

Andrew:              When they do they tend to play maybe the Intro and Caprice, or some other stuff. What else is there? Yeah, there was … I think there was tremendous virtuosity in the 19th Century and the 18th Century and all that. We just don’t have recordings to prove it. We’ve got recordings from the early 20th Century I guess. I’m not too experienced in listening to that stuff. I don’t know. I would question the assumption that our technique is vastly superior to what it used to be. It might be different, and there might be different purposes in mind.

Michael:               Excellent. The next question is from John. “I would be interested to know how they go about choosing a repertoire for a concert. Do they have a process?”

Ariel:                     It’s hard to say really. I think a lot of the pieces just come because we have kind of similar interests. And over time they kind of develop themselves in to a program that’s kind of … That kind of adds up to a nice whole concert. I don’t know. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Andrew:              Well, I think we’ve both wanted to have the right reasons for including whatever pieces we happen to be including. I think it’s mostly just coming down to what we enjoy playing and what’s going to be also enjoyable for the audience. In a sense, always coming back to that and not trying to be too clever that we’re doing this original piece that someone doesn’t play or that kind of thing.

Andrew:              We’re just thinking, at a fundamental level, if we went to a concert what would we like to hear? What kind of balance between fast and slow, and virtuosic and you know. What do we want to hear as concert goers and what do we enjoy playing? And then just putting those two things together.

Michael:               This might be a good opportunity for me to ask you to perhaps describe a little bit about the program that you’re going to be performing for us on March 9th, and how you chose that repertoire for this particular concert?

Ariel:                     I think, correct me if I’m wrong, we had variety in mind for our program. We’re trying to find pieces from all around the world, so different musical cultures. I think there’s so much contrast from each piece that we go through in the concert, or each bracket if you like, in terms of style. I think that’s going to create a more interesting and engaging concert as a whole.

Andrew:              Well somehow it’s worked out, and I saw someone had asked a question related to this later, but somehow it’s worked out that our program is sort of paying tribute to a lot of the great guitar duos around the world. So we have borrowed from arrangements and pieces made famous by guitar duos such as the Abreu brothers, the Assad brothers, John Williams and Timothy Kain, their album.

Andrew:              We were also, for a time, inspired by Presti Lagoya and yeah, we’ve drawn on quite a lot of guitar heroes of the past and their work, and it’s quite interesting to see how they’ve conceived of arranging and performing for two guitars.

Michael:               Great. And are there any pieces in particular that you’d like to tell our audience what you’ll be playing at the concert? Or do you want to keep it more of a surprise for them?

Andrew:              It doesn’t need to be a surprise. It’s going to be a 60 minute concert straight through so it’s not our full program but … And we haven’t actually discussed exactly what we’re going to do but I’ve got a feeling it’s going to include Rameau, it’s going to include Piazzolla and I’m not sure what else, probably some Debussy.

Ariel:                     Houghton, obviously.

Andrew:              Houghton, yeah. That’s probably the program right there.

Michael:               Excellent. Our next question is from Rob and he asks, “Being in a string quartet was once described as marriage without sex. Is the same true of being in a guitar duo? And how much do personality factors make a difference to the music making?”

Ariel:                     It’s true. Do you want to answer the second bit?

Andrew:              What was the second bit?

Ariel:                     How do personality factors contribute to-

Michael:               The music making?

Andrew:              Pretty essential. That’s a really interesting thing as I’ve developed as a musician and when I get to know people and you just start to see how their personality really shines through in the way they play.

Andrew:              I suppose we would probably really only be able to work if we, in some way, actually appreciated the other person’s personality.

Michael:               Excellent. The next question we have from Jim, and he asks, “Given each person’s strengths,” I think we’ve covered this already, ” … strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, how do you choose repertoire?” I think we’ve covered that with the other questions.

Michael:               The next one from Jim is, “How do you choose what parts each person plays?”

Andrew:              Sometimes one of us has a burning desire to play a particular part because it’s got some melody that one of us just wants to play, and then we just do it that way.

Ariel:                     If it’s got fast, im scales, he plays that.

Michael:               That sounds like us with the Melbourne Guitar Quartet. If there’s any difficult bits, we just give that to Dan McKay and say, “Good luck.”

Andrew:              We fought for a little while who was going to take what part in movement three of the Piazzolla. I’ve got to say that was like neither of us wanted to take the hard part.

Michael:               The next question from Jim is, “How do you deal with creative and interpretive differences?” So say if you’re in a rehearsal and one wants to play it one way and the other wants to play another way, what do you do? What process do you do in deciding what actually happens at the end of the day?

Andrew:              I’m happy to jump in with an immediate thought which is, and this has been new for me as well because I haven’t … You know, I probably haven’t worked with another musician as closely as with Ariel, I’d say, sort of as intensively. I’m just starting to realise that sometimes it just takes time and you just have to let an idea settle or mature and yeah, some things just get better over time and they don’t need discussing.

Andrew:              Or like you might try one thing, and you’ve just got to try it for a while. After a while you sort of realise whether it’s going to work or not. I don’t know, that’s my immediate thought.

Ariel:                     I think also the best thing you can do if you have a creative difference is just explain why you want to play something a particular way, like what basis do you have for that. I then if either of us can explain that successfully then hopefully we can broaden each other’s interpretive outlook a little bit, and then kind of come to an agreement on how we interpret some kind of passage or section of a piece.

Michael:               Great. The next question is, “What makes a great guitar duo?” Also from Jim.

Andrew:              Probably in some ways just the same thing as makes a great soloist or a great quartet or orchestra or whatever.

Ariel:                     Those things, plus I guess the ability to synchronise well and to come to a kind of coherence within the duo.

Michael:               I guess one other point I could interject with this, is perhaps how does playing in a guitar duo, or making a guitar duo really in sync, how does that differ to the string quartet in terms of the attack on the guitar because it’s a very immediate instant stroke of the note and immediate sound response. Does that play a factor in …

Ariel:                     Yep. I think you have to be pretty precise on a lot of those ways to pluck the strings together. And that’s … Yeah, there’s lots of kind of micro queues throughout the performance and no kind of guessing where the other player is, something like that. Listening-

Andrew:              It can be quite remarkable though, when you are just listening to each other. The fact that the note, the loudest point is the beginning of the note. So you know, if you’re just the tiniest split second difference, you’ll notice. Whereas, maybe if you have an instrument like a wind instrument or a bowed instrument where the sound blooms a little bit more you could kind of feel your way in a little bit more.

Andrew:              With the guitar it’s so exact. But what the amazing thing is, actually if you’re really listening and really in tune with each other, often you can just get it bang on so much of the time. And I find that quite amazing actually, if you think about the kind of precision that’s involved. But a lot of it can just be fixed by listening.

Michael:               The next two questions are also from Jim, he had quite a few for you. This one is, “How do you know you inspired your audience? And does it matter?”

Andrew:              Yeah, that definitely matters.

Michael:               I guess they buy lots of CDs at the end.

Andrew:              Or they tell you. Sometimes they make noises from the audience.

Ariel:                     You usually just kind of feel it if they’re engaged or not. They’re giving you energy back when you’re playing, somehow play better as well when they’re inspired.

Ariel:                     What was the second part of the question again?

Michael:               Does it matter? I mean I guess does it affect you, say if you do a performance and if it’s in a large hall and perhaps you don’t have that intimate response from an audience. Does that affect things?

Ariel:                     It can yeah. If you’re not feeling a warmness you can of sort you can tense up with it naturally, I think.

Andrew:              But I sort of think with that question as well, if they’re not inspired they’re probably not enjoying it. If they’re not enjoying it, that’s not good for us and it’s not good for the music because people can be turned off concerts I think, quite easily. So you want to leave an impression just for the sake of music.

Michael:               Another question from Jim is, “How do you keep each other motivated?”

Andrew:              I don’t think we try or have to try. We’re both just individually motivated to begin with.

Ariel:                     Yeah. I think maybe … I don’t know if it’s related but looking at how far we’ve come as a duo, even just looking back to our old concerts, you know half a year ago and how we’re playing now, I think that’s inspiring. And then thinking like ahead and thinking about the potential that we might have or something, it can keep me motivated and working harder.

Andrew:              I get a bit of a rush out of a good concert, or you know just those moments in a concert where you’re really in to it and you just do some phrase just absolutely how you want, and it sits in the room perfectly and everything. I get a kick out of that stuff and then when I’m noticing there’s more and more of those moments happening, then that’s pretty good.

Michael:               The next question is from Susan. It’s in two parts. I think we’ve pretty much answered the first part previously in what are the challenges and advantages of playing in a duo? Her second part was, “In the concert arena are solo guitar performances more common that duet performances?”

Andrew:              Are they?

Michael:               Yes.

Andrew:              Yeah, they would be.

Michael:               Definitely, by far.

Ariel:                     I think if you looked at the average guitar festival you would get 10 soloists and maybe one duet or something.

Michael:               Matt asks, “Touring is often fun, rewarding and exciting, however can sometimes be difficult. What is the hardest thing for you on tour?”

Andrew:              For me, I don’t feel there’s an individual thing. But maybe it’s just the accumulation of a lot of little things. A lot of little discomforts, a lot of … perhaps a poor diet or if you’ve got a lot of … If you are away on tour and having to do a lot of travelling, yeah the exhaustion that can come with that.

Ariel:                     I find it a little bit hard as well to get in all the practice in order to maintain the playing of that sort of stuff. A lot of the time your spending driving, and then socialising with hosts and concert presenters and emailing ahead so everything’s organised for the next place.

Ariel:                     Sometimes you don’t really get a chance to warm up before a concert, which can be a bit of a challenge. But we came up with a bit of a solution, we just practice a little bit in the car while the other person’s driving.

Michael:               Great. And you just recently did a tour of New Zealand, and you’ve been playing a lot of concerts throughout Australia. What was the highlight or your New Zealand tour?

Andrew:              There were so many, there are always. Maybe a few of my favourites were … We did a concert in a museum outside Christchurch, and just the audience was so keen and they just absolutely adored the concert. And it was a beautiful space, we really enjoyed playing there as well. And that was just a really great experience. We actually had a really pleasant time staying around and chatting, having a glass of wine with people that were there afterwards, and yeah, that was really fun.

Andrew:              So many of our hosts over there were just really generous and great fun, showed us things and introduced us to things. We have a lot of stories now from New Zealand, which are quite funny and … yeah.

Michael:               Any of those stories in particular that stand out, that you want to share with us? Or maybe after a couple of drinks after the concert.

Andrew:              The only thing we could …

Andrew:              We tried warm goats milk straight from the-

Michael:               Straight from the udder?

Andrew:              Well not directly from the udder, but transferred in to a portable vessel and then … Yes, that was … And just as we were taking it in our mouth, the host informed us that apparently it’s the closest thing to human breast milk, which I have to say did not make it any more appealing.

Michael:               All right…. Excellent….. Thanks for sharing that Andrew. We’re nearly at the end of the questions so … The next two are just about types of guitars. I’ll say both of them and then I’ll let you answer. So the first one from Josh is, “What are your opinions,” this is a very popular question, “on lattice versus traditional built guitars?”

Michael:               And then we have a question from John asking, “I would be interested in their comments on the importance, or otherwise, of matching instruments or providing contrasting instruments in their duo playing.”

Ariel:                     A little hard to answer the whole lattice versus traditional thing, because there are good examples of lattice guitars and there are also some really bad ones, but I think the same goes with traditional guitars. But we both play Greg Smallman guitars, so we obviously like the lattice braced instrument for the properties that it has, like enhanced resonance and volume, and colour and all those sorts of things.

Ariel:                     So yeah, I guess we have guitars that are fairly similar already. They’re four years apart, mine’s 2010 and Andrew’s is 2014, and they do sound a little bit different. And then on top of that we play sort of differently as well. We have different tone colours naturally, our sound is generally quite different, which kind of is a good thing I think. Like we have our own kind of contrast, but within the Greg Smallman aesthetic if you like. Yeah, so it’s a good thing.

Andrew:              I think particularly with a Smallman instrument, I haven’t really tried it, but if you did a lot of guitar playing with someone who is playing a vastly different traditional instrument, I’m actually not sure how well that would line up, because they are quite different and you do sort of approach things musically and you have different, you know, timing priorities and things you’re trying to do.

Andrew:              For one thing, the Smallman has such a kind of one the note, every note is like a slow bloom kind of thing. Other guitars, the note is very instantaneous. I wonder what that would be like trying to put those two sounds together. It could work really well, I don’t know.

Michael:               Interesting. Actually our last question was one that you referred to earlier, we’d previously answered this, it was about how you were influenced and inspired by the work of other guitar duos. You were mentioning Presti Lagoya and that earlier. So I’d just like to finally ask if there’s any other things you want to share with our audience before you come down for our concert?

Andrew:              On that guitar duo note, the one other thing that’s been really interesting and exciting about studying the work of past guitar duos, it’s like just listening and thinking about the various musical decisions and the way they made tone colours and made it blend with each other, and also the fingerings they would use because you might have one passage but it could be fingered any number of different ways right and left hand, having slurs to introduce, where do you introduce them, all that sort of thing.

Andrew:              I think both our approaches, but certainly speaking for myself, I haven’t just taken a score and let my own absolutely, only my own fingerings, only my own musical conception. I’ve sort of gone back and sort of looked at what did they do in that passage? And then I try it for myself and try to work out why did they finger it like that? Does that work for me? I might try it for a little while. I might change this or that. And it’s just been a great learning experience to think about why they play things the way they do, and how they do it, and then out of that make my own decisions.

Michael:               Excellent. Do you want to add anything there Ariel as well?

Ariel:                     No, I agree. I think you have heaps to learn from the great duos from the past, and the present ones as well. There’s a lot of guitar duos doing some cool new things. Like SoloDuo, Kupinski Duo playing fantastic new arrangements of different pieces like Beethoven sonatas and things like that. Just realising that can work on two guitars and not sound trivial or something. It’s inspiring.

Michael:               Great. Well thanks very much for joining us today, this afternoon. I know I’m really looking forward to hearing your concert and it will be a really great event I’m sure. We even have some special new stage lighting we’re going to unveil at this concert, so that’s really exciting. It will be a really nice mood in the auditorium. And of course, like all our concerts series events, it’s a pay what you like ticket model and that includes the complementary catering beer, wine and cheese as well at the end of the concert.

Michael:               Thanks to Dainton Beer and Delinquente Wine. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you everyone for joining us today. And we’ll share the replay with our subscribers as well. And we’ll see you on March the 9th.

Andrew:              Thanks Michael. See you at the concert.

Ariel:                     Thanks very much, see you then.

Michael:               Thank you.

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