Interview with Geoffrey Morris by Andrea Aguzzi (July 2010)

The first question is always the classic one: how does it start your love and interest for guitar and what instruments do you play or have you played?

Like so many guitarists of my generation I was first attracted to the guitar through Rock music. In fact I played rock or jazz up until my 18th birthday and only then did I have the chance to study classical guitar. I think I didn’t learn to read music until i was 16 years old. I did study piano as a young child but I hated it. These days I play baroque guitar, 19th century guitar, modern classical guitar and very occassionally, the electric guitar.

What was your musical training, with which teachers have you studied and what impression they left in your music?

I was very lucky to study at the Victorian College of the Arts with Jochen Schubert who was a classical guitarist who emigrated from Germany to Australia in the late 1960’s. He gave me a real passion for exploring the instruments repertoire in a very broad way and he had a much better attitude to new music than most classical guitarists. Once I finished my degree I went to Europe and took lessons in new music from Stefano Cardi in Rome and Magnus Andersson in Stockholm. They were very different musicians and it was quite a culture shock for a 21 year old. I think in many ways I have learnt the most though through being an avid listener of recorded music of all genres and by being a constant researcher of texts written on the guitar from the renaissance on.

How did stat your interest about the contemporary repertoire, and what are the stylistic currents in which you recognize yourself most?

As a student Leo Brouwer’s studies were a great eye and ear opener. From there I went to the recodings of Julian Bream particularly the Royal Winter Music by Hans Werner Henze. After a few years I managed to start working with the Elision Ensemble and this brought me in contact with the music of Franco Donatoni and of the English modernists such as Brian Ferneyhough. I’m not sure in what ‘current’ I recognise myself although I certainly feel very far removed from the new romantics or at least those composers who seem to so well exploit the growing gulf between new music and the audience by writing psuedo- pop music.

Berio in his essay “A remembrance to the future,” wrote: “.. A pianist who is a specialist about classical and romantic repertoire, and plays Beethoven and Chopin without knowing the music of the twentieth century, it is also off as a pianist who is specialist about contemporary music and plays with hands and mind that have never been crossed in depth by Beethoven and Chopin. ” You play both traditional classical and contemporary repertoire … do you recognize yourlsef in these words?

Early on in my playing career I only played new music. I think it is really bad for performers and now my interests are so broad that it can at times lead to a kind of paralysis through too many choices. I no longer want to play recitals which are only new music at least not at the present. The idea of study, research and following a consistent musical journey is in many ways more improtant to me than performance. I think the idea of playing a broad repertoire represents a desire on the part of the artist to experience the full history and breadth of their repertoire.

Let’s talk about marketing. How much do you think it’s important for a modern musician? I mean: how much is crucial to be good promoters of themselves and their works in music today?


Well I’m terrible with this. The website I have was part of a prize I was awarded but I’m sure that self-promotion is probably crucial at least to those who are trying to perform all the time. There will be musicians who are better at promotion than playing! But I guess that we have to hope that quality wins out in the end.


What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possibile to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?.?

I use improvation a lot in my teaching and I am very interested in improvisation in early music but I am not so interested in improvisation in new music or ‘free’ music only because I have heard a lot of it and it seems a field in which doing it is a lot more interesting than listening to it in most cases. Having said that I love the CD of Pat Methany and Derek Bailey live together. But coming back to early music I love the use of improvisation or division as it now rememerging amongst lutenists and others. It allows for a very personal performance.

Listening to your music, I noticed the quiet serenity with which you approach your instrument regardless of repertoire, from whom you are playing, the composer, the instrument that you use always showing full control both technical and emotional, how much important is to work on technique to achieve this level of “security”?

The guitar is a very ‘technique’ heavey isntrument. You need to be on top of and always open to development. I don’t think the technique I now have is even remotely related to the technique i learnt from my teachers. It comes from playing chamber music…having a good conductor point out things about your playing…projecting within a mixed ensemble…accompanying a good singer. These things push you. There are some guitarist in Australia who are completly obsessed with technique though. To the point of a kind of vanity overiding musical expression and purpose. Anyway if I have a goal in technique it is to be able to change and adapt to the repertoire and the instrument I am playing.

It Seems to me that there is a small music scene about classical guitarists dedicated to an innovative and contemporary repertoire, as well as you come to my mind the names of Marco Cappelli, David Tanenbaum, David Starobin, Elena Casoli, Emanuele Forni, Marc Ribot who played John Zorn music … shall I speak about a music scene? Are you in contact between each other or operate independently? Are there other guitarists you know and that you can suggest us that they move on these musical routes?

I have had a lot of contact with Elena Casoli. In fact I organised a concert for her here in Melbourne. It was great and she is a terrific player. Seth Josel is a great player who works mainly with the electric guitar and Jurgen Ruck of course. There are lots of good players of new music now which is as it shoud be. Because I am on the other side of the planet though means I am very isolated which is at times a big problem. My new music practice in Australia has nothing to do with the guitar scene here. In fact I lead two quite seperate lives!

You have played with Maurizio Pisati for his Teathre of Dawn, what do you remember about that experience?

I have been playing Maurizio’s music since 1993 when he composed Dercialet for Elision. I have played his sette studio, arrangements of music by Scarlatti and Sciarino and heaps of other chamber works three with film accompaniment. He is a really interesting composer and I think one of the few who have really combined compositional technique and skill with a truly indiginous understanding of the gutiar. His “Theatre of Dawn” is a wonderful work and needs to be presented in a major festival and given some real support and i believe the audience for the work could be excellent.


I have realy enjoyed your recording about the guitar music by Aldo Clementi, how did it happens to you to record those music and how is your relationship between Mode Records?

My wife was studying lute with Paul Beier in Milano during 2001 and I came over and spent three months with her in Italy. I had played many works by Clementi both chamber and guitar pieces and wanted to play to him while in Europe. Gabriele Bonomo heard my CD ‘In Flagranti’ and was instrumental in putting me in touch with Aldo and helping me commission him for a new solo work. When I returned to Australia I recorded the solo peices on the back of other more commercial projects through the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Daryl Buckley from Elision was very helpful and he organised the chamber recordings including a piece Elision had commissioned from Aldo back in 1992 and he also took the recording to Mode.
Aldo is a masterful composer and such a fantastic ‘thinker’ on music. Many of his views on modern music I share. Soon I have an article on his music coming out in Contemporary Music Review for those interested.

I have, sometimes, the feeling that in our times music’s history flows without a particular interest in its chronological course, in our discoteque before and after, past and future become interchangeable elements, shall this be a risk of a uniform vision for an interpreter and a composer? The risk of a musical “globalization”?

I don’t think we are really in risk of a kind of artistic ‘globalization’ in our field because it is already so far outside the mainstream of popular music practice. In some ways being almost irrelevant or at best hidden from the wider musical public allows a certain freedom in terms of direction, interpretation etc. On the plus side things like the internet have made communication so easy and this can be great in the exchange of ideas and especially so in education. Growing up in Melbourne meant that I very rarely got to see top artists perform live but now I can just send my students to Youtube to hear and see great players.

Luciano Berio writes “the preservation of the past has a negative sense, as it becomes a way of forgetting music. The listener will get an illusion of continuity that allows you to select what seems to confirm that same continuity and censor everything that seems disturbino”, What role can take music and contemporary composers in this context?

In terms of programming recitals I now prefer the idea of mixing different musical era in a recital because here in Australia the audience for specialist new music events has really dwindled for notated contemporary music but has grown a lot for improvised music. I think by very careful programming an artist can illuminate the musical continuity that Berio spoke of. In terms of expanding our knowledge of disturbing elements to the musical cannon, those elements can be the most exciting areas to explore but this takes knowledge of performance practice, musical history and the ability to be accross the repertoire in a way that was previously not required by many performers.

What do you think about the discographic market crisis, with the transition to digital downloading in mp3 and all this new scenario?

Well mp3 could be a good thing but I still really like the older format in terms of the information in programme notes and the artistic aspect in packaging the disc. I understand the issues with illegal downloading though and who knows what the result of this will be long term.

Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island …

Frank Sinatra and the Count Bassie Band Live at the Sands
Ives Ensemble plays Morton Feldman TRIO
Anything with Jose Miguel Moreno on it
Anything with Paul O’dette on it
U2 The Josua Tree

What are your five favorite scores?

Franco Donatoni Algo
Morton Feldman The Possibility of New Work
Vaundry de Saizenay manuscript
Sylvano Bussotti Ultima Rara
Maurizio Pisati Sette Studi

Whith who would you like to play? What kind of music do you listen to usually?

I guess when considering who I would most like to play with I think I would always be considering from whom could I learn the most? Probably Jose Miguel Moreno. Presently I listen almost exclusively to early music but my listening habbits go in cycles.

Your next projects? When we will see you playing in Italy?

I am currently mastering a CD of Latin songs with the English tenor Tyrone Landau and a CD of Australian contemporary music which is a compilation of radio recordings. Andrea Tacchi is currently making me an alto guitar so I may come to Italy early in the new year to pick it up but it terms of concerts I’m not sure. I have a young family so at present I travel very little.

The last question …. the Blog Chitarra e Dintorni is read by several students .. any good advices to give them?

Listen very widely, try to find a new avenue to explore in your repertoire and in terms of technique work towards the most tension free approach. Playing as much chamber music as possible is crucial though. Not only will it sharpen your performance skills in an absolutly essential manner but will also put you in contact with working musicians!
Thank you very much!