Last week I introduced you folks to a rising you Aussie classical guitarist by the name of Andrew Blanch – https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2014/11/10/introducing-rising-classical-guitar-talent-andrew-blanch-in-his-first-aussie-tour/
On the eve of his first ever Australian tour, Classical Guitar n Stuff snagged another first for Andrew – his first ever interview! One evening a couple of weeks ago Andrew took time out from his practice in Canberra to chat with me.
Here’s part one of our chat for you. Be sure to head back later in the week for part two.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Well, I’m 23, and I’m doing a PhD here at the ANU School of Music (studying with Tim Kain). I play guitar and I love music and I want to be a musician! Yeah, that’s where I am at the moment.
I’ve played guitar most of my life. I started playing in Year One, I must have been seven years old or something. Maybe six I’m not sure. Yeah six or seven. I started with Chris Keane in Sydney. He’s the president of the guitar society there. And learnt with him for around ten years. When he left the school Luke Tierney came in and I moved on and learnt with Luke for a couple of years. That’s probably where I decided I wanted to be a guitarist.
I was about sixteen when I got onto him and about that time I was very interested in electric guitar as well. There were definitely times when I was playing that a lot more than classical guitar. I got really into that, I had my Gibson Les Paul, trying to get the exact distortion sound that I wanted. That was always good fun, to spend hours at night jamming along with songs.
In Year Twelve, at school, for the music course I did all classical guitar staff. So by then I was getting more into classical guitar.
Luke is an ex student of Tim Kain in Canberra, so that’s how I heard about him. I came down to Canberra a couple of times for lessons with Tim and I found those great. I always wanted to leave Sydney too, so yeah I went to study there and I haven’t left!
Can you remember the point where you decided “yeah, this is what I want to do” or was it a dawning?
Actually, yeah, it probably was a dawning, but it wasn’t as early as you’d probably expect. It was about….It was in the second year of uni and I was doing Law as well at the same time. I was doing a double degree in Music and Law and I was sitting next to – and this is a really geeky joke – I was sitting next to the only other Music student in a Law lecture, Australian Public Law. It was my second year, I’d already done three subjects and we were sitting there, me and a violinist friend of mine. The only other Music/ Law student and we weren’t listening at all. We had some manuscript paper with us and we were doing “guess the piece by Bach”!
And so after that it was almost like “so yeah what the hell am I doing?!” So I quit Law and went straight with Music. I’d say that was the point, if there is a point, where I made that switch. And the more I come into it the more I’m sure of it.
The bit previously when I was sixteen or so was just….I just knew that I wanted to study music at university. I didn’t know if I wanted to make it my life or not.
What pieces are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the pieces for the recitals I have coming up, and for the one in Melbourne. So two pieces by Isaac Albeniz, one is the very well-known Sevilla and the Malagueña, which is not so well played. It’s an interesting mix of pieces that are played a lot and pieces which are not played much.
Then I’ve got – and I’m not sure where they’ll fit in the programme whether in the main programme or as encores – I’ve got three Preludes by Francisco Tárrega. So one is the very famous Adelita and the other two are really short. They’re almost not pieces! They’re called Endecha and Oremus. And they’re really nice. Really dark sort of pieces. In fact Oremus was written 15 days before Tárrega died. It’s quite choral in character, quite nice.
Then more Tárrega with Recuerdos de la Alhambra. The Carnival of Venice Variations I’ve also been working on – more Tárrega. So quite a bit of Tárrega in there.
Also three transcriptions by Manuel de Falla. One of them is the The Song of the Will-O-The Wisp, The Fisherman’s Song and The Miller’s Dance. Three Catalan Folksongs (arr. Miguel Llobet), Scherzo Waltz by Llobet as well, Fandanguillo by Joachim Turina and then two Italians then snuck into the mix, but they’re vaguely Spanish pieces, so I am sort of justifying their existence. So one of them is Domenico Scarlatti, the scholars say his music was influenced by the sound of the flamenco guitar, so I’m playing a couple of Sonata transcriptions by him. Not the particularly well known ones though I’d say, so K175 in A Minor and K146 in G Major if that means anything! And then a selection of three pieces from 24 Caprichos de Goya by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. So they’re written to the painter Goya who’s Spanish!
Not bad! How do you juggle keeping that kind of repertoire on the go, and learning new things?
Yeah, that’s a real tough one! It’s kind of like plate-spinning, but the plates are made of soggy cardboard and so as much as you keep spinning them they keep disintegrating.
At the moment I’m trying to not let – and this is in the very recent past – I’m trying to not let more than two or three days go by when I haven’t looked at everything. So that’s where I’m at at the moment. Throughout the year I spend various times when I’d neglect parts of the programme and I’d be spending time looking at a very specific part of it.
So how long would you spend practicing on a typical day?
It would all depend on what I’ve got on, so now that I’ve got the concerts coming up I want to be doing sort of four to five hours a day. And that’s about what I’m getting now.
Earlier in the year I had a competition coming up, I was doing six hours a day. Doing that length of time you start to get diminishing returns. And then went through a patch of less inspiration and was doing two and half to three hours a day. So I guess it really fluctuates.
I’d say four to five hours is about ideal if I’ve got something coming up and I’m preparing for it. Otherwise if there’s nothing to prepare for it can be hard to motivate yourself and be bothered to do anything other than play for fun.
So you’re coming to play in Melbourne in December (10th) – will those pieces you mentioned be the pieces you’re coming to play for us?
Yes, not in that order though. I’m still fine-tuning the order, but in quite a different order to that.
Your Melbourne concert will be the next in the new Melbourne Guitar Foundation’s new series of concerts. What are your thoughts on this kind of thing with the MGF?
Yeah, I think it’s great. It’s great to have some young guys start to develop some leadership in this area and cultivate guitar in Australia and that sort of thing and take over. There are some people who have been doing wonderful work. I know from Sydney, people like Chris Keane, Rafaelle Agostino, Janet Agostino, Richard Charlton and that have put a lot of effort in to build that up, but you need younger guys to come in and make some effort too.
Of course we all have our own ideas and might be, quote-unquote, better equipped to face the challenges of the twenty-first century or whatever. Whatever the hell that means! So I think it’s great. Very excited! And they’ve booked me so I think they’re wonderful people!
And that’s it for part one folks – head back this way later on the week to read the second part of the interview and find out Andrew’s top tips for aspiring guitarists.
If you’re in Melbourne or surrounds, be sure to check out Andrew in action at 7pm on the 10th December, St Mary’s Church, 430 Queensbury Street. Andrew’s Melbourne concert is presented by the Melbourne Guitar Foundation.
You can buy your tickets online here: http://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=101948