While out on the cliffs near West Bay last year, a voice uttered a by now familiar phrase – “Are you Gerald?”.
It was a surprise and great pleasure to see Dan Williams, whom I haven’t spoken to for around twenty years!
He happened to live and have a workshop in Bridport.
The next day, Alison and I visited and were fascinated to see all the instruments he had been making – Venezuelan cuatros and West African Koras as well as fascinating wooden sculptures and artifacts.
We first met when holidaying in France with his elder brother John (the guitarist!) in the 80s.
He had met Venezuelan guitarist and composerAlfonso Montes who features on John Williams’ album ‘El Diablo Suelto’ and became interested in the cuatro through that meeting.
Dan plays as well as makes his own instruments and has a background in film animation and woodwork. He learned to play from his father Len Williams, as did his famous brother.
Dan was about to start work in his first guitar, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his life and how it had taken so long for him to get around to making a guitar!
It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Will McNicol in Chengdu when I was on my way to my Mum’s 96th birthday.
I was met at the airport by Will, Xu Bao and Joshua Jiao and rushed to a restaurant in an emergency food dash.
Will had been touring China with his own super charged yet gentle brand of acoustic music which he played on a new crossover guitar made by Martinez. This is a nylon strung instrument with a longer neck (the neck meets the body at the 14th fret) and a slightly shallower body. Will had just played in Chengdu the night before, following on from ten or more concerts throughout China, ably assisted by Josh.
After a wonderful lunch which culminated in the smashing of a wine glass while I was on a swing (don’t ask) we were joined by Alex Wang, CEO of Martinez. The following, slightly inebriated interview(s) discussing the future of the guitar in China, connections, Will’s music, life, the universe etc followed without further breakages .
A clip from Will’s latest recording
Will was voted Acoustic Guitarist of the Year by Guitarist Magazine in 2011.
Here is his piece “The Wakeup”.
Sean came to the shed to play a preview of his Aldeburgh concert and CD recording last year. His programme was interesting as usual, starting with Forlorn Hope by Dowland and ending with Nocturnal by Britten, with Malcolm Arnold and Walton in between.
I had the chance to talk to him about his work as a New Generation artist with BBC radio 3, his attitude to competitions, and his idea of a good programme .
This was a welcome opportunity to catch up with Sean, whom I have known since he was a 13 year old in NYGE.
I was also present at his outstanding performance in London when he won the Royal Overseas League competition, ahead of an oboist, a singer and a pianist.
Here is a link to his Youtube channel where he shares his often individual view on the world and some fine performances, and here is our interview in the shed.
Max was given his first guitar at the age of nine, cost six guineas from the Bell Musical Catalogue. The first song he learnt to play was “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. After playing in various local bands, in 1980 he moved to London to join street theatre group the Demolition Decorators, touring France and Holland with them. Whilst in London he also played in a number of musical/theatre projects at the Albany Empire, Tricycle Theatre Kilburn and others, and in London he also tried his hand at busking for the first time.Tiring of London, or possibly London tiring of him, he returned home to Oxford and has been there ever since
I recently had the good fortune to meet my old friend Johnny Hinkes who was busking on the streets of Oxford. We had worked on a session together many years ago and I was impressed by his ability to get into the meaning of the music we were playing as well as his reading and improvisational ability.
So why busk?
We had an interesting conversation about busking, playing for love or money,accompanying classical music, Richard Rodney Bennett and “Stealing Bob Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight” by Ray Foulk, amongst other subjects.
Oxford City Council encourages busking in the city centre. It adds a great deal to the vibrant and exciting city centre experience that we all know and love. For the last decade, the City Council has had a Code of Practice that buskers are asked to agree to observe when they obtain a busking permit from the Council. The Code includes:
Not busking for more than 60 minutes in one place
Not obstructing the highway
Using amplification responsibly and maintaining a reasonable volume.
The aim of the Code has always been to create a level playing field for all buskers and to stop any nuisance to everyone else who uses the city centre – traders, local residents and visitors. We currently have no legal power to enforce this Code of Practice and have received complaints from traders, in particular, about buskers playing loudly and for long periods of time outside their shops, which is not fair to them.
The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been proposed in order to provide a legal power to take action against busking which leads to complaints from the public. In all cases, buskers will be asked to conform to the Code before any enforcement measures are used.
The PSPO will allow the Police or designated Council officers to issue a £100 fine or, in the most extreme of cases, to take the person to court, which could result in a maximum fine of £1,000.
But the Order will also remove the current requirement to obtain a permit before busking. After the PSPO has been introduced, people wishing to busk will be able to do so without contacting us in any way. All they will need to do is adhere to the existing Code of Practice.
The measures proposed will therefore have no impact on the vast majority of buskers and will in fact make it easier for musicians to busk in Oxford city centre. We think the measures will help to improve the liveliness of the city centre.
Released on Wednesday 20 May 2015
Oxford City Council Leader Bob Price said: “Point three of the Code of Practice – to smile, enjoy yourself and entertain others – is there to encourage people to regard busking as fun, rather than just as a way to make money. “It is not an element of the Code that would be the subject of enforcement action.”
On Monday, May 18th, 2015, at a ceremony at Yale School of Music, Naxos Chairman and owner Klaus Heymann was presented with the prestigious Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Previous winners include Yo-Yo Ma, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Sir George Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Juilliard President Joseph Polisi. Read More
I have known Klaus for many years – my first recording was with his wife, violinist Takako Nishizaki in 1985 – it is a collection of Chinese melodies for violin and guitar. This was first issued as an LP on HK Records and subsequently reissued on the Marco Polo label.
We recorded at the Gulbenkian Institute in Lisbon, and I have fond memories of Klaus helping to carry our bags so we wouldn’t damage our hands! I mention this because, since those days, Naxos was founded and one of the guiding lights in the selection process has been Takako.
Since then, I went on to record several CDs for Naxos and have recently produced a CD in China of the prodigy Kuang Junhong.
Naxos has gone from strength to strength and is a pioneer in the streaming of classical music via the Naxos Music Library. They now also have the ability to print CDs in smaller quantities and are establishing a classical music database.
Recently I was in Hong Kong, and had a chance to talk to Klaus about his latest award, his attitude to recording and digital distribution, and Naxos’ importance in the promotion of the classical guitar.
What job do you do after graduating in classical guitar?
When I first visited Chengdu two years ago, I was surprised that the professor at the conservatory, Xu Bao also ran a music shop.
I learned that this was a place his more advanced students could teach and it was a general meeting place for the increasing number of students he had.
There were also guitars for sale.
On this present visit, he had just opened a new shop, a hundred yards down from the previous one, but I also discovered that there were another two shops in other areas of Chengdu.
They all sold relatively expensive guitars from Altamira, Martinez and Milestone.
Overall, there were around 300 students and each shop was managed and part owned by one of Xu Bao’s students.
Intrigued, I wanted to find out why there was such a demand for guitar studios, their function in the life of students who have finished their studies and how Xu Bao manages to sell higher quality and more expensive guitars to his students.
The studio/shops themselves were also an interesting design, incorporating lots of open space and making use of all the space that was available.
In the following interview, I was ably assisted by one of Xu Bao’s former students, Wenjun Qi, who is now studying with Bill Kanengiser in Los Angeles.
The Mayor of London has told an audience of young people that his biggest regret in life is failing to make it as a famous rock musician.
He said: “I think I regret bitterly, I still regret, my failure to get anywhere as a rock star and a player of the guitar. I tried at school to master the guitar with a view to becoming a famous … and it was hopeless. And I thought, right well I’ll master the piano and that went even worse.”
Maybe these guys should have stuck to playing the guitar…
The first guitar and mandolin bands were founded in Italy in the early 1880s. The fashion soon spread to Britain, initially amongst the aristocracy. Victorian social morals did not permit ‘respectable’ British women to play conventional orchestral music in public, but approved of exclusively female guitar and mandolin bands performing for charitable purposes. In 1886, Lady Mary Hervey and Miss Augusta Hervey formed the first British ladies’ band, which for more than two decades gave regular performances of serious classical music in London’s major concert venues, and was conducted by Europe’s leading mandolin virtuosos: Ferdinando de Cristofaro, Leopoldo Francia, Enrico Marucelli and Edouardo Mezzacapo.
During the 1890s, hundreds of similar ladies’ bands were formed across Britain, mostly by middle-class women. The quality of musicianship varied widely, but some were undoubtedly of a high musical standard. The Clifton ladies’ band, led by Mabel Downing, maintained a considerable reputation in the Bristol area, while Clara Ross’s band was highly regarded by fashionable London society. Clara composed most of her band’s music, and became one of Britain’s most popular composers for mandolin. She subsequently emigrated to the USA where, as Clara Ross-Ricci, she became a noted singing teacher and composer for women’s voices. By the late 1890s, as British society was becoming more liberal, more mixed-gender ensembles appeared, although most bands were still overwhelmingly female. The largest was the Polytechnic Mandoline and Guitar Band, founded in London in 1891, which regularly gave concerts with as many as 200 performers and continued performing into the 1930s.
Here is the link to this fascinating article by Paul Sparks – a curious chapter in the history of plucked instrument ensemble, many of which are still around today.
I am particularly interested to know of the works of Madame Sydney Pratten, whose pieces I have recorded, and of course,the guitar ensemble aspect. (Please see diary for schedule of the National Youth Guitar Ensemble!).
Many thanks to Nigel Warburton for drawing my attention to this article.
The OGS is going great guns at the moment – Haydn Bateman and Jack Hancher, both at the Royal College of Music in London and ex alumni of the National Youth Guitar Ensemble will be playing on Sunday 8th Feb in Sandford Village Hall, near Oxford. Daniel Stachowiak has already played twice for them, and they have put on concerts in Oxford for Cheryl Grice, Ray Burley and John Mills, amongst others.
The National Youth Guitar Ensemble is currently looking for young talented guitarists who have a passion for performing and interacting with like-minded musicians to audition for the ensemble’s 2015 courses.
If you know of a gifted guitarist aged 13-18 years old, that is of at least grade 6 standard then NYGE would love to hear from them.
Excerpts from last summer’s concert with the Vida Quartet Cuerda Pa’rato arr. Louis Trépanier
Spectral Dreams by Gerald Garcia
Auditions are taking place in January at the following venues: 2015 AUDITION DATES & VENUES:
11th Jan: London – Royal Academy of Music
24th Jan: Manchester – Chetham’s School of Music
31st Jan: Birmingham – Edgbaston High School for Girls
The National Youth Guitar Ensemble offers the highest standard of ensemble training in the UK to young aspiring guitarists. Directed by guitarist/composer Gerald Garcia, the NYGE is currently made up of twenty four of the UK’s finest young guitarists.
Successful candidates are invited to attend two residential courses per year. Bursaries are available to students in financial difficulty.
Applicants need to be 13 – 18 years old on the 1st September 2015 and the equivalent standard of grade six or above.
Successful applicants are invited to attend two residential courses at Easter and in the summer led by Musical Director Gerald Garcia. The VIDA Guitar Quartet performed with NYGE for the 2014 concert season. Other past artists and conductors with NYGE include Leo Brouwer, Gary Ryan, Chris Susans, Carl Herring, Belinda Evans and Keith Fairbairn.
Bursaries for the courses are offered in cases of need.