***Note*** original title "Interview with classical guitarist Marc Teicholz"
With Marc's recital coming up on November 2nd, we thought our followers would be interested to take a look inside the personality of our visiting artist. Marc kindly agreed to answer a few questions - enjoy!
The question we ask every visiting artist: how did it all start? How did you find your way to the guitar?
I have always had a strong reaction to music. My parents took me to concerts. I played piano and clarinet before I learned the guitar and I sang a lot in school. My interest in guitar started from my love of folk music, singing around campfires, and enjoying Pete Seeger records. When I asked for folk guitar lessons, the teacher at the local music store in Berkeley, CA suggested that I learn classical guitar as well. I didn’t know what that was but as soon as she played a little bit for me, I was immediately hooked.
Some love classical guitar for its beautiful tone and colour, some for repertoire, some for its intimate nature. What is your favourite thing about the guitar?
I think it is a physical reaction to the sound and to the process of producing the sound with your hands. My ears have always perked up whenever I heard that plucked sound. I just liked being near it. And the feeling of holding the instrument and the tactile sensation of the strings under the fingers is very addictive.
What works have you performed with as a soloist with the orchestra? Can you tell us about such an experience?
I have played both Rodrigo solo concerti as well as his duo concerto (the Madrigal). Other concerti include ones written by Giuliani, Brouwer, Ponce, Tedesco, Sierra, Vivaldi as well as a premiere by Lee Actor. Clarice Assad is writing me a new concerto for next year. I guess the best story I have is that I played the Rodrigo Aranjuez concerto in Khabarovsk, Russia where my I met my future wife. She was sitting in the audience! So I am very grateful to that piece.
How is it to play piano compositions on the guitar? For example, Chopin - have you played the same pieces on the piano? What are the differences in experience?
To put it simply, piano pieces are very difficult to play on the guitar. The piano can play many more notes than the guitar can, so the arranger has to decide which notes must be left out. Many people think it is in poor taste even to try but one of the most famous pieces in the guitar repertoire is a piano piece by the Spanish composer Albeniz (called Asturias) and it is more famous on the guitar than it is on the piano. Perhaps it is more controversial when arranging great non-Spanish composers like Chopin and Schubert, but I do it just because I love the music and it is an exciting challenge. Besides, I have never claimed to have good taste.
What do you think about Bach transcriptions for guitar? There is a wide range of opinions of how well suited his music is to our instrument, especially knowing that there is no clear evidence of Bach writing for plucked instruments.
I think there is pretty good evidence that Bach wrote for the lute or at least for a keyboard instrument that sounded like a lute. But I don’t understand why historical arguments should be more important than aesthetic ones. The guitar seems very well made for Bach because it can do a fair amount of counterpoint (have more than one independent voice play at the same time) like a keyboard but it also has the vibrato and variety of color like a stringed instrument. Is it any surprise that I think it is the ideal instrument! But I speak not as an expert, or scholar (if that isn’t already obvious), merely as an enthusiast.
Tell us about performing modern/"new music" on the guitar. Does it feel like a whole different world? What are some things to listen for in this kind of music, for an ear, tuned to traditionally ordered sounds?
This is a big question! One of biggest pleasures of playing new music is that the player often gets the chance to spend time with the composer. It can be thrilling to get a close up view of someone’s musical/ emotional/ imaginative world. That kind of experience will change you as a musician. As far as advice goes, I would offer one thought: Many people derive comfort in hearing music that feels familiar. That is a very profound and important pleasure but I would also say that it is very invigorating to explore the unfamiliar. If you feel the music is confusing or weird, just relax and try to enjoy the strangeness of it. We are very strange creatures and it makes some sense that music should reflect this. I think it keeps one’s ears fresh to listen to as much variety as possible. That all being said, I wish that more contemporary composers would place a greater value on melody. Perhaps I am a conservative…
Do you have a favourite composer to play on the guitar?
Not really. It may be a cliche to mention Bach but he is really is unique in his ability to combine deep emotional and intellectual power.
Tell us a little bit about your soon-to-be-released music recordings of E. Nazareth and Clarice Assad. What is special about these works?
What is special is my chance to work with members of the incredible Assad family. In the case of the Nazareth recording, Sergio Assad arranged all of the works and produced the recording. He taught me to play these beautiful pieces and to better understand their style. His kindness and support have been beyond description. His daughter Clarice is a brilliant and successful composer, arranger, pianist and singer in her own right. She is writing a concerto based on a Brazilian folkloric character named Saci. Saci is a one-legged trouble maker with holes in his hands. Sometimes he turns into a bird who sings a sad song. The music is going to be alternately funny, sad and menacing. I am incredibly excited to hear what she finally comes up with.
Being an instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and California State University East Bay, you must have quite a flow of students. What are the students like these days? Can you share an interesting story?
Teaching is a central part of my life. The fact that each student is so completely unique and different from one another makes teaching endlessly fascinating. I think for a young person to choose to devote themselves to music makes them more idealistic and passionate than most other students their age. The students bring so much intensity and curiosity to our lessons. They also seem very supportive of rather than competitive with each other. The most interesting “story” is just to watch them develop their talents, interests and individuality. It never ceases to amaze me how fervently people want to make music.
What are the most important things you teach to your students?
You would have to ask them. The most important thing is to learn that playing the guitar can be an endless source of intense stimulation and pleasure for a lifetime.
What are your thoughts about international guitar competitions and how they have changed over time?
I don’t follow competitions very much anymore. I think it is unquestionable that competitions have improved the overall technical level of the field. There are countless players now who play at a very high virtuosic level and I am pretty certain that competitions have had a lot to do with that. I personally don’t enjoy competition and I don’t think of music as a competitive endeavor so I wish we didn’t have competitions. Sometimes I worry that guitar playing is dominated more by a sports culture than a humanistic one but I know that it is an unrealistic opinion. It is even hypocritical in my case because winning the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) competition helped me a great deal and I am very grateful to that organization.
What do you think about when you are on stage? Can you give a tip to student music wizards about how to "let go" on stage and immerse yourself in music completely?
Being on stage can be a roller coaster ride for me. At its rare best, it is a very quiet, relaxed, focused, intense and spontaneous sensation- more an experience of listening and feeling (in both senses of the word) rather than doing. But I get in my own way all the time and my “brain” starts chattering, making judgments, and just stinking up my head. I think this issue of concentration is very complicated and difficult for me. I don’t have too many tips. A sense of humor can sometimes help, as well as just a lot of perseverance. I think it is helpful to try not to be too much in control and just be open and curious to see what happens. My happiest moments on stage are when I am surprised.
Do you enjoy other guitar styles, and what are they?
I love listening to great steel string players like Leo Kottke, Peppino D’Agostino, Tuck, and Tommy Emmanuel. I love listening to blues, folk and jazz.