Interview with Alvaro Henrique (August 2016)


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?

I was a very shy teen. So shy I was ashamed of greeting my school colleges “Good Morning” every day. Some friends of my father advised him to enroll me on a guitar course to overcome my shyness. However, back then “playing the guitar” meant to me strumming chords and singing pop songs on a fire. I never liked that, so I never accepted his invitation to learn the guitar. But one day I went to make a group school work at a friend`s home, and he was hosting a cousin of his who studied the classical guitar. I never heard the expression “classical guitar” before, and would like to hear what this so called “classical” guitar sounded like. Then I heard for the first time nylon guitar playing melodies with the fingers. That is way more cool than strumming pop songs, and when my dad picked me up I told him I would accept the challenge to learn the guitar only if it were the CLASSICAL guitar. It was just love at first sight!

Like everyone from a low income family – my father was a driver -, I started playing a cheap manufactered guitar. My first handmade guitar was a gift for being approved at the Bachelor in Music at the University of Brasilia. It was a Dornelas, a Brazilian luthier. It costed half of my father`s monthly payment. I got some gigs organized by foreign Embassies and I could afford an Alkis guitar – I got in touch with the work of this Greek guitar maker on a summer festival in Bath Spa (England) I got a scholarship. This was my main instrument for years, and I recorded my first CD with it. In 2006 I bought a Jorge Raphael guitar – my favourite Brazilian guitar maker -, and in 2011 I bought a Simon Marty guitar previously owned by Franz Halasz, my professor back then. Franz somehow motivated me to play Early music instruments, and I owned for some time two Roberto Gomes period instruments – a lute and a romantic guitar. I sold this instruments to Fernando Mattos, a professor from Porto Alegre, Brazil, and later I purchased a vihuela, a baroque theorboed guitar and a romantic guitar from Hughes Boivin, from France. I’m waiting for a Gernot Wagner guitar I ordered some years ago. 

How have you studied and with whom? I saw you are very interested about contemporary guitar music, how is the situation about it in Brasil? Are there composers devoted to guitar?

My main guitar professors were Zilmar Gustavo Costa, Alvise Migotto, and Franz Halasz. Zilmar were the guy who led me during my first years, were very patient with a troublesome teenager, and made me love the guitar. Alvise was the guy who taught me what is professional guitar playing, and Franz was the one who made me a musician. I also had lessons with other guitar professors, but I have to thank most and foremost these ones. Fabio Zanon`s guidance for some months was also very important to me. I also enjoyied ANY opportunity to play at masterclasses, study in summer and winter festivals, and this mosaic of knowledge one learns from dozens of masterclasses helped me be who I am. I also was very lucky to have good music professors, like Bohumil Med, who made me think  on the music more than to think on the guitar.

The guitar offers amazing opportunities for composers. Which other instrument features so often works from living composers on its programms? Many composers enjoy this, and also the many virtuosos Brazil has produced – the Assad brothers being the best example – comission and compose new works.  every day. I dare to say Brazil has a national and idiomatic guitar style that can rival Spain. Probably we are the only country which can do that. And there is much more here than the stereotypical repertoire most people know.


You have made a record, a cd called Suite Candanga, featuring compositions written for the 50th anniversary of Brasília, playing works by Mário Ferraro, Jorge Antunes, Carlos Alberto da Silva and Louis Moreau Gottschalk, can you talk to us about this record and these composers?

In 2009 I was living in Germany, and Brasilia was going to celebrate its 50th anniversay in 2010. I would like to make something to honour my home town, my beloved city. Brazil, like other countries, has serious challenges regarding corruption and political misbehavious. But many Brazilians truly believe the cause of corruption is not bad voting decisions, but the city of Brasilia itself – can you imagine a Russian blaming corruption on Moscow, or a US American blaming it to Washington? I need to do something to improve the self steem of Brasilienses (that`s how it`s alled someone born in Brasilia), and also to make Brazilians aware that Brasilia is THEYR capital, so theirs as it is mine.

I invited some composers to write for the occasion. Carlos Alberto da Silva was the first one to write something. The construction of Brasilia lead to the “Spirit of Brasilia”, a feeling of hope that Brazil would overcome his problems, for a third-world country build such a capital in 4 years is an enterprise few nations can do. This spirit is somehow gone, and da Silva’s “The Reconstruction of Brasilia” aims to remember that feeling. It quotes the melody of the Brazilian Flag’s Anthem. Mario Ferraro was the second one to compose. His Little Suite from Brasilia remembers Frank Martin`s Quatre Pieces Breves, and is based on a folk song much appreciated by Juscelino Kubstchek, the president who built Brasilia. Then Jorge Antunes wrote an ambitious piece: a 50 movement-work for guitar and tape which every movement is related to some important historical event which took place on each year of Brasilia. It features JFK’s murder, the man going to the moon, the Vietnam war, and some horrors from the Brazilian military dictatorship. This work is still in progress, and Antunes is writing new movements.

After receiving  the three new works, I would like to make my own hommage to Brasilia. Since I’m not a composer, what could I do? Then I thought arranging for the guitar Gottschalk`s Grand Fantasia Triomphale on the Brazilian National Anthem would be a way to honour the capital of all Brazilians, and the first modern city considered by Unesco a World Heritage of Mankind.

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

Music entered in my life as a way to express what I was too shy to say. Therefore, I want to communicate with music. There is a lot of room for improvisation in classical music, specially on Early and Contemporary music. However, just like no one raps a Shakespearean sonet, no one improvises music with such meaning as a well-though piece. I prefer saying with music the most meaning as possible. I`m more into playing music that touches people than music that is just spontaneosus. But I have many colleages who improvise well and with a great deal of fun and good results on the classical music, specially with live eletronics and other technological means .It can be very fun when you use unexpected gadgets, like a wii joystic for real-time improvisation with live eletronics.


What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises…

Making mistakes on the learning stages of a work is as important as not making them. Mistakes show what you have to improve, and they can be your best teachers. But since I want to say things through music, I can be very frustrated if I don`t play the message I want to… Dealing with it is is a daily lesson of humblenes and also the cruel essence of being a musical performer. Leonardo da Vinci had all the time he wanted to paint and retouch every stroke he used on his paintings. We have to paint the Mona Lisa on real time, every day, and making it perfect always. 

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?

Marketing, promotiong, selling, booking, is part of being a professional musician. One can outsource that, by hiring or signing up with booking agents, PRs, press agents, or one has to do that oneself. Some people are lucky to be born in Sweden, play a couple of concerts on their home town, and then his/her career is on its path to success. Some people are born in third-world countries, in a poor to reasonably well family,and have to work hard to make sure the spotlight can bright a few seconds on him/her. That`s life as a musician. 


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

Kazuhito Yamashita`s Pictures of an Exhibition and the Firebird,
Franz Halasz` Bach CDs,
Cecilia Bartoli`s SAcrificium,
Nikolaus Harnoncourt`s complete Beethoven Symphonical Works,
Janine Jansen`s Mendelssohn Concerto recording.

What are your five favorite scores?

I could live a happy and fulfilled life playing Villa-Lobos, Bach and Giuliani. I will choose Villa-Lobos`Preludes,Bach Sonatas and Partitas BWV 1001 to 1006, Bachs`s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, Giuliani`s concerto and Grand Overture.  

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

 My dream is to play with Janine Jansen and under Gustavo Dudamel`s baton. I am currently presenting a classical music program on a radio which broadcasts all kinds of music. I am forcing myself to bring a lot of variety to my audience, so I listen to everything on the classical world you can imagine. I have also some phases.. The last one was unnacompained violin. From Biber to premieres.,I was willing to hear anything for that orchestration. Thinking well, I’m not sure I got out of this phase completely yet… 😉

Your next projects?

I am working on a complete solo guitar recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos – I just finished the recording, now it’s time tochoose the best takes. I’m also working on a DVD which I play music from the Renaissance to modern days with period instruments. I’m very proud of this project, as it has an educational goal first and foremost, and it will be a fun DVD to watch. I’m also looking for financial aid to record 4 of the 5 guitar concertos I have premiered so far – one, Jean Goldenbaum’s concerto “May All Dictators Fall” for guitar and guitar ensemble, is already recorded.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you, and I wish each one of your blog readers keep the music on his/her heart. And also bare in mind music goes on because of world of mouth. If you like my work, if you like anyone`s work, spread it to your friends and family.