Interview with Heiko Ossig
When did you start playing guitar and why? What did you study and what is your musical background?
I started playing guitar, when I was 12 or 13 years old. John Lennon has been shot in Dec. 1980, every radio station played songs by the Beatles, books and magazines published stories about him and the Beatles and I became really addicted to their music. I started immediately with a teacher and he let me play songs by Kate Bush, Genesis, Supertramp and Beatles by ear, I had to transcribe simple pieces into notation. The lessons were held in a music shop, where they had all the great instruments, that were popular in that time, eg. the whole Ovation Series. Though I was only a thirteen year old kid, I was allowed to pick up instruments from that shop for practicing. I remember that I fell in love with a white Stratocaster, which is still a unfullfilled dream I have to own one. I played a simple classical guitar student model in those days, but I was hooked on everything connected to guitar playing. Today I think, for me it was a perfect start, beacause with this teacher my enthusiasm for he instrument has even grown. After two years that teacher recommended to me to take lessons with a more classical trained guitar teacher. I focused on classical guitar, I started to study at the age of 18 and continued until I got my Konzertexamen at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg.
With what guitar do you play and have you played with?
Mostly I play classical guitar. I had an instrument by Yuichi Imai in the 90ies. It was great but the fingerboard was far to oversized, as it was modern in those days. Actually, the instrument sounded great, but it was extremely demanding for the left hand to play on it. After that, I had a guitar made by Nicolaus Wolff and after that I had a guitar by Jochen Roethel. All these guitars were with cedar top. Since three years I play a guitar by Jochen Rothel, that has a maple body and a spruce top. An incredible nice instrument that really sounds inspiring.
I have seen that you play a Les Paul, I like very much that guitar, why did you choose it?
Oh, I love the Les Paul. It`s a 2012 custom shop Les Paul in cherry red. I also have a Telecaster „La Cabronita“ with two T.V. Jones-Pickups, but I prefer the Les Paul. Actually, I was inspired by my friend Kavin Gallagher from New York City, who also plays a Les Paul. For me the Les Paul simply is a classic, it has an incredible warm tone with a great variety of sounds and the handling is very comfortably, especially for a guitarist, who plays mostly classical guitar, because my Les Paul has a 57`neck, which is quite thick and very nice to play.
Let’s talk about your project Steve Reich: Guitars Festival Maximal minimal, what’s all about?
I am a fan of Steve Reich`s compositions since I first listened to his Electric Counterpoint in the beginning oft he 90ies. As I was focused on classical guitar music exclusively for a long time, it took some years before I picked up the score of Electric Counterpoint, which I already owned for several years. Last year, when Steve Reich turned 80 in October, I had the chance to play a complete program with music by Reich, including Electric Counterpoint, Nagoya Guitars and 2×5 (a piece for rock band, 2 el. guitars, el. Bass, piano, drum-set) for the North German Broadcasting (Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR). The band MiNiM! which I formed for this project, has an incredible great line-up. The internationally acclaimed jazz guitarist Kalle Kalime plays the other guitar, John Eckhardt is on bass, Ninon Gloger on piano and Johnathan Shapiro on drums. After the concerts for the NDR, we were invited to the festival Minimal maximal that will take place in May
at Hamburgs new concert hall sensation, the Elbphilharmonie. There will be three days with music connected or influenced by minimalism, especially compositions by minimal music legend Steve Reich, and as far as I know, Mr. Reich will be there to attend this festival. I am thrilled by the possibility that he might be visiting our concert.
You are working on several projects, I was curious about the AVANT-POP.GUITARS… can you talk us about it?
Well, this was a project, I started two or three years ago with New York based guitarist Kevin Gallagher. I got in contact with Kevin after my first visit to New York with a cruise ship in 2005. I found out that Kevin is a amazing, versatile guitarist, a true master on the classical guitar, but also an incredible talented electric guitar player. We have not been in contact for several years, but after I listened to and watched his version of Jacob Ter Veldhuis` (aka JacobTV) Grab it on youtube, I had the feeling that this guitarist has everything that a modern classical guitar player should have. I suggested to play together a couple of concerts here in Germany with music by Steve Reich, Marc Mellits, Alan Hovhaness and JacobTV, what we did in 2014. Since then, I am deeply interested in all kind of composed new music for electric guitar. There are so many great compositions by Eve Beglarian, Michael Fiday, Scott Johnson, Steven Mackey and son on and on that are worth playing, especially for what we call classical guitarists. In my opinion, this repertoire for electric guitar is much more closer to the music language of our time, than most of the compositions for the the classical guitar.
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 have to admit, that I am not really trained for improvisation. Unfortunately. I wish, I would have been in contact with improvised music more often in the past. Since I work together with musician like acoustic fingerstyle virtuoso Ian Melrose, or jazz guitarists like Kalle Kalima, Rüdiger Krause, Johan Leijonhufvud or Karl Schloz, I get an idea and first hand knowledge of improvised music by these great masters. In my opinion, improvised music should be a more important part of the education at the music academies. I am teaching at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Rostock and in Hamburg. At both institutes the improvisations plays only a minor role in the training for young guitarists. This definitely has to be changed.
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…
Wow, this question recalls many, many associations: first of all, when I think of my practicing routine, I think of neurochemical processes that make the brain “learn” things. When I learn new pieces, I always practice extremely slowly and try to avoid errors, or in this context perhaps better to say mistakes. When I work with students, this is an important part of the educational process, to use the knowledge of brain research. But, making errors is human. I remember a concert that I listened to with John Williams performing a solo recital at the symphony hall in Chicago. I know quite well most of the pieces he performed. He made literally no mistakes, no errors until in Barrios Ultimo Tremolo he played one wrong chord due to the fact that one left hand shift landed one fret too low. Actually, from that moment on, I could even more enjoy the concert, because I noticed that he is also human. From a more philosophical point of view, errors lead to something new, which is
not always bad. Regarding the processes in evolution, every time that there was an error in the genetic material, something new came out an that’s an important part of the fact, why we do not practice guitar sitting in trees or in caves, nowadays. Finally, there is the famous quote of Miles Davies, that cames to my mind, which perhaps answers the question best: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad“. That`s – of course – mainly a jazz idea, but still there is something in it, that I can use for me as a classical musician.
Let’s talk about records, what are your favourite five records, to always have with you … the classic five discs for the desert island …
First of all it is, as for many of my colleagues and friends, Glenn Goulds recording he did in 1981 of Bach`s Goldberg variations. Of course, I would take one album by the Beatles to the desert island. It`s hard to decide which one I would take, but most probably I would grab either Rubber Soul or Abbey Road. I definitely would take Beethoven`s string quartet op. 131 in the interpretation of the Alban Berg Quartet and most probably John Abercrombie`s Characters that he recorded in 1977. When it comes to classical guitar, I would choose a disc with Frank Bungarten, either his recording of Sor Studies or his recording of guitar sonatas by Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and José.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
For the first half of this year, I try to develop my repertoire for electric guitar. I`ll have a couple of concerts where I will play electric guitar, e.g. a performance together with the famous german actor Christian Brückner, where he will recite poetry by Raymond Carver while I play minimal music by Steve Reich, Ingram Marshall an others. In May, with MiNiM! we will have the concert with music by Steve Reich at the Elbphilharmonie. I very often perform Castelnuovo-Tedescos „romancero gitano“ for choir and guitar. This great composition I am going to perform in April in Switzerland and in October in Houston (USA). I regularly work together with critically acclaimed soprano Nuria Rial. We will have a concert in June. And I play a program with music by Astor Piazzolla together with violin player Rodrigo Reichel. Finally, I am working on a new project with music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Manuel Valls togteher with soprano Dana Marbach (from Israel).