Interview with Duo 19 – Part One

I had the enormous pleasure a couple of weeks ago to meet up and chew the fat with Dan McKay and Antony Field of Duo 19. These guys, highly respected and well-loved figures on the Melburnian and Australian classical guitar scene, released their first recording, Fluid Lines, back in April last year (check out the review here). We had such a fantastically awesome, in-depth chat that I’m splitting it across two posts – lucky you reader!

So I took the opportunity to head over to the north of Melbourne, where Dan and Antony both live (and incidentally have taken the name for the duo from the no. 19 tram line which runs through their suburb into the heart of the city), and have a bit of a chinwag about what they’ve been up to, what their plans are for 2013 and how life is treating them. Here’s what we got up too…

An easy partnership

Antony and Dan had known each other for a long time before actually formally coming together as Duo 19. They started playing just a piece here, a piece there for a couple of years, learning things for Antony’s masters recitals, the occasional classical guitar society event, some Frederick Hand and Andrew York pieces. Before they came together as a duo they had a long musical background and association with one another – friends, teaching for one another, playing pieces here and there, hanging out. So it was fairly natural that they would play together at some point.

It was really only a couple of years ago that we thought maybe let’s string a whole programme together and play a concert” (Dan)

The first full-length concerts they played as a duo was one of Ken Murray’s Guitar Perspectives concerts here in Melbourne, roughly two years ago. Coming out of that it was then that first spoke about making a recording. A lengthy, but very natural and organic gestation.

“Kind of the way you want a musical collaboration to happen in a way. It just sort of happened. Kind of nice.” (Antony)

Antony used to pass through Canberra on the odd occasion when Dan was still studying there, with Dan actually receiving a masterclass from Antony in one instance. “A hugely influence masterclass, that had a massive effect on me” said McKay rather tongue in cheek, “Yeah right, pulling my leg there” was Field’s response, with considerable giggles and boyish grins on faces ensuing!

And their approach to recording Fluid Lines was similar to that of their coming together as a duo – recording of a piece here and there, a fairly relaxed style until they had the whole album together. All in all it took them about 12 months to get all the tracks down and a further 6 months to get them all mastered, finalised and ready for release. Dan quipped that may be the next one will be even quicker!

New stuff and exploring ideas

The guys are working on a Rodrigo’s Concerto Madrigal for two guitars currently and hoping to do that with an orchestra at some point. They’ve also been working recently with Michael Avery on a video clip, hopefully to be finished in the next month or so, as a bit of a “calling card”.

They’ve also started throwing ideas around for their next recording, “some more modern, minimalist type of pieces in the Hinchinbrook (Riffs) style of piece”  says Dan.  Being backed up quickly by Antony confirming that they “dont want to do the same old kind of pieces. We like to do things that are a bit more aligned to where we are as people and musicians.” These guys are not up for cracking out an old standard of the repertoire just because they have a gig coming up. They are true explorers of the instrument and their viewpoint is summed up well by Antony when he says that “the world needs more interesting things, you know!

Doing more interesting collaborations with composers, stuff like bring in turntables, tape and other objects and instruments into the performance situation also appeals to the duo. They’re really looking to push into unchartered water. So watch this space for some wiki-wiki-can-I-get-a-rewind classical guitar action from these guys soon. Hah hah!

They do recognise the need, however, to strike the balance between providing difficulty and challenge for themselves as players, interest to the listening audience and accessibility for those that may not be too familiar or comfortable with “non-standard” repertoire and grab people in.

Antony is also keen to point out that “I don’t buy the whole ‘ah yeah, let’s just do that’ thing”. 

At the same time, you’ve got to play something”  counters Dan, with the two agreeing that it’s about striking the right balance.

Music lovers

As one may expect from two musicians who are into exploring the music that they play and create on their instruments, their listening tastes are fantastically eclectic too.

Dan’s favourites include The Beatles, The Band, Radiohead (particularly the In Rainbows album), Sigur Ros, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, and most recently US hip hop duo Death Grips. From the classical repertoire Dan loves the French composers Debussy, Satie, Ravel as well as Bach. Dan says he likes to take a whole bunch of vinyl records out to his shed out back that he can’t play in the house as he knows his kids will hate it, his wife will hate it, heck maybe even he will hate it, and just sit and listen and give some totally different stuff a spin. Guitar-wise Dan finds himself listening mostly to Alirio Diaz, Julian Bream and Segovia.

Antony’s tastes include Queen (good man – this is my own latest musical obsession!) and Joni Mitchell. He describes himself as more of a functional listener, digging into the music and sounds of a particular artist or composer when starting a particular project featuring their music perhaps.

Antony likes to listen to a lot of guitar music, checking out the various ways in which different players approach the same music. He finds this assists him in his teaching too, “I like the research approach and being as informed as I can.” Most recently he’s listening been listening to guitarist Alieksey Aianna, who was out in Australia last year.

Part Two coming up!

That’s all for today folks! Check back in next week for part two of the interview with Dan and Antony’s views on the guitarists they most admire, and their top tips for guitar students.

Introducing Rising Star of the Classical Guitar Daniel Nistico…..Ooh and hear about the Adelaide International Guitar Festival too!

I’ve previously mentioned the up-and-coming young Melbourne-based guitarist Daniel Nistico on this blog. He really is a guitarist to watch out for in the next year or two. I’ve seen him develop as a guitarist and musician over the last 18 months or so (and have even had the pleasure of playing alongside him in a Slava Grigoryan Masterclass and most recently with the CGSV Guitar Orchestra) – he truly is player of fantastic talent and musicality, not to mention being a thoroughly decent kind of chap, incredibly modest, oh and has awesome hair too.

Daniel frequently performs around Melbourne, including the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria‘s Twilight Recitals, and is a very active member of the Society too. He features regularly on both 3MBS Fine Music and ABC Classic FM.  Last year Daniel represented Australia and New Zealand, winning the 2011 Lions Global Youth Music Competition, really establishing himself as a concert guitarist of high calibre.

So, I thought I’d take the opportunity of introducing you, dear readers – particularly those of you outside Australia – to one of Australia’s hottest rising stars. Remember you saw him here first!!

Daniel took some time out of his busy schedule between practice session, competing in the finals of the Adelaide International Guitar competition and hanging out with the glitterati of the classical guitar world to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) to tell us a bit about himself.
What’s your background with the guitar? How did you get started?
My dad played some tapes of John Williams and Karin Schaupp (yes, cassette tapes!) in the car when I was young and I really enjoyed listening to them. Also during this time my dad played classical guitar as a hobby, having previously been in a band. When I was around 12 I asked my dad to teach me what he was playing and so he did.

The first pieces I learned were mainly Italian and Spanish popular song arrangements like Granada, Besame Mucho and Spanish Romance. Due to the fact that my dad taught me frequently (almost every night) and by imitation I learned these pieces in a short period of time. Eventually I was instructed to read music by myself. I then spent hours each day figuring out how to read music on the guitar. Not too long after this I studied with Susan Ellis and then attended ANAM young academy and VCASS where I studied with Ben Dix.

How was your preparation for the Adelaide International Guitar Festival?
Well preparation for concerts is always a bit daunting, especially for something like a competition or exam where the panel are listening very critically.

I chose pieces that I’ve known for quite some time so it’s mainly been about refining the interpretative elements and keeping the difficult passages under control technically. I’ve been recording myself a lot and I find that very useful because it often reveals how distorted the balance of your ideas can be sometimes – they’re either not happening or being overdone!

What else are you working on at the moment and what can we expect to see from Dan Nistico in the next year or so?
I’m working on some repertoire for the end of year exam at uni (Daniel is currently studying for a Masters degree in Music Performance at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music). This includes Prelude Fugue and Allegro by Bach, Sonatina in A by Torroba and a much more recently composed piece by American composer John Anthony Lennon, also called Sonatina.

I’m also preparing for my debut album that will be recorded in December. The repertoire for this will include Invocation et Danse by Rodrigo, Mazurka Appasionatta by Barrios and the previously mentioned Sonatina by Lennon.

By mid next year I will have completed my Masters degree if all goes to plan. Once the CD that I’ll be recording is released I’d like to do an Australia-wide tour to promote it.

I’m also currently applying for a scholarship to study a Doctor of Musical Arts in the United States at either Yale or Eastman School of Music. I would also like to travel and attend guitar/music festivals overseas and participate in more competitions – they’re a great way of gaining some exposure amongst great artists and guitarists.

What music excites you the most and why?
The answer to this question probably changes from time to time. In terms of playing and performing, the music of Bach is probably one of the most exciting for me because there is always such depth in structure, technique and expression. I find Bach to be very challenging at times because sometimes the structural complexity can hinder my ability to interpret the piece in a manner that will be moving for myself and listeners. But this is why it is exciting for me!

What are your top tips for someone learning or thinking of learning the classical guitar?
The first tip I can give is to get absorbed in the culture of the guitar, which is quite easy to do these days with the help of technology. Find pieces and guitarists that you enjoy listening to. Go to live concerts. Develop a passion for the music and the instrument if you don’t have it already.

Find a suitable teacher. For a beginner this might be different than for a more experienced guitarist. Again there are many resources online for finding teachers.

Look for a decent instrument, as it can be a hindering for your development if your guitar is not working for you.

Try and find other beginners who have similar interests to you and play at a similar level. A good way of doing this in Melbourne is to attend the guitar gatherings and play in the Guitar Orchestra. That would probably establish a good starting point and from there it is up to the person to follow through and see where it takes them – it’s well worth the journey. Imagination and discipline are two ingredients that I think can create a good recipe for a musician.

The Aussie classical guitar scene, I think you’d agree, is definitely growing and becoming stronger. Where do you see it headed in the next couple years?
Yes I definitely agree with you there. There are many strong guitarists and guitar ensembles emerging in Australia. I think this is largely due to the increasing numbers of quality guitar teachers in Australia including my own, Anthony Field and his teacher Tim Kain.

The incredible number of quality guitar luthiers is playing a part as they have helped define the “Aussie sound”. It also seems to me that the international guitar scene in general is flourishing. There are more festivals, competitions, masterclasses and concerts and I think Australia is starting to be part of this culture. The Adelaide Guitar Festival is a good reflection of this.

Which players do you find the most inspiring or exciting?
This can change somewhat from time to time, but there are a few that I’ve recently found inspiring. Jorge Caballero, Rafael Aguirre, Marcin Dylla, Zoran Dukic and Ricardo Gallen are to name but a few. If you haven’t heard of them then I recommend going on YouTube right now!

When you’re not practicing and playing, what do you get up to? Activities with minimal nail damaging potentially presumably?!
Yes, nail damage can be an influence on the hobbies us guitarists take up. I enjoy reading, Yoga, video games and drinking good beer with friends. I find the balance of practice to be really important – sometimes staying inside and practicing all day can have negative impacts. It can also be beneficial to take a break from music related activities in order to refresh your mind.

How was the Adelaide International Guitar Festival experience for you?
It was a great festival this year! A spectacular line up of performances, including Ana Vidovic and Paolo Bellinati. It was a good vibe being surrounded by luthiers, students, professionals and guitar aficionados all in the one place – very inspiring. The schedule was jam packed and very hectic, especially when you have to fit in some time for practice! Basically you’d wake up, get ready, go to some classes or talks, watch a few concerts, hang out at the bar and go to bed!

You did fantastically well getting through to the final of the competition. What are your thoughts on the competition? How you played? How others played?
Thank you, it was nice to get through to the final round. I thought I played quite well in the semi-final round – it was a bit more casual and the room was small and not hard to fill with sound. In the finals I found the venue to be a little dry acoustically and coupled with the fact that it was such a big performance I think I might have pushed myself a little harder than usual, which can have quite negative affects on your playing.

I performed Prelude from Lute Suite 995 by Bach and La Catedral by Barrios. We had a 15 minute time limit with at least one work needing to be pre-1850 and another post-1850. The standard was incredible all round this year – I managed to watch the second half of the finals in which 3 out of the 4 performers got placed, including the winner Andrey Lebedev and big congrats to him!

What really stood out to me was the different styles of playing you observe when hearing players back to back – it’s great to see such individual style even when the same pieces are being performed. Not to mention all the different guitars used, from traditional to Smallman. Even appearances were quite varied and unique.

Which acts did you check out at the Festival and which was your favourite?
I went to almost every concert! There was Slava and Leonard Grigoryan and they did an arrangement of The Seasons by Tchaikovsky – that was absolutely stunning playing, they even swapped guitars for one of the movements.

Ana Vidovic played a solo concert and she is certainly an incredibly refined performer. Her sensitive phrasing, dynamics and command of the instrument really stood out to me. I was a little disappointed with the repertoire, but I can understand that it’s her first Australian appearance so it’s probably a safer option to stick with the “classics”.

Paolo Bellinati and another guitarist Weber Lopes performed some groovy Brazilian original compositions, including Bellinati’s big hit Jongo. This concert just kept getting better and better, some really rhythmic and expressive playing happening.

The little I saw of jazz legend John Scofield was utterly incredible – unfortunately I had to do a sound check for the competition at the same time as his concert. Scofield has an incredible musical language and sound palette, coupled with an extreme mastery of the instrument. There seemed to be no boundaries in what he was doing.

Edin Karamazov was one of the most unique players I’ve ever seen. He played lute and guitar and fairly standard repertoire including Bach’s Chaconne, 3 Barrios Valses and Invierno Porteno by Piazzolla. Eden sounded as if he hadn’t touched a guitar for a few weeks, but somehow he managed to enrapture the audience with his charismatic and eccentric playing style, taking liberties at every corner of every bar of the pieces he played (and even not adhering to his program, playing pieces that weren’t on there and not playing pieces that were!).

I think his performance caused a little controversy as some people would be utterly gobsmacked at how much liberty Edin was taking. Nonetheless I enjoyed his concert simply for the fact that it was so different to what you normally here, quite refreshing.

Guitar Trek played a marvellous concert, including some big Australian works. Phillip Houghton’s News From Nowhere (a work that I’vve performed) was the highlight for me. It’s a work that uses the guitar family, which includes a bass, baritone, standard and treble guitar, creating a big scope for extending the range of the ensemble. This work also uses some cool effects including banging a tuning fork on your knee and resonating it on the guitar and swiping a New Zealand $2 coin on the strings (it has frayed edges and makes a particularly scratchy effect).

What got my attention with Guitar Trek was there incredibly rich and beautiful sound and great ensemble communication.

The Australian String Quartet played some quintets with four guitarists – Slava, Ana, Simon Powis and Edin. They performed quintets by Tedesco, Houghton, Boccherini and Beatles arrangements by Brouwer. Stunning concert and repertoire; it was so good to hear a quality string quartet amongst all this guitar playing!

The final concert that ended the festival Caminos Flamencos from the US. The guitarist Jason McGuire was phenomenal (I’m running out of adjectives now) his electrifying playing was coupled with incredible dancing and singing – it was a bit of a fusion between jazz, contemporary and flamenco, but it worked very effectively. It’s too difficult to pick a favourite, so my apologies but I simply can’t!

Be sure to check out some of Daniel’s playing here:

And don’t forget to check out his own blog and website here, too:  www.danielnistico.com