GUITARRA MAGAZINE: We have the pleasure to be with one of the leading figures of the classical guitar world, the internationally a famed guitarist Eduardo Fernandez. Welcome and thank you for being with us Maestro.
EDUARDO FERNANDEZ: It is a pleasure to be here.
GM: Can you tell us about your learning experience as a musician who grew up in Latin America and interacted with personalities such as Abel Carlevaro?
EF: Well, I got to Carlevaro comparatively late, I was like twenty years old. Before that I had been studying with Santolsola who was not a guitarist, just a composer. I played for him a lot, and at some point I decided that I needed to have better technique to get what I wanted so I went to study with Abel at the same time...I was with him for four years and I learned a lot from him.
GM: Was Abel in Uruguay at that time?
EF: At that time he was not traveling very much, I was lucky, in those years he was mostly in Montevideo.
GM: How does the way you approach guitar pedagogy might be different from the way he approaches it?
EF: Well, to start with I think everybody is different. The fact that you study with someone does not mean that you are going to apply the exact same thing. I think I apply most of his ideas but maybe in a different way, I am not so much into theory as he was and of course he invented many things, he (Carlevaro) was very interested in all of this, and of course, musically we have different outlooks ?esthetically, and so on? I think that everything I really know about guitar technique I learned from him. Maybe, the way I tell the same tale is a little bit different.
GM: Did you have most of your learning process in Latin America?
EF: Yes, all of it.
GM: So you went out of the country when you became a concert artist basically.
EF: Basically yes, of course you never cease developing, I can't say I was completely armed when I started going out, but I was in a good stage?I think. Uruguay has a very European culture; I don't think is very different from having grown up in Italy or Spain in many ways.
GM: Lets move on. Having recoded such a variety of guitar repertoire have you found a specific musical period or style that might fit the guitar the best?
EF: No, I think that in every period you have works that fit and of course we have original works from different periods. Basically I think the guitar is an instrument to make music and an instrument is exactly that, something "instrumental" for making music; it is something you use for making music and in any style I find pieces that work fine.
GM: Do you have any favorite styles or composers that you enjoy playing the most?
EF: I like everything, really, but many times I? for instance lately I've been working a lot on Bach which I'm very much into that now, but of course this is going to pass to a different phase. At some point I would like to go very much in-depth in the Vihuela music but I don't know when? sometime, and of contemporary music, which I've always played and still do.
GM: We understand that you did an album on romantic guitar using an instrument of the period. How was this experience, is it much more different than playing a modern guitar?
EF: I think it is, it really changes the way you look at that music, because to start with it has much lower tension than the modern one (guitar). Big dynamic contrasts are almost impossible but inflection contrast or inflection in dynamic become very important. In a way is not so "flashy" as the modern guitar would be but there is a lot more singing and it is very expressive, you have to change the technique of the right hand basically to make it work.
GM: In what way do you change the right hand technique?
EF: Well, to start with the position, you can't play almost perpendicular; you don't play horizontally, but it's a different way of playing, and you have to use very short nails. That's if you use nails at all.
GM: So, you can't play this guitar with long nails?
EF: Yes, basically the lower tension does not fit long nails, of course you have the option of not going for this kind of historical sound and use (regular) modern strings but then, I don't think there is much of a point of using a different instrument.
GM: Did use gut strings when you recorded the album?
EF: Not quite, because gut strings are difficult to keep in tune, and for recordings it's a nightmare already trying to keep everything in tune. I used modern nylon strings, but made for this particular instrument.
GM: Changing topics a little bit, Where do you see Latin American guitar composers going with their music nowadays?
EF: Well, there has always been in Latin America this division between the folk-inspired people and the others (western classical tradition). I don't see that going away because we keep having good composers based in folk tradition and we keep having good composers that are more universal in their materials, but I think the level is going up and we have a lot of people interested in writing for guitar now, that we did not use to have, like, a guitar piece by Tosar, a guitar concerto by Garrido-Lecca from Peru, many pieces from Brazil like Marlos Nobre and others. This music is really very interesting. I think (Latin America) is one of the regions of the planet where the guitar is very strong.
GM: Could you name some of the personalities that you believe are the most important in the Latin American Music world?
EF: Well, I think I mentioned a few already, my own wife Ana Torres has written a wonderful piece for guitar and is going to write another one soon? I hope! Tosar wrote one of his big pieces for guitar, this is only from Uruguay. Marlos Nobre has written a lot for guitar and guitar duos, and I mentioned already Celso Garrido-Lecca from Peru. He wrote a big piece for solo guitar, Simpay, and a really wonderful concerto.
GM: That's great. These are certainly names that we hope become known internationally more and more.
EF: This is on the "serious" side or "not folk" side or "impopular" side, or whatever you want to call it. From the folk side we have people like Gentil Montaņa in Colombia and many in Brazil that walk this line between classical and fusion or whatever, and come up with very interesting things.
GM: We understand that you are getting ready to record a new album that would possibly include all Latin American repertoire, can you tell us a little bit more about this project?
EF: Well, it is still on the works but is going to happen next year at some point during the summer. Maybe it's not only Latin American, but most of it will be.
GM: So you might include some of the music by the composers you mentioned earlier?
EF: Maybe some of those, but I'm not sure yet about the program. I am still trying different ideas.
GM: We look forward to listening to the album when it comes out.
GM: We heard that you are also publishing a book about the lute music of Bach; can you tell us a little bit more about the book?
EF: I started with the idea of just writing a few articles, but the thing grew and grew, and eventually what I am going to do is to start with a book with general essays and then going on to comment work by work, because there is so much material.
GM: Are you going to talk about the differences between the performance on the lute and the performance on the guitar?
EF: Not very much, for several reasons; first because I am sure some of the works where not written originally for the lute, like the First Suite, probably the Second Suite, and the question is not so much the instrument but the contents of the music itself. We guitarist nowadays can play the notes, but to understand what the notes mean is a completely different thing; and we need help for that because there is not an specific study of these works that I know of. There are good editions (printed music); the text is already there but how to read it is what we need to know, so I am trying to help a little bit in this direction.
GM: That is wonderful. We also read on your website that the guitar method you wrote has been recently published in English.
EF: Yeah, is not a method really, is more like a theoretical book about how you learn to play, maybe the ideas could be used for a method, I don't know.
GM: Is it a book suited for specific level players or for all players in general?
EF: I think is for all kinds really, because it's mostly general ideas that you can put to use at the level you are at; it is not a method and it has much more text than musical examples.
GM: Do you have any idea when the new album and the book you are writing on Bach might come out?
EF: Well, I'm hoping for the Spanish version of the first book on Bach (because there are going to be several books) to be ready by maybe the end of this year (2002) or the beginning of the next one (2003), because what I am doing now is the final revision of the five essays in the first volume and this would not take more than a month, with a little bit of luck. And then I have to start the English translation, too. And the record is going to be made during the summer of next year (2003) in Germany. So it might take a while.
GM: Changing topics; From a pedagogical point of view, how important do you think it is for a guitar student to achieve a balance between technical skill and musical maturity and knowledge?
EF: Well, this is a very important question, because it brings me to the core of many of the ideas of the book, which are basically that it's not a very good idea to think of these things as separate because technique in the abstract doesn't exist. Technique is always manifested in something you play, and many people when they mention good technique they think of playing loud and fast, and this is not the right way to look at it, because technique is a question of control; of playing what you want, in the way you want it to sound. So if you concentrate exclusively on technique and leave the musical part for later, this "later" never comes. Everything happens now, in the "now" of practicing, the "now" of playing, in the "now" of performing you have to have everything together. I think the quicker way is to integrate this two aspects as much as possible; some things you have to work on physically but once you learn what you need there is no need to keep doing that. You learn to ride a bicycle once in your life and the body never forgets, and much of the technical aspects of guitar playing are like that.
GM: How much of the work should be done away from the guitar (which is something that we rarely do)?.
EF: A lot, I think. Even technical aspects can be practiced away from the instrument. In some cases you actually need to do this in order to get rid of something you want to change. It is much more clear if you try the movements without the instrument because once you have the instrument in your hands what you learned takes over and is much more difficult to see what is happening.
GM: And in terms of the musical development what kind of work do you suggest doing away from the guitar?
EF: Listening to music, reading about music, analyzing of course, all of that.
GM: So, spend some time with the music score and listening to different recording of the music?
EF: Absolutely, I would say (listen to the music) with the score. You know, listen to music related to what you are playing. If you are playing for example a piece by Sor, depending of which piece it is, I would like to listen to some Beethoven or Haydn or Mozart or Cherubini or whatever. A piece never exists outside of a context; study the history of the period, the personality of the composer, the moment in the composer's life, the occasion for which it (the piece) was written for; there is always a context, if you ignore this you are depriving the music of one of its most interesting aspects.
GM: To finish this interview, where do you see the classical guitar going in the future?
EF: Well, there is nowhere to go but up I think, and the integration of the guitar with the rest of the musical world has not happened yet. We still have to work at this; one way to work at this is to try to get better ourselves? so it is all in your hands! (Laughter)
GM: So you think the interaction between guitarist and other musicians is something that is slowly happening and helping out the guitar world?
EF: It is happening but very, very slowly. It could happen quicker, but for that we need to be better armed.
GM: Do you think that the nature of the guitar would be a barrier for achieving this purpose? Do you think the guitar might have some musical limits that are hard to overcome technically?
EF: Every instrument has limits, you know, and the limits of the guitar are not different form the limits of the flute or? I don't know, name any instrument? you don't make an instrument grow by concentrating on the limitations that it might have. And the only limitation the guitar really has is volume. Nowadays with electronics, this is not a problem anymore; the real limitations we have are really musical, as players, and we have to work at this. I always say that we (guitarists) are at the same stage than African-Americans were here (USA) in the 50's and 60's; to have the same opportunity as a pianist we have to be twice as good so we have to be able to sight-read like a pianist or conductor, analyze pieces like a composer, and have the professionalism that any other instrumental player has; until we get to that, complaining that we are being marginalized is not going to lead us anywhere, so we really have to work at music.
GM: Do you have any ideas on how to create a bigger audience for the guitar? It seems there has been decay since the 70's, nowadays I believe less people are going out to hear the classical guitar on stage?
EF: Well, programming (of the music) is one part; we have to take into consideration: which audience we are playing for? Do we want to play only for the colleagues? Play the latest fad, whatever it is in the guitar world, which is a very small and isolated world? Or do we want to make programs that are musically interesting for a general audience of people who love music? We are not going to attract the general audience if we keep playing only "guitar pieces" - we have to play music! It is going to be in the long range, and is not going to happen next week. But if we ever want it to happen we have to do this.
GM: And it seems there is a larger amount of talented guitar students and some of these students have enough experience already that become teachers and slowly there is more people involved doing these things?
EF: Yes of course, remember we are working with a very big handicap, which is that the guitar was stopped for 200 or 150 years form developing, so we don't have a continuous tradition. A violinist can use works from 1500's up to now, a pianist or keyboard player in general has a continuous history of development, we don't have this, so we are trying to make up for these holes we have in the history of the guitar.
GM: Well maestro, thank you very for your time. I'm really sure our readers will enjoy reading this interview very much.
EF: You are welcome, it was a pleasure.