Interview with Ascendant Aussie Classical Guitarist Andrew Blanch – Part 2

Welcome to part two of my interview with Aussie classical guitarist Andrew Blanch, as he launches his first Australian tour (including a visit to us lucky folks in Melbourne on 10th December) and prepares to make his first ever recording.

In case you missed it, check out Monday’s post for the first part of the interview:

Read on to check out Andrew’s top tips for learning guitar, what and who inspires him as a musician and guitarist, and his view on his new axe of choice……


What are your top tips for someone just starting to learn the classical guitar?

I guess have fun is pretty important! Having a good teacher probably helps a lot too.

In fact, you know what, I think it can be really tough for adult learners. They’re often really good at what they do, wherever they work. That’s their thing that they’ve been going at – I teach people from the public service, something like that. They’re experts at something. And maybe the skills involved in music aren’t necessarily the same as the ones in whatever they’re doing. It can be hard learning from someone younger than you too. A lot of teachers are students and that sort of thing.

With regards to getting a teacher I think, as a classical guitarist, is assumed. I’d really think about what the teacher is saying. Really just have some trust, I would say. Allow yourself to trust this new concept, this new way of thinking and approaching a way they may be trying to get you to think. Just have trust and just give it a go, thinking in the way they’re teaching you. And don’t necessarily assume that the thought processes to do what you’re doing are going to music as well.

What words of wisdom would you have for someone perhaps thinking of going to uni to study the classical guitar?

Go for it!

Think about where you want to study, pretty carefully. And go up and test it out, have a look, see what people recommend.

What music do you like to listen to? What inspires you?

I’ve got some “go to” albums that I’ve been listening to lately that really inspire me. The big one for me is Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Scriabin Sonatas. It’s a solo piano, but so firey and I just love Scriabin’s compositional style. It’s so full of emotion and colour. It’s huge the spectrum of emotions. I think it’s fantastic. Very grandiose, so it’s fun to let yourself get absorbed.

Things like Miles Davis albums. All of them. There’s albums for different moods. Also Alicia de Larrocha playing the Granados Goyescas, that’s amazing. I listen to a few pianists actually. Claudio Arrau playing Chopin. A lot of these guys it just sounds so beautiful, so lyrical, really emotional, connects with you, yet is just stunning music.

Which guitarists inspire you?

I reckon John Williams would be top of the list. I know it’s cliched, but he’s phenomenal. Who else? I don’t listen to that many guitarists. I get little bits of inspiration from everyone, even just going to performance class with my fellow students and I hear them play and they do something I really like. I find that quite inspiring.

The only guitarist I can think of listening to of late and being really inspired by is John Williams. Julian Bream will be in there sometimes as well. Zoran Dukic as well, I should say. He’s got some really cool stuff.

What is it about Williams that you like in particular?

I actually find him to be really, really musical, I guess! Great rhythm, beautiful expressive playing. I don’t understand this idea sometimes that Williams is this cold, unexpressive player. Listen to him playing Scarlatti Sonatas – there is nothing close to cold or emotionless about that sort of playing. It’s fantastic and it sounds, to my ears, some of the most informed interpreting of that music I’ve heard.

It resonates with when I have lessons with musicians from this field of music, it really resonates with what I’ve learnt. With other guitarists it just sounds like they haven’t thought about this stuff before. It sounds like Williams has.

Who are some of the musicians you’ve had the pleasure to have lessons with?

I had the pleasure of a lesson with Neal Peres Da Costa. He’s a harpischordist and a specialist in performance so that was great. I went over to see Zoran Dukic, Paul O’Dette – those guys were stand outs. I also had some lessons with Harold Gretton. They were great.

What do you take out of the lessons where you’re with a harpsichordist or a lutenist or a different instrument to the guitar?

I find they’re the ones that give you the most. They just help you understand the music from a strictly musical perspective without instrument and then you view the music through the prism of your instrument. If you have a lesson with a really good musician I feel like they give you even more than a guitarist can ever give you because there’s so much detail in the music. You can talk about the meter, special notes, certain figurations, all sorts of stuff. Great stuff.

I always find it more inspiring too, trying to work for something greater. The guitarists will often be like “reduce those squeaks” and “that finger was down a little bit early” and things like that. Very guitary things!

Mind you, a very common one you get out of non-guitarists is “can you play a bit louder?”! And so you’re playing double f, breaking the sound on every note…. “yeah, that sounds a bit more like what I was thinking”!

What does the future hold for Andrew Blanch or what would you like it to hold?

I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what I want the future to hold. I know I want to perform guitar, solo and with other people. So some future where that holds a sort of reasonably central place in my life. It’s what I want to do I guess. I don’t know what form that will take. I’m going to try not to leave it up to chance either!

Try and play as much as I can. Yes, that’s it – play as much as I can in a way that I’m doing music that I enjoy, things that I like doing and earn a living. That’s the dream!

And what about the immediate future – what’s happening in the next 12 months?

So I’m doing these concerts in November and December – Wollongong, Bega, Wagga Wagga, Sydney, Melbourne and Cootamundra. That’s this year.

And I’m recording my first disc late this December of the repertoire I’m playing in these concerts. So straight after the Melbourne I’m coming back to Canberra and recording a CD of this music. That’s great and I’m looking forward to that.

Have you done any recording previously?

I did some once before with a student engineer. We spent like an hour or something trying to get one track. It was absolutely excruciating! Arrrgghhh! It just took so much out of me. I’d go and I’d play, I’d do a run, I’d play my heart out and then we’d have to go back “you know you buzzed this note, you screwed up that chord there”. You’ve got to go over and over and after a few times of just doing your best I just got so exhausted.

I decided thereafter that I’d learn my music so well that I could just do everything in one take in the studio, but I don’t think that’s happened! And I don’t think that will happen! If only!

So when you’re not practicing or playing what do you like to do in your down time to relax?

That’s probably one of my problems – I don’t do much relaxing I’d say! Sometimes I go for walks, or watch a TV show, or something like that. Listening to music. I like reading non-fiction, reading about stuff, reading stuff on the internet. Just keeping busy I guess.

I think I need more down time, something I really need to add to my life!

I really love playing golf and Matt Withers (CGnS: another fantastic Aussie guitar talent) just got a golf set, so we’re going to play when he gets back from Europe.

Golf – a minimal nail damage kind of pass-time….

I’ve actually broken a nail playing golf! I was taking the ball out of the hole with my right hand and broke it!

Tell us about your gear – what kind of guitar do you play?

I play a 2014…..wait for it…. Greg Smallman and Sons guitar. Very fresh. I got it just a few months ago.

And what were you playing prior to that?

A 1995 Eugene Philp guitar. A beautiful instrument.

But you felt you needed the power of the Smallman?

Yeah, I was starting to feel the….I felt a little restricted by my old guitar. Eventually. It took me a while to get there, to get to that point. But there were things the guitar couldn’t give me and I knew the Smallman had it.

And you’re liking the Smallman?

Yeah, it’s quite an instrument. I’m just starting to get used to it now I’d say. The first couple of months was really just learning how to play the thing. I was so used to playing on my old guitar that I forgot the colour really changes according to the guitar that you’re on, which spot on the string makes which sort of a sound. You’ve got to fine tune what you’re doing.

You had to tweak up your right hand a little bit?

Yeah, I did. I had to get used to it. Also, I’d say it’s a lot more responsive, what I put into it, it really….it doesn’t hide anything, it plays exactly what you give it to play. So whether you give it a thin sound or a fat sound, or just tiny little nuances of colour that you might impart on the string, it plays that which is at once great, but also awful! There’s no hiding!

It’s got this beautiful resonance as well, really rich resonance across the strings. The three things I really like about it are its responsiveness, the colour – the real variety of colour you can get – and of course, the volume.

I’d put in a bit of an argument for volume. It’s not just about playing double f, louder. If you’re playing a fugue, for example, you’ve got multiple voices. You know, it just gives you more….I’m not sure if headroom is the right word or not, but if you’re playing within this dynamic range for this particular voice, you’ve got more volume to play with in each voice. If you’re playing a mf , there’s more mf there relative to what the instrument can do. So you can shape the lines more, you can have more dynamic shape to what you’re doing. So it’s not just about playing really loud……although that is tempting sometimes!


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 theMelbourne Guitar Foundation.

You can buy your tickets online here:

Concert Review: Xuefei Yang Solo Recital, Geelong, 7th October 2014

Hi Folks!  Well, if you read my last blog post you’ll know that I was eagerly anticipating the Geelong solo concert of Chinese guitariste extraordinaire, Xuefei Yang, this week.

Oh boy what a treat it was.  Myself and a lucky group of around 80 or so music and guitar fans cosied into the sumptuous surrounds of Sacred Heart College’s Chapel to witness Xuefei just completely own one of the most seriously impressive, big, fat, chunky solo programmes I’ve had the pleasure to see or hear. She clearly demonstrated that she’s equally at home on the smaller, more informal salon-type stage as she is on the large concert hall stage.

Fei kicked off the proceedings with her own arrangements of five of the six movements from Isaac Albeniz’s Espana: Seis Hojas de Album suite (the PreludeTangoMalaguenaCapricho Catalan and Zortico). This selection, featured on her Rodrigo albumwas a simply delightful start to the evening. Fei played the pieces with the requisite Spanish-inflected sentiment, yet balanced that with a delightfully delicate touch and elegant poise reminiscent of a classical ballet dancer. I particularly enjoyed the subtle Tango and the Zortico. Beautiful.

The Albeniz was followed by three Schubert songs (arranged by Merz) – Lob der Thranen, Aufenhalt and Standchen. As Fei announced, she’s a big Schubert fan and this was apparent from her playing. The lyrical, sentimentality of these songs was treated in the most graceful and delicate manner by Fei – elegant, simple, sensitive. And quite possibly some of the most pianissimo pianissimos I’ve ever witnessed! A super light, relaxed and delicate right hand.  I want a pianissimo touch like that!

The first half of the evening was rounded out by a phenomenal (I’m going to run out of superlatives here!) interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. The arrangement, again, was Fei’s own – a masterwork of masterworks, played by a master of the instrument. This Chaconne was simply fantastic (there was even a moment where I thought a rather excitable audience member was going to start applauding about a quarter of a way into the epic piece!) – a demonstration of dexterity, left hand shenanigans and right hand wizardry. Oh yes, and let’s not forget a beautiful sound too.

The second half of the programme featured a Chinese piece arranged by Fei, transcribed from the pipa or Chinese lute. This was followed by Song from a Bird by John Williams from his album of the same name. A fitting place to play such a piece, as he was inspired by the song of an Australian bird in writing this piece.

The next three pieces I’m not quite sure what to say about them to be honest. Words don’t really do them justice….. We were treated to Rodrigo’s Invocacion y danza. Wow. Wow. Wow.  This was off the chain (to coin an Australian phrase). A pure demonstration of virtuosity in guitar playing and musicality. Head over to YouTube for a taste of what I mean.

Xuefei waiting backstage, just a few moments before the start of the recital in Geelong. Photo: Neil Muir (borrowed from Xuefei’s Facebook page)



Fei then presented us with her arrangement of Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance No. 1. This was of particular interest given that it’s normally played by two instruments, guitar and something else (another guitar or piano). Fei decided apparently that she wanted to be able to play this tune without a duet partner, so took it upon herself to arrange it for solo guitar. What?! A glutton for punshiment surely in undertaking such an exercise (she admitted it was a pretty hard thing to do), but was well worth the effort. A fantastic arrangement, delivered as if it was intended to sit at home on the one instrument. It takes a fair bit of talent to be able to do that!

The end of the main programme featured Leo Brouwer’s Sonata para Guitarre Sola. Definitely not saving the easiest pieces till last! Brilliant. A spell-binding performance again delivered with Fei’s trademark poise and grace.  To round out the evening Fei left us with a cheeky little transcription of Plum Blossoms In The Snow (arranged by Gerald Garcia) from her latest recording, Sojourn. A delicious little “dessert” to finish the evening.

An absolutely wonderful evening of classical guitar performance. And all played from memory, to boot! Just phenomenal. As I said to the audience on the night (I was honoured with presenting Xuefei a gift from the Classical Guitar Society of Victoria), you would seriously be hard pressed to find a greater guitar talent in the world right now.  We all hope she comes back to Australia and Melbourne again very soon.