Interview Carlo Marchione
1) Carlo, could you say something about your most recent projects and concerts? Are there new projects coming soon?
After 2007, which was dedicated mostly to Domenico Scarlatti, during the last few months I’ve immersed myself into the music of, I would say, Mozart & Friends.
That means I can make my dream true to play music by Mozart, which for me is a kind of heavenly sickness, and composers connected to him directly or indirectly, such as Haydn and Paradisi.
I always missed this kind of repertoire which for us guitarists is, in my opinion, the missing link between the baroque and the romantic era, not to mention the beauty and personal enrichment you get from this music. I feel I now understand the music of Sor and Giuliani much better than I did before. By the way, as I already mentioned, the beauty and strength of this music already makes the playing of it and the hard work of transcribing and practicing it, worthwhile. One of the most interesting and exciting of the coming projects will be the performance at the Guitar Festival in Belgrade (Serbia, February 2009). At that occasion I will perform the Double Concerto by Ennio Morricone under his conducting. Furthermore, I’ll also play some transcriptions of mine of famous Morricone sound-tracks, as well as original pieces by his, such as the “4 pezzi, which are written in quite a strong modern style. That’s quite unexpected for those who think Morricone is only a movie composer!
2) I have heard that, apart from giving concerts as a guitarist, you also conduct. Could you say something about your conducting? Of which composers do you conduct works? And what kind of ensembles do you conduct?
Indeed, in 2007 I also worked as a conductor at the Guitar Festival of Niksic in Montenegro. We prepared 2 Divertimentos by Mozart (again!) and the Concerto op.30 by Giuliani. I am not a ‘professional’ conductor, my technique is basically auto didactic and instinctive, but that didn’t seem to be a big problem, at least not for this kind of repertoire. The work we did was more about the musical aspects. I will not even mention the incredible improvements I’ve made as ‘guitarist’ since this experience. I really think conducting should be an obligatory subject for all students at in the Conservatory, even though I know I’ll now have some more ‘enemies’ among them for saying this…
Besides this, in January 2009 I’ll conduct a guitar group of 12 student-performers of my class at a huge Piazzolla Festival here in Maastricht. We will also play music by Ginastera, a very important person in both the musical life and private life of Piazzolla.
3) Apart from studying classical guitar, you have also studied baroque guitar. Did studying baroque performance practices give you an other view on performing guitar music from later periods?
Actually I must tell you that I’ve followed 3 years of baroque guitar and lute courses in the Hague, led by Toyohiko Satoh, more with the intention to deepen my knowledge of the music of these instruments than to learn to play one of them (it is already so difficult with only 6 strings...). Maestro Satoh allowed me to join his classes whenever I wanted to, we could say as a passive participant. He has my eternal thank for his kindness. I learnt so much in those 3 years! What I’ve learnt was, above all, that one cannot approach this music with the same premises one has for music of later periods. At the same time, the contrary is of course also true!
I don’t even think there should be a discussion about the idea that the knowledge of this music is necessary for a better understanding of later styles. In the same way a historician does not start to analyze, let’s say, the modern age without knowing anything about the last 2-3 centuries.
4) How would you describe your own playing? What do you specifically pay attention to when preparing for a concert?
I try to type my way of playing through an expressive mixture of brain and heart. I do not believe that only one of them can be enough to make music. That also means that, in my opinion, the personalities of both composers and player should be preserved in a miraculous balance in a performance. In musical terms, I think music needs a musical frame that the player can leave in order to reach a higher expressiveness, or what we could call rubato in a very wide sense. Therefore, I don’t really like performances where one misses the musical frame and it seems that the only goal of the player is to be as eccentric as possible, or to do things nobody did until then, only for sake of doing something new. My goal is that at least one person in the audience goes back home the next day, thinking ‘wow, that was a really good piece, yesterday!’, I consider this to be the best compliment somebody can give to me as a player. I think we should never forget that the composers give us the banks of the river, the musical text, banks which can be wider or not according to the stylistic conventions and personal way of writing of the composer. We have a large freedom in swimming in this river and we should only go outside the river banks if there is a strong musical or expressive reason.
5) You are guitar professor at the Maastricht Conservatory. Since the time you started teaching there a few years ago it became a popular destination for guitar students. How would you describe your vision on teaching? What do you want to give the students during the years they study with you?
As you can imagine, I try to pass on the vision of music making I have to my students, while respecting anyway for 200% their own personality and personal taste. Besides this, we make a ‘wide work’ around the pieces. I seek to make clear to them that knowledge is not something to be ashamed of, as long as a player uses it for improving the impact and the expressiveness of his playing. To know how one played the rhythm of a ‘French overture’ in the year 1700 or a ‘Sarabande grave’ or how one can use the score of the orchestral version of the Walton’s Bagatelles for enriching the guitar version with colors and, perhaps, more interesting articulations, that is what I mean with ‘wide’ work around a piece. I do not work with people who want to become academics. The goal of knowledge is always practical for me, both as a teacher and player. I must also tell you that my students are my greatest source of inspiration. I think that 90% of the pieces I practiced and transcribed during the last 6 years were done for and thanks to them. So, guys, thank you so much!
As far as my work in the Conservatory of Maastricht is concerned, I would also like to spend some words about all my colleagues who preceded me here in Holland. It is a fact that Maastricht has became a ‘popular’ conservatory for guitarists (thanks!), but that would not have been possible without the previous work of other teachers like Hein Sanderink in Tilburg and, of course, Enno Voorhorst and Zoran Dukic in Den Haag. They rose the interest in guitar playing and the quality of guitar playing in Holland, thus making my work under these fantastic conditions possible. I would like to thank them warmly for this!
6) What does it take, in your opinion, to turn a guitar student in the conservatory into a concert guitarist?
Very difficult question. In the conservatories all around Europe as consequence of the Bologna-agreement, an agreement thought up by people who are not musicians, one has nowadays the, in my opinion, dangerous tendency to puts more weight on the way students can sell themselves, instead of giving them the necessary time to focus on their musical preparation. Very often, Master’s students come to class without having had the possibility to practice during the week because of all of the other subjects or because of their research-works. What I want to say is: what does it help to have a fantastic website, with a sexy photo and target-programs if you don’t have the time to practice? I do really think that the most important thing which can help advance the career of a young musician are his musical and ethical qualities coupled with a healthy view of the business world of his instrument, because I really think that a singer has to do with a very different world than guitarist. Competitions for sure are still a great spotlight for talented players, no matter if they win a prize or not. On the other hand, if a player just wants to earn money and be a big star (I think, without any prejudice, about the Andre Rieu-phenomenon) than it is his choice. I do really think that you can pay the bills while keeping your integrity as a musician.
I always try to make clear to my students that even in the modern times people want to listen to someone who has something to tell them musically.
7) I once asked in an interview whether composing is a skill that can be learned and taught, or if it is more of a natural gift. I wonder how you think about that in relation to the guitar. Is good guitar playing learned or a natural gift?
I am a Libra, therefore I try always to find a balance within things. Of course, I’ve had students like Marcin Dylla and Goran Krivocapic who could learn a piece within a couple of hours without any effort. It really seemed that they could play guitar in the same way in which we clean our teeth, without being in any way superficial in doing it. On the other hand, I’ve had students who ‘learned’, by working like crazy, to make the best of their playing. We should also make a distinction between technique, which is something really anybody without any physical handicap can learn , provided he “simply” has a good teacher, huge motivation, lot’s of time and patient neighbors, and other aspects of music-playing that have something to do with the personal attitudes, education and that seem to depend more on the ‘human nature’ of the student. I must tell you that in spite of all the efforts form both side, I sometimes have not been able to manage to teach a student to play a smooth ‘rallentato’ or to feel the tension of an appoggiatura and the release of tension of its resolution.
8) Do you finally have an advice, tip or encouragement for readers?
That’s a very dangerous question. I always have the feeling that in such cases I might say something useless, or something that people have already heard 100 times! Therefore I’d like to quote a sentence by Paul Degas, which matches perfectly with my philosophy as a human being and musician: “To have talent being 25 years old is fantastic. But to still have it when one is 50, that’s the true challenge of life”.