#Interview with Heike Matthiesen (January 2014) on #neuguitars #blog

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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?

There is no this one moment when I fell in love with guitar, I grew up with piano and opera music, my parents working in the opera. But from early childhood I was fascinated by everything connected with Spain, I listened to Flamenco already as kid- and my first classical guitar recording were the Boccherini Quintets played by Pepe! We had an old simple guitar hanging on the wall which always attracted me.. like almost every beginner here in Frankfurt I started then with a Hopf guitar. Today my favourite guitar is my Gioachino Giussani which once belonged to Pepe, she is the guitar I feel safe with on stage, unbelievable projection but for many people not that convincing from upclose, so I started late to record on her. It is a dangerous temptation to follow your wish to collect every guitar you like because you just can play one at a time… For my guitar duo I bought last year a copy of a guitar by Thumhard from 1810 built by Herb. It is a great thing that you can choose your “voice” by having more than one instrument, but in the moment of truth you will always choose the same instrument you feel home with to have the biggest freedom for music on stage.

What was your musical training, with which teachers have you studied and what impression they left in your music? I know that you are .. “devoted “ to Pepe Romero ..

I started late, my first guitar lesson with 18- and immediately started with one of the best teachers available, Professor Heinz Teuchert, known from all his editions and his guitar school. I have played piano all my life, was surrounded by music, so Professor Teuchert later confessed that he wanted this “interesting case of a guitar beginner who already was complete musician”. One year later I started to study at the Hochschule, then I studied with his son Michael Teuchert and finally made my artist diploma with Thomas Bittermann.
Already while being student I started to take superregular masterclasses with Pepe. Before I met him I was a chamber musician, I played plucked instruments in the opera orchestra in Frankfurt and thought there is no way to make it into solo guitar world with my extremly late start. He changed me into what I am today!
There are many good teachers where you can learn to play guitar and to be a good musician, but there are few who can teach you to be stage player, how to prepare for concerts, how to survive in this business and on stage, all this “mental” tools you can learn to feel home on stage. And he was giving this knowledge in public masterclasses.. sometimes students asked after a lesson they listened to: What were you talking about????? We talked about where to put you mind and your consciousness while playing, practising and performing..

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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?

Of course.. I never stop learning and discovering music. I am mostly known for being specialists for Spanish music and my Mozart-pieces but of course I LOVE to play contempory music. My Dyens disc was the first entire Dyens-CD not played by himself. And I just commissioned a nice collection of new pieces by guitarists/friends for a future program.
In German market it is very difficult to sell programs with living composers or those not longer dead than 70 years, the GEMA is protecting the rights of the composers so well that these kinds of programs can get quite expensive for smaller venues- so they ask for programs free of this charge. So I play much less new music than I would like too. I always felt being part of history and with this a responsability: my teachers learned from theirs, and all our pupils will pass knowledge to theirs.. so I don’t like the thought that I might have met the Beethoven of guitar from nowadays and not having realized it or even worse ignored it. I would love to meet him/her.. or maybe I already did? Future will tell!

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.?

I am terrible improviser.. but my goal is to play on stage like if I am creating/composing/improvising this particular piece at the very moment. It is always like playing it the first time.
I have lots of respect for musicians who really improvise but many of them like we say in German “cook with water”, you realize pre-prepared patterns etc .. so what counts for me is how somebody jumps into music then it is not important which music it is. And we always can learn for example from blues players who can make you cry with three chords- we classical players always are in danger to try to impress and forget that music is about feelings. So this is something we can learn especially from many styles of world music!

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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.

Errors on stage can open the door to magic, I am not afraid for errors. What I don’t like if a mistake makes you leave music. Of course recordings changed our perception of music. Older great musicians left even wrong notes if the music was magic, today cleanness turned into a basic skill people seem to exspect. I personally prefer errors to sterile perfection.
And in guitar technique I always tell when teaching: If it works, it is legal!
I use barrees across two frets, I allow my left hand to leave “correct” positioning to dance on the fingerboard, I move the guitar while playing ( this is why I never playing with armsocks, leathers etc), I practice in all kind of position including playing on the right leg. What feels good for the body is legal1

If you had to choose, who is your favorite composer to play?

I guess it is evident that I feel a strong connection to the music of Mozart. A wise man once said that Mozart hides his depth directly underneath the surface.. and I like the perfect balance of Apoll and Dyonisos. What a pity that he did not write for the guitar!
From the guitar composers I fall more and more in love with Mertz, I am romantic girl!

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”?

When I studied with Pepe he always asked me for all kind of background knowledge, not just about the composers but about the historical setting in which those pieces where written. Art, literature, political facts etc, that is for me clear that I should know as much as possible. Then you learn about the style as much as possible – and then you let the audience see it through your eyes within your personal style. I am belcanto girl, I love to let the guitar sing, so this will be present no matter if I play Bach or Dodecaphonic music, but it will have gone through a strong process of background knowledge before.
This is something I am not happy to see nowadays with these supershort bachelor and master studies, you don’t have time to “waste” to gain all kind of extraknowledge. On the same moment more knowledge than ever is accesible through the web but you know less when you know where to search for it.

Heike Matthiesen
Heike Matthiesen

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?

It is crucial, but there are many styles of promotion possible. Business is changing so much, there are still the superpowerfull major labels, if you are with them it is another story.. and for the “middleclass” it gets more and more difficult because many presentors like to do more and more few”events” instead of regular concerts, so also in the paradise-looking arts world Germany there is big erosion happening. So the number of indie-classical-musicians is constantly growing. You can be wordwide avaible today without a major label or agency, but the people have to know you, so they can find you… or you have to make them find you!
And for this the internet can do magic!
And I believe the times are gone where a musician had to be an iconic hero or genius, not talking to normal people, you should comminicate… then it depends on your personality how you deal with it, you don’t need to be extroverted to be a good ambassador for your music, but it helps. When I am using all those social media platforms I more think about being ambassador for classicalguitar than doing promotion for myself.

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”?

Guitar is a magic instrument, almost nobody has negative associations to it, it is an instrument of romantic, cosy mood, dreams of holidays etc.. so I believe that especially those not too long romantic pieces can attract people to listen to classical music.
How many people love guitar because they once heard Asturias, Alhambra, our beloved Spanish Romance- or Cavatina??
Some people get overwhelmed if their first opera are the Soldaten by Zimmermann.. but that is the exception I guess.

And it would depend of the taste of these newbies: A methal fan can easily connect to medieval music, one who loves ballads might love Chopin, worldmusiclovers – that is the easiest, Techno fans might feel attracted to minimal.. so there is not just one answer to this question.

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

Fritz Wunderlich singing Schumann’s Dichterliebe
Emil Gilels playing Liszt b-minor Sonata
Nathan Milstein playing Bach Chaconne
Tzimon Barto playing Chopin
Martha Argerich never sure which record to choose — and can I add Casta Diva by Maria Callas too?

What are your five favorite scores?

My favourite operas: Don Giovanni, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Falstaff, Carmen and I love Puccini! ( I first thought should I give an “impressive” answer or just say the truth… so here is the truth!)
In guitar I just can give the philosophical answer: Always the piece I am playing at that moment.

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

I would have loved to play duo with Mozart to convince to write something for me…
Being a little bit superstitious it would feel strange to put some “real names” here, so yes, there is a wishlist!
Mostly I listen to nonguitar-music, piano music, worldmusic, Flamenco… but I also enjoy the silence after all these hours I am busy with plucking strings. It is very difficult to listen to classical music, my brain immediately starts to work, so it is not really relaxing… and the worst: If friends invite you and play your own CD as sign of respect, my brain can’t stop commenting my work!

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

Right now I am working on two new solo programs, one entirely dedicated to female composers which I will record next spring, the other one will be a wide range of contemporary music, some not yet composed. And my “normal” life, concerts, masterclasses.. so a lot of practicing waiting for me.
And no dates fixed for Italy right now, but I hope to come back to Italy soon, I would love to improve my Italian and there is so much love for guitar in Italy, it was always a very special atmosphere with good audience in beautiful places, spero che ci vediamo presto!

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