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Intervista a John Williams sul suo ultimo CD


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un'intervista di di Mark L. Small a John Williams che parla del suo ultimo CD "El Diablo Suelto":


Even as the number of accomplished classical guitarists continues to multiply, John Williams has remained one of the world’s most revered players for more than five decades. His impeccable technique and keen intellect have enabled him to perform and record a wider variety of music than anyone else in the field. To date, he has released over 90 recordings containing an enormous amount of guitar music from a range of times and places.


Following on the heels of his African music foray The Magic Box, Williams’s new Sony CD, El Diablo Suelto sheds additional light on his passion for music of various cultures. El Diablo Suelto contains over an hour of music by 11 Venezuelan composers including Antonio Lauro, Raúl Borges, Alfonso Montes, Ignacio “Indio” Figeredo, and Vicente Emilio Sojo, all rendered with the precision and rhythmic verve that are hallmarks of Williams’s style.


In a recent conversation at his London home, Williams told me of his 50-year friendship with Venezuelan guitar virtuoso and arranger Alirio Diaz who piqued his interest in South American music in 1953. He also shared his perspective on a number of topics, including the continuum of the guitar’s music and history. While Williams is deservedly regarded as the quintessential classical guitarist, the views he shares here should convince all that he is anything but a stereotypical classical virtuoso.


What prompted you to do a record of all Venezuelan music?


I have wanted to do a record of Venezuelan music for four or five years. I was trying to get hold of the arrangements that I’d heard Alirio Diaz play but I knew weren’t published. Some had been published years ago and had gone out of print. I heard about the Caroni Music series from David Russell who told me about Peter Hamilton MacDomhnaill. He’s a guitarist who fell in love with Venezuelan music when he first went there 10 or 20 years ago and wanted to publish of all the great music by Venezuelan composers. He found partners who would be interested in investing to create the series and had Alirio create the guitar editions.


So you wanted to have definitive versions of the music before you made your recording?


Mostly, I didn’t want to make the record and then find that I missed some choice pieces that would come out in their edition. I scheduled my recording for when I would have published editions or proofs of all the music. One of the reasons that some of the best-known Venezuelan guitar pieces are not on the record is because I’d done some of them before and because so many other people play them all the time. “Natalia,” “Maria Luisa,” and “Carora” are pieces by Lauro that I’ve recorded before. I couldn’t justify recording them again when I had so many new pieces I wanted to record.


The only one on this record that I’ve recorded before is “Seis por Derecho” which I did in 1980. I feel that I can play it much better now, so I redid it. Except for that piece and some Sojo pieces that are on a recording from 1970s that’s not available anymore, I’d never recorded any of these selections before.


The Antonio Lauro piece “Virgilio” which you’ve recorded here has long been a favorite of mine.


That’s a lovely piece based a traditional Colombian dance rhythm called the bambuco. There are actually several styles of bambuco. The version on which Lauro based this piece has a bass line and harmony in 3/4 meter and the melody is in 6/8 above it. The meters change from bar to bar. I listened to other guitarist’s recorded versions of this piece and “Seis por Derecho,” and I realized that there was sometimes something funny about about the way they played the rhythms. Some players latched onto one rhythm—like 6/8— and thought the whole piece was in that meter. They didn’t bring out the polyrhythms


I almost didn’t put “Virgilio” on the record. I liked the piece, but I wasn't convinced that I had the rhythm right. Alfonso Montes, who plays cuatro on the record and composed the final cut “Preludio del Adios,” came to London to rehearse with me before the recording. I told him that I was having a real problem with “Virgilio.” He knows the dances very well and played all of the different bambuco styles for me. It was then that I realized the piece is not in 6/8, but is in 3/4 with the melody in 6/8. If you don’t bring out the polyrhythm, it just sort of sounds like café music.


The bambuco is particularly hard to realize on one guitar. Actually, the rhythms in all of these pieces are quite complex. You get this ambiguous combination of rhythms that gives you a very different feel—a feel for a body movement, which is the African influence. My wife and I went to the London University Library and got five books on the background of this music. The African-Spanish mixture is very interesting. A lot of the African influence came to South America with the Spaniards because a lot of the slaves went through Seville and Cadiz, many came through North Africa. That is where the bandola, an instrument related to the oud, came from. African dance is all about moving the body. European dance is more about moving the feet and the hands are sometimes used for the more ornamental gestures.


There is a big difference between this music and a transcription of a European dance form like a gavotte, minuet, or a gigue in 6/8, 3/4, 2/4, or whatever. In European music, it is the harmonies that give you the extra notes—the accompaniment or bass notes. Most of the time in Venezuelan music, it’s not that simple. Guitar solos based on traditional dances are an amalgamation of what would have been played on three or four instruments.


Traditional Venezuelan dances are usually played by an ensemble of harp, cuatro, bandola, and maracas. Even within the harp part, the cross-rhythms—which come from the African influence in their culture—are fundamental to Venezuelan music. You have between two and four different rhythms going on. You might call them polyrhythms, they are not syncopations or accents, they are completely different rhythms.


You can clearly hear a harp effect in the cut Pasaje “Los Caujaritos.”


I had heard Alirio play that one. It’s a little more straightforward rhythm in 3/4, and he made a wonderful arrangement. The piece was written by Figueredo, a great harpist who used to play with a family ensemble. In 1976, I was in Caracas with Alirio at a guitar festival. Before I left, Alirio went into a record shop and got me three records of the Figueredo family. It is wonderful stuff.


Did the music on this record stretch your technique?


Yes, it did. Technique is not merely speed though, it is a mixture of things. I found the same challenges playing the music of [Paraguayan composer/guitarist Agustin] Barrios. It’s difficult music. The Venezuelan music arranged by Alirio is hard because he has such long fingers and employs lots of stretches. I’ve loved the rhythms of this music for years and, apart from having difficulty with the bambuco, I have always felt these rhythms quite strongly, but the stretches are hard.


To get the flow and tidiness that I like, I had to simplify some pieces a bit. To play some of this music the way Alirio does will make your hand drop off after about three minutes. My heart has always been into this music, so the spirit of the music comes to me very naturally.


You have been exploring ethnic music after years of playing the traditional European guitar repertoire. Did anything in particular prompt this?


Well, my connection with Latin American music seems clearer in hindsight. When I first went to study with Segovia in Siena, Italy, in 1953, he wasn’t there because he was recovering from an eye operation. That’s when I met Alirio Diaz who was teaching there. The first pieces of Latin American music that I got were from Alirio. He gave me Venezuelan music as well as two or three pieces by Barrios. So I’ve been familiar with this music since then. My African music project was a new interest though. I didn't know a lot about that until I started looking into it.


Did you decide to look beyond the European guitar repertoire for music to play?


Not consciously. Since 1964, I’ve toured in the U.S. doing solo concerts of the classical repertoire. I do that everywhere, but a lot of other things that I’ve done dating back to the 70s, have not been strictly solo, European classical music. I have played a lot of different music here in England with an ensemble I started in 1976 called John Williams and Friends. At one point, we had 14 players—a string quartet, woodwind players, and percussion. For three or four years I also had an ensemble called Attacca, which was half Australian and half English musicians. I was also in the [1970s classical/rock] group Sky and I’ve played quite a bit with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. So I have done a lot of different types of music over here and in other parts of Europe that I didn’t bring to America. However, last year I brought my African music ensemble to the West Coast of America.


So this interest is not new. It might look new from an American perspective, but it is just because I haven't brought all of the groups to America because it costs so much to tour with a group. Also, a lot of the records—like the Sky records—were not on Sony, so they were not released in America. Some of the Sky recordings may be rereleased. I think the first two are very good. The Guitar is the Song came out in 1983, and is a good example of the kind of ensemble I took on the road over here. A lot of things that I have done and continue to do don’t always find their way onto a CD.


An example is my work with John Mayer’s group Indo-Jazz Fusions. Back in 1969 or 1970, Mayer wrote a lovely piece called “Raga Malika” for me to play with them. It was based on one of the Indian ragas. We did about a dozen shows, but it never made it onto a record. A friend of mine from Chile played with my group J.W. and Friends, and has his own group Quimantu. My friend Richard Harvey [multi-instrumentalist and composer] and I have played with them. We are not actually part of the group but we’ve done dates with them as guests. At the end of the year we will do four concerts with them here in England and then in February we will go with the group to Chile for two weeks. So, you see, I don’t inflate every project I do. If it’s fun and worth developing or promoting, then I’ll do that.


These explorations have enabled you to bring a lot great material to the attention of classical guitarists who haven’t ventured as far away from the traditional repertoire as you have.


When I look back, I can see that it was a natural progression. I never sat down and said, I’m going to try to do something outside of the European repertoire. For example, in 1968, there was there was a big concert at the Albert hall at which I played to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Africa Freedom Day. At the concert I met Ronnie Scott who owns Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club and he asked me to come and play at his club. It wasn’t because I asked if I could play there. It happened because I was at the concert and Ronnie loves the guitar. At his club, I met John Dankworth [composer, jazz bandleader] and Cleo Laine [a jazz vocalist who is Dankworth’s wife]. That led to a long collaboration with John and Cleo. We did two recordings together and played at the club where I heard Ben Webster and played opposite Barney Kessel. I loved doing all that, but it was not a predetermined plan.


Likewise, I’ve never done a trendy crossover project for a record label. That would seem like a token effort when you see how much different music is going on with guitar around the world. We’ve just got to try to play a little more of it. I have always worked with people that I’ve sort of naturally come into contact with.


As you travel around to give master classes, do you find that the right hand technique is a stumbling block for a lot of classical guitarists?


Yes. That is a very big subject. I am not involved in teaching guitar on a fundamental level, so I don’t have a system to show to students. I think of the strings as being plucked, not struck. Some people might call it planting, but to me it means plucking a string and being as close to the string as possible without interfering with its vibration. You don’t want to plant the fingers so that you stop the note before the next note sounds.


The main problem with right-hand technique is that it is not natural in the sense that the whole arm and wrist don’t move. It’s a kind of contrived technique that we need to play all of the complex things in classical guitar music. The most natural movements are up and down, whether with a bow on a violin or the strumming action of the right hand on any of the stringed instruments in Baroque, Renaissance, or Medieval guitar playing, or even modern popular music guitar styles. The techniques for these instruments involve and up and down movement. Vihuelas and lutes played polyphonic music and required the contrived technique. The rhythmically natural technique of moving up and down was always part of the popular forms of guitar playing. I feel that the origin of all of our problems in modern technique stem from this technique contrived for playing polyphonic music.


However, the crucial thing is that polyphony and the technique we use to play it on the guitar is a European phenomenon. It doesn’t exist in other traditional musics. In order to understand this, we have to get away from the idea that European musical culture—and classical guitar music is included in this description—is somehow superior to others because it is harmonically the most complex. I think there is an unconscious assumption that when all is said and done, music as it has progressed as an art in Europe along these complex polyphonic and harmonic lines is better at expressing emotions than other musics that are not as developed harmonically or polyphonically. This attitude is very Eurocentric and is unwittingly an imperial/colonial attitude.


When my generation went to college, we were all taught that in the beginning there was rhythm, then came melody, and then the mighty harmony. We had the magnificent tripod that makes up music with a capital M, and that this combination is what makes “real” music. Now, I love European music, I love Bach’s Chaconne and fugues, but this notion is wrong. It is a culturally defined attitude and is actually culturally racist. It presupposes that the rhythm and the melody in Western music are as developed as they are in other cultures, and they are not. European rhythm is really very simple. When I talk about rhythm here, I don’t mean mathematical time values. Anyone could layout a rhythmically serial score with very complex time values as you would find in a “modern” score. But that is not what I am referring to as rhythm. Rhythm is movement not complex time values. Rhythms as they developed a few centuries ago in Europe are basic. You have gavottes and minuets, and Brahms’s symphonies but they come down to simple rhythms that you can beat your foot to. They are good enough and they do the job for European culture, but they are very simple. How can you compare them to the hundreds of different African rhythms?


European classical music lost some of the rhythmic interest that was in Medieval and Renaissance music. The European melodies are not as expressive and subtle as those you find in the flute music of Southeast Asia. There is a lot more expression in melodies of the shakuhatchi or other flute-like instruments than we have in Western music.


European music is a great combination arrived at by sacrificing some melodic and rhythmic elements to permit a wonderful variety of harmony. You can’t have the best of everything. Something had to go, and that’s what’s gone. I am not decrying European music at all or criticizing the people who like it. That music is great. We all like what we like, but we must get away from thinking that the Western model of music vocabulary is the best. It is one of three or four fantastic ones, but not the best.


A long-standing practice in Western culture has been to write music down so others could play it. Do you think the simplification of melody and rhythm occurred because Western classical music is based on a written rather than aural tradition?


That’s partly it, but that is part of something else that is a huge area for discussion. I think it has to do with the industrialization of society. You can see it in Europe during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Gradually people left the land and went into the cities. As they left their communities and community music making—which was popular music making—the music started to lose its vitality. You see the development of an entertainment culture in the big cities for the people who don’t do it, but who listen to it. You also see the amateur music maker for whom things were written out. All of the early music editions were done for amateurs in the 18th and 19th centuries, and published so people could buy the piano music and play it themselves. It is hard to sum this up, other factors come into play, but there was an overall influence at work. The industrialization of Western society, the rise of big cities, and people working in factories after leaving their roots contributed to a diminishing of community life. It is interesting that in Latin America, Africa, and the Asian countries, a lot of the dynamics of their popular music are still alive.


To classical ears, [contemporary] popular and rock music is perceived as simple, but it’s not as simple as some people think it is. It doesn’t rely on a trained specialist’s skill that classical music depends on and is something that more people can do and share. Few can play a Bach suite on the guitar or a percussion part in a piece by Stockhausen. More people can pick up a guitar and strum a few chords or go to a drum kit, strike out a rhythm and play together. The latter is a good thing. I think part of why popular music is so successful is because it reflects that same thing [community music making] in an urban environment.


You possess a very open and comprehensive view of the guitar and music in general. A lot of classical guitarists see how much effort is involved in trying to master the classical repertoire and figure it will be a life’s work to undertake it. That could make some adopt a narrower focus for their musical pursuits.


I think it’s really important to look at the content of whatever music it is that you are playing and why you are doing it. If you are really serious about it, you end up having to look at the whole thing. You can’t just isolate one aspect such as guitar music from Spain, Italy, or Europe as a whole. You have to look at why we have that repertoire. With the guitar repertoire that my generation was brought up on—I am one of the “Segovia Babies” if you like—the reference point was in the 19th century and Segovia brought it to fruition in the 20th century. What Segovia was trying to do had nothing to do with popular styles of guitar in the Medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque where people were strumming all kinds of wonderful rhythms for dances on four-stringed instruments that have very little in common with the modern six-string guitar.


Much of his repertoire was developed for the 19th century amateur. A piece of music for violin or piano, or a tune from a Rossini opera was arranged for guitar to be played by amateurs. Segovia made that a whole successful project for concerts. With the wonderful the sound he made and his terrific personality, he showed that it could be done. However, I don’t think that this is the beginning and end of guitar repertoire or guitar as an instrument though.


You hear the guitar in Venezuelan music in a group with cuatro, bandola, maracas, and harp, or you hear it in Brazilian music in the early bossa nova, or you hear it in blues or country music in the States. The guitar in all of those kinds of music is still directly related to the Spanish guitar. I really believe that polyphonic classical guitar playing is just one more stage in the history of the guitar as a popular instrument. The guitar is a magnificent instrument with a fantastic history in popular music. And it’s still developing.

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Non ho letto l'intervista, non me ne volere Giulio...credo che la colpa sia di Fabio...



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Fabio sei geniale, non riesco a smettere di ridere... :lol:

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