10 questions asked by Louise Rodgers, published in Veritas to mark the first performance of The Alternative Guitar at the Queens Hall in Edinburgh, May 2007, which featured the premiere of Kenneth Dempster's Sanctum .
1. Tell me about Cuba I played a series of 4 concerts in Havana, Cuba in 2002. I was chosen to represent Glasgow (I was studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama at the time, doing my MMus) for the occasion of Glasgow's twinning with Havana. It was a fantastic trip as it is a very unusual country, very musical and the people are very friendly. I met and played for Fidel Castro's brother Ramòn (Finance Minister) and composer Leo Brouwer, probably the greatest living composer for guitar, which was a real highlight. One of the pieces I played for Leo Brouwer was his own Variations on a theme by Django Reinhardt, which is part of the forthcoming Queens Hall programme The Alternative Guitar.
2. Do you think its fair to say that hot countries have cool guitar music? Er, not necessarily.... However, it's fair to say that most Hispanic/Latin countries have fantastic guitar music, particularly Brazil, Spain, Cuba and Argentina.
3. What's the difference between rock guitar and the styles you play? Good question. Well, electric guitar is a quite limited stylistically in comparison to classical guitar. I play a diversity of music that a rock musician probably couldn't even comprehend. To give you an idea of the range of music I perform, my solo repertoire alone ranges from Renaissance lutenist John Dowland, Latin American folk music, Baroque sonatas, pieces written especially for me by Scotland's foremost composers of today, one of the most violent two minutes of music ever composed, by an Argentinean composer, music from the time of Chopin and Liszt, a piece for guitar and digital delay and guitar by an Australian composer, originally written for a garage rock band...and so on. If I also say I have a duo, ¡Canto vivo!, with opera singer Claire Debono (a fellow Napier alumni) and that I recently founded a cross genre collaboration called Camerata Ritmata with three of Scotland's finest jazz musicians (including Napier bass tutor Mario Caribe) you can see that its pretty varied. Another huge difference is that classical guitar is generally a self accompanied instrument. Whereas a rock guitarist needs a band, a classical guitarist has to imply a melody, accompaniment and bass line... simultaneously! Therefore the music is much more challenging, emotionally and technically. That's the main reason an electric guitarist uses a plectrum and a classical guitarist uses all his fingers to pluck the strings. There's also the closeness of the performer's body to the sound on an acoustic classical guitar, whereas the sound of an electric guitar comes from an amplifier, a mechanical box.
4. Have playing techniques changed over the last ten years? In the last 10 years not a huge amount, as that's a very short period of time. Over the last thirty years they have a lot. The classical guitar has only existed in its present form since the late 1700s so, in comparison to many other instruments, its technique is quite young and there is still quite a bit development to come, I think.
5. You're a highly qualified musician, so why have you collaborated with Ken Dempster instead of writing the new work 'Sanctum' yourself? Well, the first thing to say is that, whether I composed or not I would still ask Ken to write me music as he is great composer whose music I love and who writes very well for the instrument, which is rare. As to why I don't compose, the reason is very simple. I used to love composing and actually treated it as a second study during my undergraduate days, studying with Ken. However, as a freelance guitarist I have a lot of pressures on my time from teaching to updating my website, writing press releases, generally promoting myself, deciding future projects... oh yeah, and practicing 5-6 hours a day! Therefore, I just don't have the time, which is quite sad.
6. Are any influences apparent in 'Sanctum'? I'm not sure I would pinpoint influences but what I would say is that Sanctum is a very dramatic work, full of mercurial contrasts from tender to impassioned to aggressive. It has quite an improvisatory, stream of consciousness feel to it. Although obviously written by a present day composer it is also a particularly emotionally charged piece that allows the performer to communicate very directly to an audience, not unlike a work from the Romantic period. I think it is a major addition to the repertoire and have no doubt it will be in my repertoire for a long time.
7. How did you resolve any differences of opinion during the compositional process? The old fashioned way... we stripped down to our boxers and wrestled like sumos. Only joking. There were no differences of opinion! When I played the piece to Ken for the first time we discussed a couple of very minor details that he decided to tweak, but that was all. For the piece to fit so well on the instrument speaks volumes about Ken's knowledge of and feel for the instrument.
8. What inspires you as a performer? Hmmm... this is where I should get all pretentious and talk about sunrises and waterfalls. Witnessing a great performance. Playing well. The energy of a packed audience. Talking to audience members after a performance. Seeing a student progress and do well. Beauty in all its manifestations... I can feel a soliloquy to a sunrise coming on so will stop there.
9. Do instruments have personalities? If you are asking me if I talk to my guitar, call it by a name, let it watch its favourite TV programme, sleep with it, etc, then no, as that would be a strong sign of illness. If you are asking if all instruments are different and distinctive then yes, of course as at some point it was a centuries old tree and therefore a product of nature.
10. What's next for you? After the Queens Hall I'll be playing The Alternative Guitar all over Scotland: Peebles to Aberdeen, Inverness, Glasgow, Fife and many other places. I'll also be performing with ¡Canto vivo! and touring the Highlands with Camerata Ritmata. By the time I've done all that I'll no doubt be working on my next project... whatever that may be.