Interview with Emanuele Segre
When did you start to play guitar and why?
I started playing when I was eleven years old, just by chance, at my middle school where you could also study music. It was the second half of the seventies and the school I attended was one of the first in Milan to promote musical experimentation in the curriculum.
The music had an important place in a full-time learning, with multidisciplinary teachings. There was a lot of participation and synergy between all of us: students, teachers and parents. I received two individual lessons per week from the Italian guitarist Maria Vangelista, a student of the Italian teacher Ruggiero Chiesa. I still bring with me all the enthusiasm and idealism I breathed within the walls of that school, they were a driving force in the following years.
What did you study and what is your musical background?
In addition to guitar, I studied violin and composition at the Conservatory. It was a very important enrichment for me.
What guitars do you play?
I have three instruments that I alternate depending on the occasion, a Luis Arbàn, a Don Pilarz and a Brian Cohen. When I studied at the Conservatory I played for a long time a Kohno 30, an instrument that Chiesa liked very much, and that he often recommended his students buy this make. My first “good” guitar was the work of an old luthier who lived on the Turin’s hinterland, Aldo Pignat. We went to visit him a winter afternoon to get one. It was a good instrument, I don’t have it any more. It was made with cypress wood and had a delicious aroma, very sweet.
You studied with Ruggiero Chiesa… In 2013 the Italian Corriere Musicale magazine commemorated his twentieth anniversary. You wrote, “Ruggero Chiesa was a key reference point for the guitar. He especially dedicated himself to teaching and to musicological research of little-known and even unexplored repertoires. Twenty years after his death, I like to remember the sincere passion, sincere love that Chiesa had for his work, for the guitar and music … ” Why was this person was so special? Was he a teacher or a mentor?
Chiesa was a person who loved his work in music deeply and relentlessly. He had a very strong sense of dignity about his and our profession.
He was very kind, very helpful despite being an introvert and reserved character. Chiesa had a lively sense of the value of traditions, however, on another front certainly he never censured young people’s desire and the need to innovate, to find their own path, to find their own voice.
I was impressed that you wanted to record the music of Bach at the age of fifty? Why now? I see that many young guitarists approach this with firm confidence and good results.
For me, Bach’s music is difficult. As a musician, I am aware that when I play his music, I am facing one of the greatest musician in history. Thinking about myself I can only express awe in dealing with such a brilliant body of work. The difficulty, however, is not so much technical but about the reading comprehension of his texts, the will to penetrate the deeper meanings of his music. In his compositions we find power, energy, and at the same time a strict measurement domain.
How did the idea to record your last double CD and DVD with Limen begin?
The formula of a box CD + DVD is one formulated by Limen. It’s a nice idea, that sets them apart in the small market of classical music recordings.
What does improvisation means for your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic one or we’re forced to leave it and turn to other repertoires like jazz, contemporary, etc.?
The live music is, in my opinion, the true musical performance dimension. Recordings, YouTube, Spotify, are surrogates that don’t erase the supremacy of a live performance. In a live performance, including “written music” there is always a dose of improvisation. I think it’s a problem if there is not. The performer who feels at ease redesigning the score every time, lives and rejoices in the magic of music together with his audience. In the recordings, I always try to recreate this dimension that become easier to create together with an audience.
Taking about recordings, can you tell us your five indispensable records, to always have with you on a desert island?
I would take five discs of musicians that I’ve had the good fortune to listen to live and that have left an indelible mark on me: Leonard Bernstein, Nathan Milstein… for the guitar a Julian Bream’ record.
Talking about music listening … if you listen to a different interpretation of a work you already played or you want to perform, do you pay attention to this listening or do you prefer to proceed in complete independence?
I listen to a lot of music. In my everyday life as a musician there are two fundamental dimensions communicating with each other: playing and listening to others’ performances. They are the faces of the same coin, and both activities are symbiotic.
I listen gladly to a different interpretation from mine, and listening to it makes me think, makes me maybe add or remove something from my interpretation, not because I wish to copy but because something has settled in me and motivates me to change my ideas.
I sometimes feel that in our time the music’s history flow with no particular interest in its chronological course, in our music library before and after, the past and the future become interchangeable elements, could this be the risk for an interpreter and a composer of a uniform vision? A music “globalization”?
There is the risk of a “globalization” in music. Musical tastes can be also very different in each one of us, also fueled by globalization, but it’s good to always keep some fixed points, that these must be the same for performers as for composers: talent and sincerity. These are for me two fundamental points. And this is true in my opinion, even in the current “globalized” context.
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
I have so many ideas and so many things I would do. Sometimes I am dragged by the whirlwind of events, which sometimes leads me where I least expect it.