Interview with Pablo Marquez (February 2018)
Hello Pablo, in our last interview in March 2016, you said that “the next collaboration with ECM will be the first recording of Luciano Berios’s Chemins V for guitar and orchestra, with the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.” Now, the moment has come: “Now, And Then” has been released by ECM and you have played the first world recording of Chemins V. How it was to play this music?
Hello Andrea. Playing Chemins V is always a thrilling experience, since it is in my opinion the best piece for guitar and orchestra –together with Kurtág’s Grabstein für Stephan– of the second half of last century.
I know that you were experienced with Berio’s music, you have played Sequenza XI a lot, and Chemins V is a sort of transcription of the solo guitar piece….
Indeed, I started playing the Sequenza in 1995, invited by the Ensemble Intercontemporain for the complete cycle of Sequenze in hommage to Berio for his 70th Birthday. Since then I have played it a lot, including for Berio himself, whom I met in 2000 and with whom I could discuss about the piece and several aspects of its interpretation. In the same occasion he proposed me to do Chemins together some months later in Zurich, but unfortunately he was already ill and the concert never happened. From that moment on, performing Chemins became a dream to realize. I finally played the piece for the first time in 2007 with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under the baton of Josep Pons and I repeated the experience some other times with different orchestras and conductors.
Chemins V it’s in fact a “ramified” version for guitar and orchestra of the Sequenza. In Berio’s own words : “The best way to analyse and comment on a musical work is to write another one using materials from the original work: a creative exploration of a composition is at the same time an analysis, a commentary and an extension of the original. The most profitable commentary on a symphony or an opera has always been another symphony or another opera. This is why my Chemins, where I quote, translate, expand and transcribe my Sequenzas for solo instrument, are also the Sequenzas’ best analyses. They are a series of specific commentaries which include, almost intact, the object and subject of the commentary. The Chemins are not the displacement of an objet trouvé into a different context or the orchestral “dressing up” of a solo piece (the original Sequenza), but rather a commentary organically tied to it and generated by it. The instrumental ensemble brings to the surface and develops musical processes that are hidden and compressed in the solo part, amplifying every aspect, including the temporal one: at times the roles are inverted so that the solo part appears to be generated by its own commentary.”
How it was to play with the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana and Dennis Russell Davies?
Dennis is a fantastic musician, who was Berio’s assistent for a while and knows very well his music, so it was a big privilege to record the piece with him. On the other hand, the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana is a jewel of transparence and positive working energy. The result of this combination was a miracle since the orchestra never played the piece before and was set up in only one rehearsal before an afternoon of recording !
Caroline Delume, in the book “Berio” by Enzo Restagno, defined Sequence XI as “an extremely diversified and repetitive passage; It consists of a very small number of elements that are repeatedly varied “(Berio, p.179). While Seth Josel, who recorded the track for Mode Records in a box dedicated to all Sequences, in my book “Visionary Guitars Chatting with Guitarist” said: ”The piece is organic much in the same way that Beethoven’s music is organic. I like to think of it as a spiral-like process. In my opinion, sorry for sounding pompous here, the work’s basic material simply does not justify a 15-minute composing-out of that material. That’s a highly subjective comment of course, but one that has been supported by some close friends of mine, composers of a high rank. My experience as both an audience member and performer has led me to believe that it’s extremely difficult to capture and hold an audience’s full attention during an airing of the work. This, in stark contrast to the way the trombone or viola Sequenzas. Regardless, it is a milestone indeed: that is, one of the most important composers of the 20th century composed a major work for the guitar. ” ( Visionary Guitars Chatting with Guitarist pag.130). What do you think about this?
I don’t share this opinion. Of course, Sequenza XI is an extremely difficult piece to create an arch of tension between the first and last note, but it goes the same with a Mahler Symphony or with a late Beethoven string quartet. In my opinion, it’s a pantagruelian piece that needs a great sense of architecture, space, and of course technical solvability, as any great piece. It requires also a clever interpretation of its multiple layers of lecture, which create the piece’s labyrinthic structure, as well as some theatrical identification with the different musical backgrounds –the flamenco rasgueados, the tapping coming from electric guitar, the almost luthenistic polyphony of certain sections, the romantic tremolo- and the ironic re-tuning section, which makes fun of the classical guitarist’s image in concert not beeing able to tune his instrument !
I played the Sequenza for many different kind of audiences –from contemporary music festivals to small cities non familiar with contemporary music- and it has always been well received.
Talking about Berio in his essay “A remembrance to the future,” he 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?
Absolutely! I don’t see contemporary music as a niche made for specialists, but rather as a flowing stream coming from earlier period’s artistic manifestations. Furthermore, working with composers makes you reconsider the relation with the score, which sometimes can be more flexible than it may appear. I like to think that when I play a piece, no matter the period or style, the composer is sitting in the hall listening to what I do, so the relation with the score is not mechanical but a more lively one.
The cd “Now, And Then” seems to be built around the idea of transcription, both Maderna and Berio studied a lot and made several trascripitions… now..it might be strange for two of the most important italian composers, both key figures of the School of Darmstadt…
This is the utmost illustration of what I said in my previous answer !
I was really surprised about the sound of this cd: it’s almost huge…so beautiful, ECM record company made a name and a reputation with its quality recording. Recently ECM has decided to put all its record archive on Spotify, a choice that has aroused much controversy. Personally, as you know, I don’t use Spotify, I still prefer to buy and listen to CDs and vinyl records, but I also understand the ECM’s willingness to make available to the public even records that have never been reprinted, what do you think about this decision?
I think you cannot go against your time, so ECM had to adjust to the reality today. In their on-line statement about this issue, they say that the piracy was so huge that they had to make the catalog accessible within a framework where copyrights are respected. By the way, ECM is the only record company that kept its whole catalog available ever since.
And now? What are you working on?
As usual, in many things at the same time. Schubert kept big part of my attention lately, with the songs published during his life in Vienna in alternative versions for guitar. It’s a passionating and endless journey! Otherwise I was playing a lot an early 20th century Spanish repertoire almost tailored for my 1927 Francisco Simplicio (works by Llobet, Cassadó, Gerhard, López Chavarri).
Furthermore, I have some projects with composers like Oscar Strasnoy, Martín Matalón, Javier Torres Maldonado, Zad Moultaka and others that are hopefully going to happen in the next years.