Antigoni Goni won the First prize at the GFA International Competition in 1995. In this interview she shares with us her experience with the guitar from her childhood with the guitar in Greece to her future plans.
We here at Guitarra hope that you enjoy this interview as much as we have. For more information about Antigoni Goni go to www.antigonigoni.com
GUITARRA MAGAZINE: We are here with world renowned guitarist Antigoni Goni. Welcome Antigoni. Please tell us a bit about your development as a guitarist?
ANTIGONI GONI: I started in Greece when I was 10 and graduated at 18. Then I went to the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then went to the Julliard School of Music for my Master's degree. That is a very brief overview, but it took at least 15 years.
GM: Who were your main teachers?
AG: Evangelos Assimakopoulos in Greece, John Mills at the Royal Academy, Leo Brouwer in seminars during the summer, Julian Bream in master classes, Sharon Isbin at Julliard, and master classes in Siena with Oscar Ghiglia. They are my main influences, them and all the years of studying. I started performing very early. My first concert on stage was when I was 12 years old. There has been a lot of work involved, but really my professional career started in my early 20's, it took off with the Guitar Foundation of America 1st prize... Also a big influence were the recordings of Julian Bream, Andres Segovia and Presti and Lagoya, these were my inspiration, my motivation. My teacher also in Greece, Evangelos Assimakopoulos, was very demanding regarding the sound. It is very important to become aware of the big issue of sound production that early in your development as a musician.
Then all along master classes, festivals and competitions, each and everyone added from little things to big influences. It has been like a journey, it has not stopped and I hope it won?t until the end of my life. Developing, improving and learning is an ongoing thing.
GM: How young were you when you decided to take guitar as a life career?
AG: It is very hard to pinpoint a date, but I can say that the decision was taken right after I graduated from high school. I got away of the guitar during the last year of high school and concentrated in entering the Polytechnic School to study Architecture. During that year I was not really practicing the guitar. I was studying instead to pass the exams. It was during that time I realized that I enjoyed more spending 8 hours playing the guitar rather than studying math and physics. Before I took the big decision I was wondering whether I could actually dedicate the amount of time that the guitar needed as well as focus in a way that I never did before, I was not practicing really hard when I was younger, so that was something I really had to prove to myself. The first year of really hard work was when I was 18, just before going to the Havana Guitar Competition in Cuba in 1988. That competition was the start.
It was an incredible international experience, plus I proved to myself that I can work hard and get good results. So I would say, that was the turn point, this is when I said "This is what I want to do". After this competition things just started to happen: received some scholarships, auditions were successful, competitions went well. I had a really good time but also there was a lot of hard work.
GM: What other types of music do you listen to besides guitar music?
AG: Well, the music that I grew up with and that I picked up the guitar for, is the folk music of Greece. I also listen to the music of Argentina, Spain, Portugal. For example, Mercedes Sosa and Amalia Rodriguez, as well as Italian song writers like Paolo Conte and Fabricio de Andre. This is the music I listen to when I want to relax, cook or have a cup of coffee. This is the music I grew up with, and this is the music in my life now. I also listen to a lot of classical music, but one thing that I don?t do is to listen to "hard core" contemporary music when I want to relax!..... (laughter)
GM: Do you like to perform "hard core" contemporary music?
AG: I like to perform hard core contemporary music but I have to really love the piece.
GM: How do you choose a contemporary piece? Do you choose a piece after you listen to it or you rather commission new music?
AG: Well it is a combination of both, just like you said. Sometimes I choose to play a piece after I have listened to it first but some other times it is enough to read though a work to get a good idea.
I also like very much commissioning composers and I love to work closely with them. For that I have to love their personal style and musical language first.
Now, how do I choose contemporary music? Well, I think in the same way I choose music in general. I tend to enjoy performing and working on repertoire that brings out the wide color palette that the guitar has to offer. The guitar is one of the few instruments that has an incredible kaleidoscope of sound and color...
GM: So you are probably very good at sight-reading all these effects on the score...
AG: Well, yes but I am not talking so much about effects. I am talking more about color. I mean you can get very wonderful sounds and colors from a 70's composition by Brouwer as well as from the second movement of the Torroba Sonatina for example. The music I like is not restricted to a period. It simply has to explore the different colors of the guitar.
GM: Now that we are talking about the music that you enjoy, why don't you tell us what other composers you enjoy performing?
AG: Well, I do enjoy Henze, I have not performed his music yet but it is one of my projects, I also enjoy Takemitsu and there is a big project planned for next year in the Miller Theater in NYC. I also enjoy and perform Ginastera, Assad, Brouwer, Britten to mention few.
GM: You just got a residency program in San Francisco. Can you tell us a little about it?
AG: Yes, it is a program that is actually going through its second season. It started about 5 years ago. The first artist in residence was Manuel Barrueco for 4 years, and this past September I started the new season for the following four years. It is actually a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community in the Bay area, not only with performances in big theaters but also in more intimate settings like salon concerts and small community theaters. Also, it offers the opportunity to introduce the classical guitar to students in high schools, as well as give master classes in the colleges and universities of the area. It has two sides the performing and the pedagogical. I just completed the first year and it has been a really wonderful experience. I am looking forward to the next season.
GM: Is it related in some way to the San Francisco Guitar Competition?
AG: No. Although I was involved in the competition, being one of the judges, these two events are not related at all.
GM: We understand that you have a teaching appointment with Columbia University. Can you tell us a little about it?
AG: It is a position that has been going on for two years, and it is complemented with my position at the Julliard School. Columbia University does not offer a performance degree. The students at Columbia are either working two majors, or have studied music all their life and decided to pursue a different career in the university. I get around 3 students every year, quite talented and very intelligent. The school has very high standards and the students try and they mostly succeed to manage everything: music, academic work, etc. I have enjoyed this a lot.
GM: Can you tell us about your position in Julliard?
AG: Julliard is a really great position because I get to teach very talented kids with no attitude, so for me is really fantastic. They learn very fast and respond very quickly, you can see the progress in a week and that is very rewarding for a teacher.
GM: We want to know if you have any advice for the young players that are pursuing an artistic career in the guitar and the music world.
AG: I have an advise that has two parts. The first one is the artistic part and the second one is the human part. In the artistic part the only thing I have to say is that you have to be true to yourself and to your music, don't compromise, work very hard and don't give up. The people that you see with an international career had to go through many obstacles and never gave up...
GM: What do you mean by don't compromise?
AG: Don't compromise who you are, what YOU really like to sound like, what YOU want to play, YOUR interpretation. In general, do not compromise your personality that is what the audience comes to listen to.
In the human side, I think it is very important to be a well-rounded human being that people enjoy being with, because no one would like to invite or introduce someone that might be a genius but its a real pain in the neck!(laughter) It is very difficult to be around a human being that actually you don't want to have in your dinner table. It is very difficult to keep the balance. Big success and the lights of the big stage can blind a lot of people, we have to be careful with that.
GM: In the business aspect of the career, what kind of actions besides the education and technical preparation should the new guitarist take in order to pursue a successful career?
AG: First of all, in every academic setting there are performance opportunities so you have to make good use of those and create more for yourself. You should start from very early to create your own concert opportunities because if you wait for a big agent to come along, you might have to wait all your life. You have to create your own concerts, starting at your home, then in your community, then in your city, then in your state. All from a very simple start. Competitions are very helpful, even if you do not win. Connections are number one, this is were the human side comes into play, making connections is much easier if you are a very good talented player and a very nice human being. In every moment of our lives we meet somebody, if we are interested in the person, then we become friends is much easier to create something after that. Young players have to be prepared and be able to create their own concert opportunities and be capable of bringing people together, organizing, and at the same time participate in competitions, festivals, classes, chamber music. You have to be alert in every aspect.
GM: What I have found, that is actually very surprising, its the fact that the great majority of the general audience has no direct contact with the classical guitar. When I go play somewhere people approach me and say how wonderful the sound of the guitar is, and they never imagined that the guitar could do so many things at the same time. I believe there is actually a lot of room for all guitarists to be performing professionally and we just have to work hard towards that.
AG: Absolutely, I think that in music and in art, there is always a place for everybody and that is what I meant before when I said "don't compromise your personality," because you can not imitate, you can not reproduce, and people will not go for that. But if you have a strong personality and have something to say, there will always be a place.
GM: Well, thank you very much for this interview.
AG: You are very welcome.