Who or what inspired you to take up the guitar and pursue a career in music?

I always knew I would have a career in music. I can’t remember otherwise. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I would pursue music. Music in life and life in music has always been in me regardless of outside hurdles.

I started on electric guitar. In high school my curiosity was piqued watching the Eagles on MTV Unplugged play ‘Hotel California’ on nylon strung guitars and learning that Randy Rhodes of Ozzy Ozbourne played classical guitar. Around the same time I saw a video of Andrés Segovia performing Albéniz during my high school Spanish class, so with all of that I pretty much dropped my pick and started studying classical music. It took a bit of time for me to save up enough money to buy a nylon string guitar, but I found a teacher and started practicing. Nobody outside of my teacher played the classical/Spanish guitar and most didn’t know what it was.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

During and after conservatory I read a lot about the musicians I looked up to: Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia, Sabicas (flamenco), Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein and numerous composers: Erik Satie, Heitor Villa-Lobos, George Gershwin, Manuel De Falla, John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Serge Prokofiev, Astor Piazzolla and so many more.

I also found books on music learning and being an artist like Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, With Your Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke to be extremely helpful during the many challenging times.

I was very inspired by musicians who created their own repertoire that reflected their personal artistic vision and the times in which they lived. It helped that they had such strong personalities and technical facilities that the repertoire became theirs. I am not a composer, but like them I too felt the urge to assist in creation, so I set out to collaborate with composers and hopefully inspire new works. The collection of New Dances by David Starobin (Bridge Records) opened my eyes and inspired me to do my own commissioning project: the New Lullaby Project.

If a composer had already passed, then I looked at how I could explore their music through arrangements. I have done this most recently with the music of John Cage.

Lastly, I think the fact that I have lived without much of a safety net since college has made me commit to my endeavours fully. They can’t be just novelties or something to impress others, but successful endeavours on both the artistic and business front.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I had a lot of health issues during my time at conservatory. Some due to sports injuries growing up, and others due to growing up. I deal with them each day and they have less of a hold on me.

Regarding my professional career as a performer and teacher, I think my naïveté about the classical music world/business was hard to swallow. I don’t come from a musical or artistic family, so I had no idea that connections mattered or that established artists could try to sabotage another’s career. It was really eye-opening and also disappointing in many ways to see behind the curtain. Thankfully, I have an amazing team of support with my wife, so I continue to make my way regardless.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is so hard; I’m proud of them all. The four solo discs are quite diverse with each representing an artistic place in my life of goals, beliefs and abilities. I take great pride in that each contains a premiere.

‘Tracing a wheel on water’ (2006, Music Life Program) – my first solo endeavour and most conservative, made when I thought competitions and pleasing critics was the goal. Four premieres by Daniel Pinkham, Lior Navok and Kevin Siegfried.

‘New Lullaby’ (2010 Six String Sound) – the first recording where I really pushed the envelope with an album of all contemporary commissions by “non-famous composers” as one critic wrote. The classical guitar is known for putting people to sleep, and contemporary music is completely disconnected from normal life, so I see this album as a double-dog dare to listeners. I’m right.

‘The Legend of Hagoromo’ (2015 Stone Records) – the most technically virtuosic album. It was the first guitar album on the UK label Stone Records and I was the first American artist on the label. Atypically, it has a unifying theme of Japan – yes the guitar can do more than play Spanish repertoire(!) – and includes three commissions by Ken Ueno, Martin Schreiner and Kota Nakamura, along with only the second commercial recording of the insane title track by Keigo Fujii.

‘John. Cage. Guitar.’ (2018 Stone Records) – my latest recording released on November 2nd, 2018 by Stone Records, but more importantly it is truly home-grown and a departure for me on many levels. 1) It does not include a commission, but I made all of the arrangements myself, which are published by Edition Peters (a first for the John Cage estate & classical guitar!); 2) The music surveys a single composer, and 3) includes two collaborations with other artists: violinist Sharan Leventhal (Keplar Qt) and guitarist Adam Levin.

Regarding performances, my multiple solo and chamber concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow were life-changing. My main teacher, Dmitry Goryachev is from St Petersburg, and I heard so much about Russian audiences that I was quite intimidated by them, but I performed in the country five times in five years (2011-2016) and each time it was huge for my confidence as a player and creator. My first concert in Moscow was a 2.5-hour concert with multiple encores, following a night of trying to sleep a floor above a nightclub!

An all New Lullaby concert for 10-14 year olds at a Moscow area arts school was very special with the director telling me how in shock he was that students loved the works including 12-tone, microtonal and minimalist works. Only in Russia and Germany have I had the audience to clap together as one. These experiences stay close to my heart.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

“Best” is a big word! I think my performance of Keigo Fujii’s ‘Legend of Hagoromo’ and John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ are unique and unmatched, at least for now, but what does that mean? I’d love to hear others perform them, and hopefully they inspire me to revisit my own interpretations.

I perform a lot of contemporary music and people are surprised that I am able to keep audiences engaged and awake with such difficult music. I’ve brought tears to eyes performing Romantic and Spanish works, as well as Bach, so if eliciting such emotion is the measure then there we go.

I have a very hard time playing the same music or style of music for a long period of time, so I think I’m quite good at varying my repertoire and presenting it to audiences in a way that makes them part of the creation.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Much of it depends what gets booked. Of course a Bach series will feature Bach with music related to him, a performance of my Spanish music and dance ensemble ¡Con Fuego! will feature Spanish music, and a contemporary series will feature contemporary music. On tour I will often have a chamber concert or song recital mixed into a series of solo shows. I try to work with each venue to find the right theme for them.

When I have free choice of the program I try to balance a few standards into my programs, as guitar audiences are fairly conservative, alongside more challenging works for a new listening experience. Now that I have the new Cage release and publications I will include one or two pieces from it whenever possible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Jordan Hall in Boston is very special to me because I sat in it repeatedly as a student and heard my idols dance their music through the space. The sound is luscious!

Salon dei Giganti in Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy – Such inspiration all around me through the mosaics made for easy music making, and the audience gathered at my feet made for an overwhelming experience.

El Palacio de Linares in Madrid, Spain holds a special place in my heart as my first professional performance in Spain.

Yelegin Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia is amazing!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many! Most of the people I find inspiration from now are composers: I love experiencing their creations and hearing how they manipulate these black dots on paper to be so amazing and full of life.

I love players and ensembles that are not afraid of exploring new sounds, but are also able to make standards sound fresh and exciting. I love virtuosity, but only if it is multi-dimensional in personality, technique, artistry, and presentation.

There are musicians who have wonderful presentation and repertoire ideas, but not amazing technique, whom I adore, and there are players I only listen to for their technique, usually in very short bursts.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Easy: Ali Akabar Kahn in Jordan Hall in the late 90s. Blew my mind that such a musician could exist. Fist half was just under 90min, and it felt like 25! A true magician.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a daily scale: Having music in my life each day with good health, family, friends, and great food.

On a yearly scale:

A project completed. A new arrangement published. New works commissioned and premiered. Higher pay scale.

On a life scale:

Recordings devoted to Bach, Mussorgsky, contemporary composers, regular national and international tours.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Copy to learn about others and yourself, but in the end you must be yourself. A career as a musician is possible if you are consistent, patient and creative.

Take care of your health all of the time. We cannot be messengers of sound if our bodies are injured and worn out.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Performing full-time. In a castle with the time and money to maintain and enjoy it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Breaking bread, sharing music, solitude with my studies, and recognition for my creations.

What is your most treasured possession?

My guitar

My relationship with my wife, though I do not posses her anymore than she possesses me.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious and positive in my goals and ambitions, which is a first.

Aaron Larget-Caplan’s latest album John. Cage. Guitar. is the first classical guitar recording dedicated to the music of John Cage, and features seven early and mid-career compositions, dating from 1933 through 1950 for solo guitar, violin and guitar, and prepared guitar duo. Now available on the Stone Records Ltd label


alcguitar.com

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Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My mother initially taught me the piano at home and I also took regular violin lessons. However, in what may be a glaring example of ‘instrument-determinism’, I never really enjoyed music until I found the guitar via a new Headmistress that arrived at my primary school: a wonderfully charismatic singing, accordion and guitar-playing nun from Ireland called Sister Annunciata. Incidentally, I’m still in touch with her – I always send her my ‘products’; my CDs, book, etc.

She taught me the guitar via Elvis/Beatles/Abba songs and everything just clicked from then, there was no question that I was not going to be a musician. I spent much of my teens playing guitar in rock bands, the fiddle in Welsh folk groups and after a brief fascination with jazz (specifically Django Reinhardt) I arrived at composition via classical guitar in my later teens; taking it joint-first study with guitar at The Royal College of Music.

I suppose it was a natural progression from emotive immediacy to complexity as one matures; having said that, I always loved Bach even when I was young and often raided my father’s vinyl collection; to listen to his organ music especially.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Sibelius – the incredible logic than you can hear clearly even on the first hearing and the sheer physicality of how the music moves through time.

Messiaen – outstanding, transcendental beauty an ‘other-worldly’ character that one cannot quite explain, his strong religious belief and spirituality transcends the notes, in a similar sense to how one can almost ‘taste’ the humanity and idealism in Beethoven.

Lutoslawski – precision, concise argument, clarity and large scale sweep of energy, what a craftsman!

Britten – he’s someone I grew into much later I have to admit but his skill in handling musical time, expectation and narrative is second to none of his time and he can be incredibly moving.

Shostakovich – such profundity; I can‘t understand how people can hold up figures like Stravinsky as being that important or even interesting when a giant like Shostakovich was around.

John Dowland – perfectly exquisite songs, not bettered since that I’m aware of – his songs are easily on the level of Schubert’s and I actually personally prefer them, although this is subjective (I also play the lute). Also, that British songwriting sound (still clearly audible in The Smiths for example – who are in a sense the true heirs to the Elizabethan school) means a lot to me.

Sweelinck – he’s truly remarkable and original – sitting on the divide between the Renaissance and Baroque periods; so lyrical yet a real contrapuntal animal to his guts!

I, together with the pianist Sergei Podebedov, have recently made some arrangements of his organ music for semi-acoustic archtop guitar and piano. We are premiering these at 4pm on July 21st at The Studio at St. James Theatre in Victoria. It is a great privilege to play this music. He is one of the best composers I know of – from any period!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Finding a modus vivendi that allows for the necessary peace of mind to compose and practice while earning enough money to have a civilised existence (as much as one can at this early stage of our evolution). I have finally achieved this by also working as a journalist, this frees me completely from teaching commitments and from doing any music that is not 100% on my own terms. Time is not an issue, I have no interest in sport or other such distractions – I find composing for more than 3 hours a day to be counterproductive, for me at least.

Another massive challenge – ‘though one that has largely disappeared now – was getting people to play my work. Very hard to do when you’re first starting out. One solution was to play/conduct it myself, the other is that I have a number of loyal friends from my college days, who are first class musicians and have helped me a lot by performing my work. This has naturally led to other contacts and opportunities

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Commissions are truly a double-edged sword, and although I’ve been fortunate to receive a fair few, I would never want to rely on them for a living unless I had quite a choice to pick from – although I’m not sure anyone has that luxury.

It is vital – to me anyway – that I follow each piece with the logical outcome that follows it, i.e. each piece informs and points to the next, even if only by contrast. To have this guided by someone else (or worse a ‘panel’) for mere cash is not something I could ever accept.

The last commission I had was for the incredibly well-armed (technically) choir, Chapelle du Roi for a piece at St. John’s Smith Square, I really loved doing this as I never had to think about limitations and writing for a cappella choir is about as pure as it gets.

Having said this, I’m not interested in dense complexity, experimental screeching, or other such dated things: it’s rather that the choir would know how to interpret and phrase a line and bring a piece of music to life without me having to guide them.

Other commissions, such as a few film scores I did, were less interesting really. Essentially the role of a film composer is that of a decorative artist, you’re not free to follow any musical logic but rather just provide a bunch of audio moods, signals and wallpaper.

I’d certainly turn down another film score offer unless it was something truly amazing such as a time-loop science-fiction film that allowed me to do interesting things with the formal structure. I think in the future the idea of music serving film may be reversed as people’s listening habits become more sophisticated; although who knows, anything can happen – no one saw the internet coming!

A move towards more musical sophistication appears to be happening though: the hold of the more primitive forms of popular music is finally slipping as seen in the arrival of such things as ‘post-rock’, the strong interest in the often highly-complex music of other cultures, and the innovative programming ideas of holding classical concerts in more social settings such as Wilton’s music hall.

People love music – the problem that (good) popular music faces is the greed and associated controlling aspects of major recording companies that spoil it all.

I would be very happy indeed to see the major labels all collapse through piracy and file sharing – poetic justice! The smaller independents such as Linn/Toccata/Guild are amazing – models of enthusiasm and true love of music. These would flourish without the obsolete behemoths of Virgin, et al around.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

It is a pleasure when working with good people who have an inquisitive mind and are not there simply for the money. Otherwise it is a compromise and is frustrating. I have been pretty fortunate though in that I have, more often than not, had first-rate players and sympathetic people who really get what I’m trying to do.

Although I had a brief spell as a ‘hairy-chested’ modernist, I have moved away from this over time and generally have very few or no problems in rehearsals as I try and make everything totally clear and natural for the players in the score.

Going back to modernism for a second I would like to say I that I have come to the conclusion that it is now largely (with some obvious exceptions) unfortunately morphed into intellectual onanism and appeals to no one at all outside those composers and academics who rely on it for their very living from the various grants/arts funding bodies that support it.

It has become a dictatorial institution with Boulez as its ‘Dear Leader’. This is ironic given that it started as a rebellion. However, the fire that existed in those early modernist works is long gone as it has now become the establishment. The same thing happened to Rock and Roll, which is why punk was absolutely necessary in order to kill it stone dead and allow new things with real integrity to then flourish.

This doesn’t mean we have to write in pastiche or turn to simplistic popularism, we clearly need to look ahead, but the standard fare of atonal, or just ugly, meaningless squawk one always hears at contemporary music concerts is now a hackneyed cliché and insulting to intelligent open-minded people who have paid good money to come and hear music – I can no longer bear to attend such things. I, like most of the public, would rather go to the cinema and see a well-made artwork which has cultural relevance.

I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.

Contemporary classical music in the UK occupies exactly the same space as bullfighting does in Spain – it is entirely supported by the state and is ignored by 95% of the population. Take that support away and allow it to attempt to function as a genuine living art form that is an honest deal between listeners and composers – it would most certainly die in the time it takes to play a Bach prelude (one of the short ones!).

Given a choice – although I believe very strongly that all funding should be cut for new music and given to hospitals instead – in order to breathe new life into it, I would sooner see all funding cut from bullfighting of course!

Which works are you most proud of?

Hard to say – they all have something(s) that could be improved. The setting of Pablo Neruda I did for soprano and string quartet, ‘Morning’, works ok. I’ve had very strong feedback about it – people seem to love it. It’s the first track on my current CD with Toccata Classic. Steve Reich called this piece “Very honest stuff” so I suppose I got something right.

I’ve been writing a lot of lute and guitar music recently which I perform myself – I enjoy this so much, it feels so free playing one’s one music, I can change, improve things – improvise a little here and there. It’s a wonderful thing. I always feel it’s a shame that so few composers perform their own music (or even perform at all) I think they’re missing out on tactile, immediate and invaluable feedback on what works the best and most importantly – why.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I love the Wigmore’s sound but it needs to bring in a younger audience or it will turn into a museum. This cannot be done by pulling in DJs and other trendy things that they tried to do recently – that just insults intelligent people.

They should give free tickets to all music students as matter of course. They should also give free hire (as opposed to the £1400 it costs) for music graduates for their first 4-5 years after college.

This would allow for fascinating and energetic projects to happen naturally and the players would bring all their friends and probably fill it – it’s not that hard – I’ve nearly filled it once. It would bring strong and long-lasting loyalty to the hall among the young and would actually make economic sense over less than a decade even. Otherwise, the way things are going, it could become another shop for expensive medical products like the others on Wigmore Street, this would be a tragedy. They also need to stop commissioning composers – one contemporary piece on a programme is enough for many music lovers to not attend. This is a sad truth and something that composers need to address urgently by re-engaging with the public instead of experimenting on them!

I also love the Barbican main hall though I’ve not had a piece done there. I love its clean modern lines and bright acoustic bounce. The Southbank is great too – a real feel of democratic openness pervades the entire complex: I love it. I’ve had a couple of Southbank things, it’s always been brilliantly done from their side and the halls really have something special about them.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Performers (living): Baroque violinist Andrew Manze, lute players Jacob Lindberg and Paul O’Dette, Julian Bream, Marta Argerich, Murray Perahia, the Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma, Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Emma Kirkby and Johnny Marr.

(Dead) – Glenn Gould, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Solomon, Wanda Landowska, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Thomas Beecham

Composers – largely covered above in the answer to Q.2 above though I love so many others too of course.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Julian Bream at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in the early 1990s – it was perfect. It’s not only that he sings though the instrument but rather that he is the greatest such singer of all that I’ve heard (since Gould died). I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Ignore all fashions such as atonality, the new tonality, minimalism, new complexity, etc., and listen to your instinct, never compromise on your values for any reason.

Ask yourself why you want to be musician, if the answer is anything less than – “because I have to /I’m compelled to” then give up the place to someone who can say that.

Try to listen and understand everything, even music you don’t like, to find out why you don’t like it. Is it because something in it doesn’t work (this can be the case – don’t feel bad about coming to that conclusion) or is it because you have cultural blinkers on? This is not easy.

If you’re going for composition learn counterpoint and fugue properly – don’t just brush across it like they teach at the colleges here (skimming it in ‘techniques’ lessons is not even close to being good enough for a composer).

Write about 15 of them in different ways, chromatics, doubles, 6 voice, the lot. Study Bach and Buxtehude very closely. This will show you how the vertical and linear aspects of music combine to make music with depth; one dimensional music is not acceptable.

Once this is mastered you can apply it to any style: Fugue is not a form but a way of thinking. If you can’t be bothered doing this then do not expect to be a strong composer, go and work in the city instead – at least then you’ll have a good wage and is much easier than music!

What are you working on at the moment?

Funnily enough given my advice above, I’m writing a prelude and double fugue for clarinet, semi-acoustic archtop guitar and piano. I will premiere this at The Forge in Camden in January.

What is your present state of mind?

My standard nervous alternation between grim dissatisfaction and bliss plus total confusion as to the absurd state of mankind and the world – this is very good – it compels me to act!

David Braid performs at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 9th May with pianist Sergei Podobedov. They will premiere their new (2014) transcriptions of works by Sweelinck plus Byrd, Gibbons and other composers from the C.15th/16th Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, alongside first performances of new duos and solos by David Braid, plus various solos by Chopin and other later composers. Further details here

London-based Welsh-born composer David Braid studied at the Royal College of Music from 1990-94, taking joint-first study in Guitar with Charles Ramirez and Composition with Edwin Roxburgh; also attending the composition classes of George Benjamin.

David later attended the Cracow Academy of Music in Poland, studying composition with the late Marek Stachowski and Zbigneiw Bujarksi, subsequently going on to The University of Oxford (St. Anne’s College) under Robert Saxton.

In addition to the UK, David’s work has been performed in the USA, Germany, Poland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and South America. Recently, the string orchestra version of his setting of Pablo Neruda’s poem Mañana, ‘Morning’, Opus 3, was premiered in Moscow.

David Braid’s full biography

David’s debut recording of Chamber and Instrumental Music is available on CD or to download from Toccata Classic. Further information here