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!
Under the direction of Steve Christmas and Berkshire Maestros BYGO has established a national and indeed international reputation for excellence.
This was their Festival debut with star soloist Craig Ogden.
The BYGO played South American Dances by Ginastera and Rodriguez, Irish Folk Songs and three Gershwin Preludes. Craig’s solo pieces were by Gary Ryan, Albeniz and Tarrega and Craig and the BYGO came together to play Gerald Garcia’s Le Grazie Concerto for guitar and guitar orchestra.
This was a fine performance under the sure baton of Steve Christmas.
Craig played two pieces by Gary Ryan, including the ubiquitous “Rondo Rodeo” (probably the definitive performance!), and also “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”, “Asturias” and “Sevilla” – squarely aimed at a family audience then!
The orchestra played Gershwin, Ginastera, a duple of Irish arrangements and Le Grazie.
In all, a brilliant performance by any standard from both the soloist and the ensemble.
The video clip below is of an excerpt of their encore of the first movement of Le Grazie.
Le Grazie was originally written for string trio (2 violins and Cello) and guitar as a companion to the Vivaldi D major “lute” concerto.
It was originally performed by its dedicatee Alison Bendy with students from Wheatley Park School in 2001 and has since been a favourite at summer schools in an arrangement for solo guitar and guitar orchestra. It has been performed numerous times all over the world and was conducted by the composer in the 2nd Swedish “Guitar instead of Guns” Gala in 2002 with, amongst others Zoran Dukic, Roland Dyens and Wolfgang Lendle in the orchestra!
It is in three movements in the form of an Italian concerto and the movements are : Night Sounds (tempo di boogie woogie – homage to Fats Waller) Clear Day (homage to Vivaldi) Star Rise (homage to Michael Tippett)
It was back to Chengdu last month to teach some of Professor Xu Bao’s students. This was a special trip because I was also the CD producer for Kuang Junhong’s first CD (at the age of 14). He really is something, and I hope you will enjoy the CD when it is released by Naxos.
There is a youthful optimism about his playing, but there is also the odd touch of masterful genius which comes through. Needless to say, his technique is flawless.
As he is very dedicated, I am sure he will mature into a wonderful musician.
His teacher says that to play an instrument well, you have to be first and foremost a good human being, with heart. (The other thing he says is that his students should have experience with other teachers and to this end he has invited many teachers from the West at his own expense, so that his students can absorb as many influences as they can).
It was very cold in the Main Concert Hall of Sichuan Conservatory, which was having a lift shaft installed during the day (and there are also 900 practice rooms all around making a Babelicious cacophony), so we had to record until late at night. It amazed me how many people were out on the street still eating at 4.00 am!
Junhong was the ideal person to record – he was always on the ball musically, and could intelligently work out edit points where necessary. There were a few pieces which were recorded as whole takes, and he can instantly absorb a musical or technical nuance.
During the day, we had lessons on the pieces, including his (by now famous) Chaconne by Bach. There was also Tedesco, Granados, Albeniz, Legnani and Mertz.
Junhong’s Chaconne at Iserlohn International Festival
What was unusual about the evenings was that I also recorded another guitarist consecutively – Chengbin from Shanghai, who has not made a CD before although he is quite a bit older than Junhong. His background is in Chinese Opera and he is a very instinctive and lively player. His CD was entirely of Brouwer, made for the sponsor of the recordings, Altamira.
Both players used Altamira guitars exclusively for their CDs.
Xu Bao and Chengbin outside the shop
Lu, GG, Junhong in the studio
We managed to finish the two CDs – done, dusted and edited in five days, with discussions and lessons on the pieces during the day as well as lessons for another 10 or so students.
So no time to see the pandas on this occasion, then!
Luckily we still had time to eat, although breakfast was a bit hazy after finishing regularly at 4.00-5.00am.
None of this would have been possible if I had not had a fine recording engineer with musical (and English) knowledge, who was so easy to work with it seemed that I was editing the CD directly.
His name is Lü Xin Long and it is worth keeping an eye out for his name, as he seems to be doing a lot of work at the moment in conjunction with the Chengdu YunTian Culture Communication Co.Ltd. On the final edit for Chengbin, he stayed up all night to master the CD so i could take it to Hanson Yao of Altamira when I went to Hong Kong the next morning.
Junhong, Lu Xin Long and Xu Bao
I also met another Chengdu kid to look out for – 11 year old Huang Yuexuan, who is extremely studious and serious about the guitar and also a bit of a laugh. His daily fare seems to be Villa Lobos Etudes 1 and 2, Bach Lute Suite 4 and Barrios Sueno en La Floresta. I would say he probably should get out more, but he does sometimes have to practise outside Xu Bao’s shop, which is in a leafy boulevard lined with instrument sellers and (for some unknown reason) hairdressers.
Xu Bao’s 200 or so students are divided between him and 4 or 5 other teachers, all ex students of his and it is all very hierarchical, but relaxed. We drank a lot of tea outside, mainly at dusk. Everyone was very respectful, hospitable and hard working. I felt very well looked after.
Huang YueXuan in the middle
Huang YueXuan doing a bit of casual practice in the lunch hour
Villa Lobos Etude 2 with a new fingering
You can listen to the interview I managed to snatch with Xu Bao during lunch just before leaving for the airport.
The next couple of days were spent in Hong Kong with Hanson Yao in his new guitar shop, with my friend and writer Jane Ram, and with my sister in law visiting from California and my 92 year old mother, but that is another story.
I had a wonderful time despite hard work and lack of sleep. Everyone was hospitable in a relaxed and human way. and I hope to return to Chengdu soon. It was great fun. Thank you all, especially Xu Bao, Hanson, Yang Yang, Zhu Re and of course the two artists, Junhong and Chengbin.
Maybe next time, I will get to see some pandas!
There is no record that Proust ever played the guitar, but the literary savant probably played tennis.
Actually Marcel Proust drew freely from musical works in order to cross-breed and transcribe them into novels – he uses music to transport the reader into various access points of memory, and writes in a very musical manner, cross-referencing themes, moving back and forth through time.
Vinteuil is the fictitious composer to whom Proust refers throughout À la recherche du temps perdu. But we know that it was in fact the amalgam of several composers who deeply influenced and affected the writer.
Composer Jorge Arriagad attempted to realise Vinteuil’s violin sonata for this scene in Raoul Ruiz’s 1999 film Le Temps retrouvé (Time Regained), which takes its title from the final book of À la recherche du temps perdu, but dips liberally into the entire novel. This scene replicates the kind of private salon gathering at which Vinteuil’s music would have been performed in the world of Proust’s novel.
Paul Fischer made me a vihuela in 1977 and we had to go to great lengths to find a suitable model, as there were not many extant from the period (the 1530s). We ended up using paintings and drawings of the time, and Paul produced an elegant instrument of sycamore, spruce and satinwood. It was much like the viola da mano, which was played by Francesco da Milano and that was actually my preferred repertoire at the time.
If this book had been available then, it would have been a useful guide to the accuracy of our guesses and also some of the personalities who were responsible for this forerunner of the modern guitar. Jose Romanillos, is of course, well known for his collaboration with Julian Bream, but is also a scholar of the history of guitar making and has written a book on Antonio Torres as well as this exhaustively researched volume.
West Dean – the name conjures up well appointed gardens, a flint covered manor in the middle of the rolling Sussex countryside, sheep, cream teas, Surrealists, the eccentric Edward James and a lively yet dignified community of craftsmen and women, engaged in furniture making, restoration, stained glass, tapestry, blacksmithing, and crafts we only read about in books.