Interview with Sante Tursi by Andrea Aguzzi (May 2010)

The first question is always the classic one: how did start your love and interest for the guitar? What instruments do you play?

I have started playing guitar simply because there was one in the house of my parents (a rather badly off model to say the truth!); in the beginning I was above all curious from the fact to be able to play a polyphonic instrument…transportable! In the first lessons – that I got by a private teacher – I developed the plectrum technique and I learned the most common harmonic chords. Soon however I started to look for something else, even if I didn’t know well what; the chance he introduced me ti classical guitar when one day I saw an older student playing using the fingers of the right hand; so I decided to also study the technique of the classical guitar. The fact to be able to use four fingers instead that only one plectrum seemed at that time me an enormous progress that would have meant the opening of new and boundless horizons. I can say that the love for the guitar sprang from that simple episode – besides it was just a simple exercise on the empty ropes; in that time, my first months of study (I was to the thresholds of the adolescence) what fascinated more me it was the real physical-tactile feeling to be able to produce sounds with my hands the guitar.
As it regards my instruments I currently play, I alternate substantially a 1979 Bernabè and a Scandurra of the 2001.

You have graduated to the Conservatory in Bari, your native town and you have studied for three years as scholarship in the Accademia Chigiana in Siena getting 3 diplomas with Oscar Ghiglia, what memoirs have you about this teacher and his school?

I must specify that with Oscar Ghiglia I have studied further three years frequenting the courses that he imparted at the Musik-Akademie of Basilea, where I have achieved then the Solisten-Diplom. What struck (and it still strikes me) me about his didactics is the great job of analysis of the score in all of its components and the great attention for the melodic, harmonicas and rhythmics relationships inside the formal structure, arriving sometimes to a real (ri) discovery of the composition that I had in front of me. The most important thing of his teaching is therefore the equilibrium between the severe decoding of the score and the mental opening of the interpretation. Then the job on the color of sound or on the choice of the most appropriate sonority for one determined musical period. All of this was translated, at least for my experience, in an explosion of interpretative liberty inside the (obvious) respect of the written text.

To weigh on my training I would also add the particular creative atmosphere, both the Chigiana and the Akademie, that favored and the mutual enrichment among us young students coming from so many different countries.

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 yourself in these words?

I would not want to sin of conceitedness, but that is what I have always think. The man is a thing that lives inserted in a temporal flow and doesn’t exist any human activity that doesn’t originate from preceding experience; what we know today is already only the result of the repeated transformations of a yet given material. Contemporary music cannot be fully understood by the interpreter (but, I would add, even from the listener) if the repertoire of the preceding epochs is not assimilated. A whole series of “gestures” sonorous of today’s music are anything else other than ri- elaborations of preexisting material, thing that it doesn’t certainly escape to a careful and prepared ear
Besides, really because of these thin relationships, the knowledge of the music of the ‘900 can also vivify the interpretations of an expert of the Baroque or classical-romantic repertoire. Our same sensibility ch’ange in time and therefore the way to play Beethoven or Chopin, to make an example, evolves not only together with the evolution of musical practice but also of the whole cultural climate of the society. It’s in this sense that the interconnections between present and past they impose the necessity, as Berio says, of a global knowledge of the repertoire

How did stat your interest about the contemporary repertoire?

I have always had a strong interest for the contemporary music, since the years of study in the conservatory; the type of path that I have followed has been the logic consequence. I have always thought that the contemporary repertoire, less tied up to stylistic conventions in comparison to that classical allows a sort of expansion of the creative energies of the interpreter and a funding of his/her own artistic personality; at least, this is what I try in front of this music. Naturally I’m far away to affirm that the repertoire of the preceding epochs de-strengthens the interpreter (and in every case my choice to perform contemporary music is not radical; I continue in fact to also perform the traditional repertoire); simply I think that the interpretative attitude becomes less bound and, therefore, freeeer.

How have you been to play the studies by Maurizio Pisati and which are the difficulties that you have found?

I have performed the studies of Maurizio Pisati at the International Festival of Guitar in Lima in March 2006 within the project “Sonorous” (whose artistic manager is the composer Nicola Sani) patronized by the CEMAT a meritorious institution that deals with the diffusion of the Italian contemporary music. In that chance I have also played “Attended” by Paul Rotili, “Olas” by Caterina Calderoni and the “Sonata” by Stefano Taglietti, three works commissioned by myself and to me kindly dedicated.
The Studies of Pisati, that I think are one of the best and more results expressions of this genre in contemporary music, explore instrument’s new potentialities; the same term brings us in the direction of the sonorous search and the exploration of the technique. Close to the “traditional” staccati, pinched, harmonic sounds are also asked for rubbings of the ropes with the left thumb, “smothered”sounds gotten through the light backing of the left finger on the rope, percussions, glissati; it is in short a sort of “ri-creation” of the guitar in which the sound is developed on more dimensions. I would say however that the greatest difficulty, beyond the technicality, resides in to englobe this sonorous vision inside the formal lay-out, in way to develop a coherent and flowing discourse. I hope to have succeeded!

In Youtube’s channel there are three videos while you are playing the three movements of the Guitar Sonata by Stefano Taglietti to you dedicate, do you want to talk to us about this piece and his composer?

Every movement of this sonata has in reality a subtitle that renders explicit the idea that is behind it, in the order: “Ian Curtis voodoo”, “The slow young’s prayer” and “Final.” The first tempo is inspired to the famous singer of the Joy Division that during the concerts exorcized the fear for his possible epileptic attacks with a sort of mimic ritual; from here the extreme eclecticism of the writing that alternates paroxysm and quiet. The second one is a sort of slow blues that gives very well the idea of concentration and meditation. “Final” is built on the bicordis beaten with continuous dynamic changes that flow in the conclusive liquefaction of the sound; what remains at the end is a last bicordo in pianissimo. It’s an interesting work.

You have played live Olas by Caterina Calderoni and Sonata by Giampaolo Bracali, do you want to talk us about these pieces?

“Olas” is one of the first pieces for guitar by the Milanese composer Caterina Calderoni (a good work I would say!). The piece is a sort of intersection among resonances of empty ropes and “noises” gotten stopping the vibration of the ropes with the left hand. The title (“Wave” in Spanish) postpones above all to the central part, in which the accumulation of different sonorous masses suggests a “wavy” effect.
The “Sonata” by Giampaolo Bracali is written in the four classical movements instead (Preludio-Scherzo-Corale e fuga- Passacaglia; in reality it seems anymore a Baroque suite). The contemporary writing perfectly adapts here to the traditional form in a continuous tension between past and present. Very beautiful the Choral and fuga, to my opinion, but the whole composition has a breath that makes it great piece for the guitar’s 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?

Promote ourselves and our own job, especially in musical field, it’s always been conclusive, not only today! I would add that the quality of our “commodity” is the best form of marketing, in commercial terms. Undoubtedly are also necessary a certain assessment of the Market, the analysis of the territory, a good ability of relationship but, in last analysis, the quality always wins (almost)

I have noticed in recent years, a gradual rapprochement between the two aspects of avant-garde music, the most academic’s one and the other side the one brought forward by musicians far away from the classical canon and from areas such as jazz, electronics and extreme rock like Fred Frith, John Zorn, the New York downtown scene and some electronic music labels such as Sub Rosa and the Mille Plateux influenced by the thought of Deleuze and Guattari. What do you think about these possible interactions?

I think the whole possible good of it, the main point is that they have to be intelligent operations and of good taste. The interaction, in all of its forms, can be considered a distinctive line of our times; the today’s cultural climate, apart some repressive “regurgitation”, allows and facilitates the meeting among the differences and therefore also the approach and the fusion of very distant musical genres.

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, Seth Josel, Marc Ribot who played John Zorn music … shall I speak about a music scene? Are you in contact with these musicians? Are there other guitarists you know and that you can suggest us that they move on these innovative musical routes? Are you in contanct or do you move independently?

I believe that we can talk about a musical scene, intending with this term a group of interpreters that entirely or partly devote themselves to an innovative and experimental repertoire. The contact between us depends above all then on the chances we have time to time; even this blog can contribute to create a project that see us all involved!

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.?

Improvisation in the contemporary musical search is surely one of that aspects that it contributes to free the creative potentialities of the interpreter, as I has said before; rather I would say, that is the liberty tout court! It’s a kind of practice that, used especially in the Baroque and classical past, has been taken back by the avant-garde of the ‘900 (to not speak about jazz). I think it’s a very important aspect of the training of a musician of our days and I believe that is ha sto be deepened and also studied inside an academic path of studies.

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

Working on technique is fundamental in the sense that you cannot play a good interpretation without this solid base. I would add that it must be also a continuous job, along the whole artistic life of an interpreter, without however that it becomes a goal but rather a mean to build an alive and fanciful execution.

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

I am extremely favorable to the most capillary possible diffusion of the culture the art, with any possible mean. If, quoting Dostoevskij, “beauty will save the world”, then it is important, rather necessary, that the world is reached by this message. Internet and the new technologies offer in this sense a powerful and “democratic” medium for global sharing of music and art.
Certainly there is the copyright’s problem but I believe that a solution can be found, sooner or later.

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

I revolve the question proposing a fan of choices (I would not really decide for only five records!). Following my personal taste I would say: the Mahler of Bernstein, the concert of Ravel by Argerich, a selection of air of work interpreted by the great voices of the past, any recording of Carlos Kleiber, the same for John Coltrane.

What are your five favorite scores?

If we speak about guitar, then: Chaconne by Bach (I know, it is a transcript, but I like it the same; -), Nocturnal of Britten, Sonata omaggio a Boccherini by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Royal Winter Music by Henze, Variazioni sulla “Folia”by Ponce.
The blog is read by several students … any good advices to give?

Above all… hard on! 😉 Apart the wisecrack, I believe that the best suggestion is that, obvious, to keep on studying with appointment in way always to beprepared; the career is very often built beginning from chances (share to contests, meetings, etc.) that produce other chances that to them it turns others they produce of it and street following. A thing however I feel to warmly advise: it doesn’t need to surrender to the temptation to entirely propose programs with a “light” or “tear-applause” approach, because on the long way it doesn’t produce anything else other than habit and therefore indifference; besides such attitude is estranging the guitar from the most important seasons, relegating it in a sort of musical ghetto. It’s important instead, according to my opinion, to propose an original and innovative repertoire and that also involve the great works of our literature.

Whith who would you like to play and what would you like to play?

I would like to play with whoever (not necessarily a guitarist) has a vision of the music open to the new one and a desirous mentality of progress. As regards who to play, would like indeed if Henze would compose a new piece for guitar!

Thank you very much!