Interview with Joao Carlos Victor (July 2018)
Welcome to the Neuguitars Blog, Joao, let’s have a talk about your music.
Thank you for having me on Neuguitars Blog!
When did you start playing the guitar and why?
Music has always been present in my family routine. My mother is a music lover who studied the piano in her teens, and my father is an amateur guitarist who likes to get the family together to sing songs. The decision to learn the guitar came when I was 10 years old after hearing the LP Abismo de Rosas from the Brazilian guitarist Dilermando Reis. I heard that LP so many times I almost destroyed it. My father had already learned some pieces of this LP, and I asked him to teach me. So I started at home with my father teaching me every day some notes of “Marcha dos Marinheiros,” and later my mother taught me how to read music.
What did you study and what is your musical background?
I did my Bachelor’s degree in guitar at the University of Bahia under the guidance of Mário Ulloa. He is a fantastic musician and inspiring teacher. Soon after the Bachelor’s, I got a scholarship from the German government (DAAD) for my postgraduate studies with German guitarist Franz Halász. In my pursuit to get better and try to fill the gaps in my knowledge, I decided to move to Switzerland to study with two musicians for whom I have great admiration: contemporary music specialist Mats Scheidegger and Argentinian virtuoso Pablo Márquez. My studies in early music also opened my mind and changed my view towards music. I had the privilege to learn from Julian Behr, Bettina Seeliger and Peter Croton. Besides my classical music training, like most Brazilians I grew up listening to and playing Brazilian popular music, and in my teens I played electric guitar as well.
What were and are your main musical influences?
In general I am very eclectic. Besides classical music, I like a lot of different genres such as Latin American folk music, rock, jazz, blues, and of course Brazilian popular music. Talking specifically about guitarists, my teachers had a big influence, because they helped me to develop a deep relationship with the instrument and its repertory. There are many other artists who inspire me a lot, and I always come back to their recordings: Alfred Cortot, Vicente Dumestre with his ensemble Le Poème Harmonique, György Sebök, Andreas Staier … I could go on and on.
I really enjoyed your Naxos CD. How did start the idea to invent such a particular recital, mixing music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Dowland, Rodrigo, Tarrega and Rios Filho?
Thank you! I am glad you liked it. The concept was to have the CD as a complete work in itself and not a collection of individual pieces. The first idea was to use the three Dowland chromatic fantasies as the beginning, middle, and end, together with contrasting pieces in between; the intense and theatrical Rodrigo´s “Invocación y Danza” contrasting with a light and aristocratic set of short Tárrega pieces; and an even stronger contrast with “Répéter” by Paulo Rios Filho and the “Sonata op. 77” by Mário Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In the case of Rios Filho and Castelnuvo-Tedesco, I got the inspiration from the “Theater of the Absurd”. I am expecting the listener to laugh after hearing the end of “Répéter” and the beginning of the “Sonata”. In order to maximize this contrasts, I decided the pause between the tracks should vary. For instance, the pause between “Répéter” and Castelnuovo-Tedesco´s “Sonata” is much shorter than the pause between the last movement of the Sonata to Dowland´s “Farewell”.
Can you tell us more about the piece “Repeter” by Paulo Rios Filho? I think it is a very interesting piece and I like Deleuze’s ideas.
I met Paulo Rios Filho when he was studying composition at the University of Bahia and since then I have been an admirer of his compositions. “Répéter” was composed in 2014 for my Master´s final exam at the Musik-Akademie der Stadt Basel, and it was awarded an honorable mention at the X Boston Guitar Fest in 2015. Paulo was fascinated by Gilles Deleuze´s “Philosophie de la Difference” and his ideas about difference and repetition. Deleuze´s influence can be seen already in the use of the French language for the title of the piece “Répéter” (to repeat) and in the sentence “Ne me demandez pas porquoi répéter” (Don´t ask me why repeating), which appears recitative-like as a structure key: end of the first section, the arrival of a contrasting central section, and the end of the work. “Répéter“ is a collection of small gestures woven by percussive commentaries and rapid vocal interventions. Such gestures are over-repeated in an imperfect form, put together every time with new commentaries, inner reiterations, variations, and omissions. It is a very complex work, but it has been a success everywhere I played it.
What does improvisation mean in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
If we define improvisation as a spontaneous action, we can say it happens almost all the time in classical music since many interpreters play the works according to their feelings at the moment, with the acoustics of the hall, and with the characteristics of the instrument they are about to play. On the other hand, if we talk about improvisation like it’s done in jazz or popular music, we can find it a lot in the field of early music. I have been in courses about improvising preludes and fantasias, and have seen many artists playing concerts improvising chaconnes or minuets. In my particular case, my research is focused on ornamentation in music from XVI to XIX century.
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.
This question makes me remember a passage from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach´s book “Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen” (True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) where he points out that flawless technique and accuracy are important, but most important is the capacity to transport listeners. In his own words: “We should play with soul, not like a well-trained bird.” I have a similar opinion, and many of the artists I admire are not famous for their astonishing technical accuracy but instead for their profound understanding of the work they play and their attempt to express the “big picture” of the piece. Alfred Cortot is a good example of someone not much listened to by many pianists nowadays because of the “wrong notes” in his recordings. But I am always moved and inspired by his interpretations.
And what do you think is the function of a moment of crisis?
Moments of crisis are very important. We are used to just reacting to life, and those are the moments when we stop, take a step back, and think. At the same time, they are very dangerous, because one can fall down and never stand up again. Like Eduardo Galeano said during an interview: “To have breath, it’s necessary to have had dejection; to get up, you have to know to fall; to win, you have to know how to lose, and we must know that such is life and you will fall and rise many times.”
What are your next projects? What are you working on?
Many things at the same time. Right now I am attending the doctoral program at the University of Bern, working on new repertory for concerts and recordings that soon will be available. I have also a project for the next CD, but I don’t know when it will be recorded yet. Hopefully soon.
Last question: a few years ago, during an interview with Bill Milkowski for his book “Rockers, Jazzbos and Visionaries”, Carlos Santana said, “Some people have talent, some people have vision. And vision is more important than talent, obviously.” I think all of you have great talent, but what is your personal vision?
For me it is important to be honest with myself and the music I play. That means to put the music first and myself behind, following the wise words of Claudio Arrau: “Vanity is the most terrible, the most blocking thing for an interpreter”.