Interview with Giacomo Susani (May 2015)
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 came across the guitar during a summer camp when I was 7 years old and I was immediately fascinated by it. So I started to take lessons in a little music school in my town. I was fortunate, however, to be part of a family which listened to, and knew, classical music. My grandfather was Antonio Pocaterra, first ‘cellist of the Teatro alla Scala, and many other members of the family, on my mother’s side, were leading musicians. It was therefore almost natural for me to be passionate about music and go on to study it.
There are two instruments that I usually play: a 1926 guitar made by Domingo Esteso, a Spanish guitar maker (and with which I recorded the CD), and a 1995 guitar made by David Rubio, an English luthier. I have had the opportunity to try various instruments, amongst which was also a Torres guitar. (Torres is described as the Stradivarius of the guitar.)
The guitar is an instrument with extraordinary sound qualities and there have been luthiers who, with their instruments, have been part of its history, enriching it with communicative meanings. Instruments able to produce often unimaginable sounds for many overrated contemporary guitars which, today, are the most required. My personal sound research relates particularly to the knowledge of the history of this instrument and to the instruments of high quality lutherie.
What was your musical training, with which teachers have you studied and what impression they left in your music?
My first real teacher was Paolo Muggia, who was, in the 1970s, the first guitarist to teach at the Pollini Conservatory in Padua. I have studied with him for five years, after which I entered the Pedrollo Conservatory in Vicenza, which I chose because Stefano Grondona was teaching there (and still does). I had already heard several of his CDs and I was deeply fascinated by his sound.
How does it feel to be the first Italian to win the Julian Bream Trust?
I am naturally very proud because it is an important recognition but I am, above all, very pleased because I have had the opportunity to meet Julian Bream and play for him (I am going to see him again at his house in Tisbury at the end of this month, to show him the studies that I have done this academic year which has now finished.)
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, 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 find myself in agreement with this statement of Berio and this, my first CD, demonstrates it in the choice of programme. The knowledge of classical music and its complexity are fundamental to being able to understand, interpret and create music; the diachronic and synchronic vision of the discipline is a basic requirement for a musician.
How did you get to record your first cd with the Italian independent label Stradivarius? Why did you choose that repertoire, it seems you like to move between different ages …
Before leaving for London I wanted to make some recordings to establish the point I had arrived at in my studies, before the new adventure. I discovered that Marco Lincetto was making recordings near my town . He also owned a record company, the Velut Luna, which has as its mission to produce very high quality classical music audio recordings. And so, in May 2014, for four days continuously, we recorded the tracks.
Following this, around October, I had the opportunity to improve some editing passages with Andrea Dandolo, from the Stradivarius, who proved to be very interested in my music and agreed to publish my work. And thus we completed the work and in February the CD came out.
The choice of tracks (in fact I recorded a few more than those published), as I explain in the CD booklet, is that of musical works from the Baroque period and the Twentieth Century, distant in time from each other but closely linked together, belonging to a sort of musical “absolute” and perfectly suited to return what is an idea of sound, of my sound, with my guitar, today.
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.?
In Michael Lewin’s guitar class at the Royal Academy there is a part of the course which is called Fingerboard Harmony, in which we work on improvisation and elaboration of pieces, even though not originally for guitar, taken from the Baroque (creation of a continuo and improvisation on it), jazz and contemporary repertoire. It was a new experience for me which, at the start, left me a little perplexed and which, on the other hand, enthused me. Tackling the study and reinterpretation of some pieces (amongst which the Sonata for violin and continuo no.1 by Vivaldi and many “classics” of standard jazz) I realised in practice what I said before, that is how some compositional rules, some harmonic forms of the classical repertoire, survive and are assimilated and consistently transformed into modern music, and also of how the ability of the interpreter/composer to recognise and “tamper” with it is a fundamental part of the path to the understanding.
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 …
In interpreting composers’ music, the error I mean is the misunderstanding of the sound and musical content hidden behind the few symbols of a score which must produce the rich and complex world of the piece of music. It is my constant worry and the most complicated but also the most fascinating part in the imaginary dialogue which exists between me and the musical work when I study. The easiest error to make is to give up on the musical complexity and let oneself go along with the easy, immediate way of playing a piece. I believe that errors which create unexpected surprises in a positive way can occur, but I would say that when that happens it is more usually due to digressions, attempts or experiments. Not errors. We are talking about music, art, poetry, the sensitive world in short, not about rigid methodological activity. They are therefore part of the game. In each case they are, purely because they are unexpected and cannot be predetermined, part of the wonder of the music.
If you had to choose, who is your favourite composer to play?
It is a difficult choice… Amongst the composers for guitar I would say Fernando Sor for the Nineteenth Century, Alexandre Tansman and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco for Segovia’s repertoire, Benjamin Britten for his unique Nocturnal; naturally, even if we play transcriptions for lute, I cannot miss out J. S. Bach! Although restricted, in comparison with other instruments, the guitar repertoire includes some very beautiful and often unknown works. Outside the guitar repertoire, Lewin’s course this year also offered me the opportunity to transcribe some pieces and I really enjoyed transcribing a Fuga by G. F. Händel, the Season June by P. I. Tchaikovsky and Capriccio n.4 from I 24 Capricci by J. P. J. Rode.
I have, sometimes, the feeling that in our times music’s history flows without a particular interest in its chronological course, in our discotheque 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”?
The relationship between past and present, ancient and new is an important question, in music as in any artistic field. I reply by quoting from memory a phrase written by a musician which, in my opinion, summarises its essence: “One is great only through what one manages to achieve. A work cannot be created with materials that did not exist before its accomplishment”. M. Ravel.
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?
The times in which I live are ones of rapid, immediate communication. Even one’s visibility can be quick and rapid. But I believe that phrases like “if you are not on the web you are no-one”, in the sense of being “clicked”, seen, followed, taken as being confirmation of success, are of little consequence. To be on the internet, like deciding to make a CD, is an action which I believe one must fill with some content, otherwise you risk being swept away by the current which the internet itself produces or, worse, conforming to an idea of sensationalist music, built on the drawing-board, by the “star system” or slogans such as “the Mozart of our times”, and that however is often only a distant relative of music. I have no agents, I have no promoter. I have no time to think of marketing strategies. That will be a future problem, for now I don’t even have the time to practice….
Which composer (or which historical movement) do you think is easiest for the non-musician listener to appreciate? Do you think they enjoy pieces that are more technically difficult or just more “flashy”?
I have been able to ascertain in some of my concerts that any members of the public, even those uninitiated in musical culture, are potentially able to appreciate fine music. Not necessarily easy, catchy or virtuoso music. I am certain that if appropriately published (i.e. “played”, and maybe even “explained”) classical music could have many opportunities to make itself known for what it really is and become part of a collective heritage of knowledge.
Please tell us five essential records, to always have with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island ...
1) Sergiu Celibidache – Brahms Symphonies
2) Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli – Debussy preludes
3) Stefano Grondona – Sin Palabras
4) Glenn Gould – L’Arte della Fuga
5) Giacomo Puccini – La Bohème.
With whom would you like to play? What kind of music do you listen to usually?
I love to listen mainly to classical music, not only guitar repertoire; Baroque music and the music of the Twentieth Century are for me an inexhaustible source of interest, pleasure and growth. I also love to listen to some contemporary music composers (from Philip Glass to Ligeti), often drawing from the production of film music, which is also my other great interest in the musical field: at the Academy this year I followed analysis courses of music from outside Europe and orchestration and I was able to compose and orchestrate a lot and yet, even before entering the Royal, I had various experiences in the field of composition in general (I followed pre-academic courses at the Vicenza Conservatory) and for films (I composed some soundtracks for short films and theatrical plays). What I said at the start of the interview, the essential relationship between classical and contemporary music, in this specific field of film music it is expressed in all its deepest necessity.
Your next projects? When we will see you playing in Italy?
In the next few months I have various examinations at the Academy and, as I said above, I have to play for Julian Bream and, perhaps, a guitar competition in London. I think I will spend a large part of the summer with the guitar, taking part for the second time in the course at Chigiana in Siena, with Oscar Ghiglia, and a Masterclass in Valtellina with Laura Mondiello, where I also hope to be able to perform in some concerts. In the longer term I have other recording plans in mind and also I am always looking for opportunities to play in concerts. And then enlarging my repertoire and naturally studying at the Royal Academy which, I found out this year, is very demanding.
And when there is the opportunity for a concert in Italy, I will welcome the chance to return there!