Concert Review – Karin Schaupp & Pavel Steidl Presented by Musica Viva

I had the enormous pleasure on Saturday night to experience what is probably one of the best classical guitar concerts I’ve been to. Yes, I know I’m always quite a positive person and ready to heap praise on the fabulous artists I have the pleasure of listening to and watching, but this concert shauupsteidle760really was that good!

Karin and Pavel, both reasonably commanding presences on the stage in their own right, really drew the audience in with not just their playing (and I’ll get onto that in a minuet), but also with their conversation throughout the evening. They made the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall in Melbourne’s Recital Centre feel like a very intimate venue, with their inviting conversational style. This was a high art concert yes, but with a fantastically informal, informative and light-hearted approach. Take note other guitarists and chamber musicians!

The program (or programme depending on where you’re from!) was a tale of two halves. The first half of the program was presented entirely upon Romantic period guitars, including a Stauffer-stye Terz guitar built for Schaupp by Perth based luthier Simon Rovis-Hermann just last year, especially for this tour. Schaupp also played a standard size Romantic guitar by the same luthier, and Steidl a standard size Romantic guitar by Cologne-based luthier Bernhard Kresse.

Karin and Pavel opened up proceedings with a couple of delightful Merz duets (Am Grabe der Geleiben and Unruhe). This was followed up with Sor’s fantastically French flavoured L’Encouragement, not before the artists regaled us stories of the guitar’s progression in terms of its construction to this point as well as the history of the various composers and players of the time.

Pavel then took centre stage to play a couple of Paganini solo pieces (Minuetto che va chiamando Dida and Valtz). This style of music, and these pieces in particular, suit Steidl’s style to an absolute tee. He is a supreme technician of the instrument – a must when playing works as intricate (and perhaps uninviting on initial viewing) as those by Paganini. Much more than this, these works really give a stage to Steidl’s marvellous approach to the “fine” style of guitar playing (as he himself called it). That is to say really just taking what is written on the page as just the very basis from which to explore the music – the colours, the tones, the movement, flow and phrasing, different effects, cadenzas and a bit of ad libbing here and there. And this he did with much cheeky vivacity, exaggerated physical gestures, showmanship and Bream-on-methamphetimines face pulling! Sheer brilliance.

The first half was then rounded out by two movements from the aforementioned Bream’s duet arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 9 in G Minor (played by Bream and John Williams back in the early 1980s). This was just a delicious ending to the Romantic first half, with Karin really demonstrating her capacity for gorgeous tone production and lightning fast left and right hand dexterity.

The second half of the concert focussed on music from the twentieth century, starting out with two of Granados’ Spanish Dances (Orientale and Rondalla aragonesa). It was time then for Karin to take centre and play one of her favourite twentieth century solo pieces, Albeniz’s Torre Bermeja (ranscribed from original piano score by Miguel Llobet). This was an awesomely moving rendition of this well-known staple of the guitar repertoire – full of passion, power and control over some stunningly even and fluidly fast arpeggio passages – one of the best renditions of this I think I’ve heard, recorded or otherwise in fact. I know this show was about the duo, but this piece was the stand-out of the evening for me.

Karin and Pavel then treated us to a little self-made suite of three pieces, made up of two Australian pieces (Ross Edward’s Djanaba and Phillip Houghton’s Brolga) – a nod to Karin’s origins – with a piece from the Czech Republic (Janacek’s The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away from On An Overgrown Path) – a nod to Pavel’s origin’s. And the fabulous evening was rounded out with a superb slice of Brazilian rhythm in duo form with Radames Gnattali’s Ciquinha Gonzaga (Corta Jaca) from Suite Retratos.

Ooh, actually that’s not quite right, there was a delicious encore of one of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (my apologies, I can’t recall exactly which one!) from the duo to send us gently out into a balmy early autumn Melbourne evening (or downstairs into the Salon for a bit of a “meet and greet” question and answer session with Karin and Pavel anyway!).

A fantastic, fantastic concert, by arguably two of the greatest guitar performers currently touring. They have some dates still to perform in the next week or two across Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. I HIGHLY recommend you get yourselves along – it’s a truly inspirational concert not to be missed!

If you want to know a wee bit more about these two wonderful performers head over to my preview of the concert HERE.

Thank you Karin and Pavel for a wonderful concert and thank you Musica Viva for hosting two fabulous stars of the guitar! More! More!

Interview with Duo 19 – Part Deux

Here we are folks, back again with part two of my interview with Dan McKay and Antony Field of Duo 19. In case you missed it last week, check out the first part of the interview here.

Duo 19 – yes named after a tram line! (Photo credit: Rantz)

On with Part Deux!

Guitarists they most admire

Dan and Antony are both massive fans of Pavel Steidl. Antony, in fact, rates him as probably the top player on the circuit performing today. They both also rate their former teacher, Canberra-based Tim Kain. Antony rates him in particular  for “his sound, his phrasing, just the warmth and sincerity of his music-making is hard to find elsewhere. It’s a kind of rarity in a way, I think.

Interestingly Antony has a bit of a love-hate relationship with the playing of John Williams, finding his playing very absent sometimes (a view that I may have a tendancy to agree with), but feels he’s gotten better in that regard as he’s gotten older. However, he can’t go past Segovia “some of the way he phrases things was so unique. It really worked sometimes….like wow, that’s special. It just comes from a place where Segovia was at as a person.

Dan’s has two all-time favourite guitarists, with Alirio Diaz and Julian Bream vying for the top spot, and Pavel Steidl his favourite actively performing guitarist (and lucky Australian’s can check him out on tour this month and March with Karin Schaupp by the way).

Of Bream Dan had to say that “the Nocturnal, the first recording that Bream did was just great. I can’t imagine hearing better music.” Similarly with Segovia’s playing on some of the Castelnuovo-Tedescso works, “it was of a different age, a different kind of attention to different details in the playing I suppose. But the sound was just fantastic.”

The duo also share much love for local chaps Harold Gretton and Aleksandr Tsiboulski, as well as US guitarist Ben Verderey and Chinese star Xuefei Yang.

Some tips for you, dear readers!

I asked Dan and Antony’s to share their top tips for those currently studying guitar, or thinking about picking up the guitar for the first time…..Some wise words from the maestri:

  • Listen to the sound you make. This one is for students at any level – stop and say “is that the sound you want to make? “This is something that everyone can do fairly early on”, says Dan, “Even if you’re just learing to play your first notes on the third string or whatever, you can try to make it sound good you know, from the very start”.
  • It’s really important to not be thinking too far ahead. If you’re doing things that are too difficult for you, or comparing yourself to others and thinking that you should be really learning such-and-such piece – stop! Don’t worry about any of that. Antony advises to “just work with the material you’re working on with your teacher, getting that music to a point where you’re able to listen to it…..If it’s too difficult you’re probably not listening to yourself…..Stick with appreciating the sound and listening to the sound…
  • Adopt an attitude of “what else”?  Atune your ear, listen and think about what else you can get out of a particular phrase or piece. Think about what else is in the music other that what you’re playing at that moment. “That’s what keeps you alive and curious about music, to me anyway” says Antony.
  • Become familiar with the repertoire of the instrument. Go to concerts and recitals, listen to recordings, become familiar with the various pieces, the different styles. Listen and find those pieces that make you say “I feel like I just have to play this music” says Dan.
  • Always follow-up on what you were working on between lessons with your teacher. Write down what you’ve done in the lesson, but then also write down or remember and discuss with your teacher what you were working on away from the lesson. You spend more time practicing and playing away from the teacher (hopefully!) than you do with them. So there’s a lot of time and a lot of thinking and a lot of self-teaching going on. Dan advises on maximising your efforts by going through your own learnings during the week with your teacher.

Both guitarists feel the same that these principles apply to whatever level of guitarist you may be – whether you’re just picking up the guitar for the first time, you’re in your first year of learning, a tertiary student, or professional guitarist. The only separation between these is the levels of complexity involved. Antony says he stills applies these principles in his playing and adopts the very grounded attitude of “never feel like you’re above being reminded of that sound you’re creating….Or Oh what’s going on with the rhythm there…..we’re all human beings.”

Wise words indeed! Thanks for the interview guys and really looking forward to the next recording from Duo 19!

Ooh, and head here to check out Duo 19’s playing in action or purchase your very own copy of Fluid Lines: