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

Growing up in an opera family it sounds strange to fall in love with guitar, but all my life I was fascinated with Spain and Spanish music. I learnt piano from earliest childhood – and I could have stayed with it playing Granados, Albeniz etc, but I guess it was the attraction of this instrument that you can hold in your arms, carry with you and physically feel the vibrations that made me want to become a guitarist. Nothing between you and the sounds your fingers make with the strings, no bow or other “tools” to start the vibrations and it is the most “touching” instrument existing!

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

Without the courage of my first teacher, Professor Heinz Teuchtert who later confessed that he liked the interesting case to bring a complete musician with no experience on the guitar within one year from zero to University I would not answer your questions today. I had my first guitar lesson with 18!! I soon started to work as chamber musician and to play all kind of plucked instruments in opera houses. Then I met Pepe Romero who changed my life completely, turning me into a full soloist!

Musically I always feel my opera roots, it is all about singing with your instrument!!!

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

To handle all the rejections you receive when you start to become a freelance indie-classical, between clear “No” to you or to the guitar itself. And I write hundreds mails to presenters and promoters around the world every year…. It is a big challenge not to take it personal. My mantra: “Every “no” brings me closer to the next “yes”

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It was a highlight to be part of the opening festival of the Salzburger Festspiele last year- I am proud to play at all the places which are devoted to music and where very few guitarists appear. We have a vivid culture of guitar festivals but it is like an “ivory tower”, I am so happy of my concerts in “real world” feeling like an ambassador for classical guitar.

Recordings? You can’t really earn money with CDs anymore, so why not do something idealistic? I will be very proud of the newest, featuring female composers.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

No secret, I LOVE Spanish music (and almost no concert without ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’)…. and I am trying more and more to connect my roots of opera and all my piano years with guitar.

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

Some programs stay for years, just with exchanging some pieces. Yes, and people book me again with similar programs because the loved it and guitar recitals still are rare in many concert series, so they love to repeat what worked once. It is different from piano world I guess.. I have tried to offer a big variety of programs in the last ten years, but I got almost no bookings for example with tango or really contemporary music, so it is by far to much work to keep them in my portfolio. Maybe it also that I am already considered specialist for Spanish music and those hyper-classical programs. And it is music I deeply love, so I am in the happy position that the music I get booked the most is the music I love to play the most!

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

I LOVE venues with historic flair, especially castles – they add a magical atmosphere to the music!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Recuerdos de la Alhambra already became my signature piece, playing it in almost every concert and never getting tired of it…

To listen to I need regular doses of Mozart and all kind of operas!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Emil Gilels, Artur Rubinstein, Marta Argerich, Tzimon Barto, Fritz Wunderlich (eternal: Dichterliebe), Maria Callas, Nathan Milstein, Julian Bream and of course Pepe Romero.

When I pack my bags for concerts I listen to Vicente Amigo or Yasmin Levy!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The moment when I was completely alone in the Alte Oper Frankfurt preparing my banjo etc for Shostakovitch Jazz Suite, and Tzimon Barto came on stage and played his encore for the evening, the Albeniz ‘Tango’, just for me with a smile, a magic gift of pure beauty.

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

Oh my god, I hope you know what you are doing to your life: Insecurity (also financially), difficult family life, loneliness— and on the other hand magic experiences, inspiration, pure bliss. Be prepared for a wild rollercoaster that will challenge you in all aspects of your life and your personality .

So the most important advice: Treat yourself like if you were an olympic athlete, you are your own coach, mental coach, cook and doctor!

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I will be performing regularly in the small halls in the big venues – and in 40 years I hope to be the “grand old dame of the guitar” still playing concerts with the unbelievable wisdom of age.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spectacular answer: Playing guitar!!!!

What is your present state of mind?

Balanced, full of courage, happy and completely addicted to this wonderful crazy life.

Heike Matthiesen is one of Germany’s leading guitarists whose virtuosity and spirited performance, coupled with a charismatic stage presence, are regularly highlighted by the press.

Born in Braunschweig, she received comprehensive musical training on the piano at an early age and only took up the guitar when she was 18. About a year later, she started studying at the Frankfurt Conservatory. Pepe Romero, who taught her for several years, was the formative influence on her playing.

In addition, she attended a large number of master classes, inter alia with Manuel Barrueco, David Russel, Roland Dyens, Alvaro Pierri and Leo Brouwer.

Apart from her solo commitments, Heike Matthiesen regularly performs with chamber music ensembles, and since 1997 she has been closely affiliated with Villa Musica Mainz. She has appeared with Los Romeros and, in 2005, recorded a CD with the Spanish Art Guitar Quartet (“Bolero”, NCA).

Heike Matthiesen has performed in many different countries, including the US, Russia, Japan, China, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Austria and Bulgaria, and is a very welcome guest at festivals and in guitar concert series.

She has had two recordings with Tyrolis, on “Sol y luna” with a Spanish-South American repertoire and “Tristemusette”, an internationally acclaimed portrait of Roland Dyens.

heikematthiesen.com

 

 

A busy week of enjoyable and varied concerts in Brighton and London. Here’s my round up:

Sunday 4th May – Helen Burford, piano, Brighton

Helen has a particular interest in contemporary British and American music, and an unerring ability to create imaginative and eclectic concert programmes which combine her interests with more mainstream repertoire. For her afternoon recital as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, she opened with Somei Satoh’s haunting Incarnation II, a work which allows one to fully appreciate the full range of sounds and resonance possible on the piano. An extraordinarily absorbing and unusual work. The Japanese connection continued with Debussy’s evocative Pagodes, followed by Haydn’s C major Piano Sonata Hob. XVI No. 50 with two witty and sprightly outer movements enclosing a slow movement played with expression and warmth. In typical style, Helen cleverly paired Hush-A-bye, a work by contemporary American composer Julie Harris, with Debussy’s much-loved Clair de Lune. Both pieces recall nighttime – the first has night sounds combined with fragments from the lullabies, “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word”, while the veiled harmonies and rippling semiquavers of Debussy evoke moonlight. Helen closed her programme with a lively and foot-tapping Rumba Machine by Martin Butler.

Monday 5th May – Jonathan Biss at Wigmore Hall

Biss is a musician I was curious to hear live, having enjoyed interviews with him, and his insightful and intelligent writing about Beethoven. His recital opened with an early Beethoven Sonata, Op 10, No. 2, and there was much to enjoy in his nimble and witty rendition of the first movement. However, the second movement lacked shape and the final movement was too rushed. The second Beethoven of the concert was the ‘Waldstein’ which lacked structure and a clear sense of the underlying “four-square” nature of Beethoven’s writing. The end result felt rather superficial. Sandwiched between the two Sonatas were selections from Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path. These were enjoyable but lacked a certain sensitivity to the emotional depth inherent in these miniatures.

Wednesday 7th May – Behind the Lines: Music from the First War, MOOT, Brighton

Another lunchtime concert, hosted by Music Of Our Time, a wonderful music collective organised by the indefatigable Norman Jacobs. This year’s focus is on music and composers from the First World War, and the concert, duets and solo works performed by Helen Burford and Norman Jacobs, was a touching, tender and occasionally humorous tribute to composers such as Cecil Coles (who was killed in April 1918) and Frank Bridge, a committed pacifist who was profoundly affected by the war. There were also works by Debussy and Stravinsky, and the concert ended with a four hands version of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets suite. The concert took place on the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, which gave the concert an added poignancy.

Friday 9th May – David Braid, guitar & Sergei Pobdobedov, piano

The end of the week and a concert at the delightful 1901 Arts Club, a converted schoolmaster’s house not five minutes from the bustle and noise of Waterloo Station. One of London’s hidden gems, the venue seeks to recreate the ambiance and ethos of the European musical salon, with its gold and crimson decor and friendly, convivial atmosphere. It is the perfect place for intimate chamber music, and this evening’s concert was no exception.

I interviewed David Braid earlier this year and I was curious to meet him and hear him in performance, for his musical landscape and influences accorded, in part, with my own interests. He plays an electric archtop guitar, more usually associated with jazz or rock/pop musicians. He makes transcriptions for this instrument, with piano accompaniment (his duo partner Sergei Podobedov), of works by Renaissance and early Baroque composers such as Byrd and Sweelinck. The concert included music by these composers and Bach, together with piano solos of works by Chopin (two Scherzi, handled with stylish aplomb and energy by Sergei) and Schubert/Liszt, and some of David’s own compositions. Taken as a whole, this was a most intriguing and unusual concert, beautifully presented. It is hard to describe the sound of the archtop guitar with the piano: at times it recalls the Renaissance lute (which David also plays) while also sounding entirely contemporary, thus making the music sound both ancient and modern. David’s own compositions were haunting, delicate, fleeting – the Waltzes in particular had great poignancy and tenderness – and his contrapuntal writing connects his music to the Baroque masters whom he also plays. One of the nicest aspects of the evening, apart from the high-quality music, was that during the interval instead of disappearing upstairs, the musicians stayed in the salon to talk to the audience, further enhancing the sense that this was very much an evening of music amongst friends.

Who or what inspired you to become a guitarist and composer? 

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to compose my own music. As soon as I learned to read music, I started writing it down. I haven’t stopped since. As a guitarist, I was inspired by John Williams and Julian Bream. They made playing the guitar seem like the most relevant and exciting thing to do.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A Triple Concerto, for saxophone, cello, piano and orchestra. It’s for the Orpheus Sinfonia, a wonderful orchestra of young professionals. The solo parts are part-composed, part-devised and part-improvised. The piece transforms pre-existing music in unexpected ways. The pianist, Graham Caskie, has been sending me short recordings of musical ideas for possible inclusion. The work has been very collaborative and musically rewarding. I’m now putting the finishing touches to the orchestration. The first performance is at Cadogan Hall on 11th July.

Who or what are the most important influences on your writing?

Firstly, the musicians I work with. I have learned so much from them. Secondly, the various external impetuses that give my music its narrative content, character and shape. Recently these influences have come from the work of James Joyce, Thomas Heatherwick, Charles Jencks, Gerhard Richter, Norman Foster, Antoni Gaudi and Terry Gilliam. As for musicians, I have very catholic tastes. At the centre, though, it’s Beethoven, Mahler and Stravinsky – and my recent work has been flavoured by Max Richter, Uri Caine, Mark Anthony Turnage, John Adams, and Frank Zappa among others.

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

Writing music for my heroes has proved particularly challenging – I’ve done that a couple of times. There is a sense that you must somehow raise your game for the ‘big occasion’. Of course, as soon as you put pressure on yourself, it becomes impossible to make creative decisions.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra? 

When you write for orchestra, you can’t afford to take too many risks. The music needs to play off the page, as rehearsal time is always limited. So keeping the balance between invention and pragmatism is the biggest challenge. Working with Orpheus has been great, as I’ve got to know the players and have been able to write to their strengths and be more experimental.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

I am very happy with many of the recordings of my music. However, once a project is over, I rarely reflect on it too much. All I can say I that I’m really enjoying two recording projects that I’m working on at the moment – the Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia and the Guitar Concerto with John Williams and the RPO.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in my youth. I went to many orchestral concerts there between the ages of 11 and 18. It’s where my musical DNA was formed.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Here’s a list for today, but it would be different every time you asked me – Alina Ibragimova, Krystian Zimmerman, Joni Mitchell, Claudio Arrau, Martha Argerich, Paul Watkins, Branford Marsalis, David Russell. These are all musicians who’ve moved me in recent weeks.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I went to see WNO’s production The Turn of the Screw when I was 14. It changed the way I thought about music. Suddenly a door on a new world opened up in front of me. The range of emotional expression, instrumental and vocal colour, and depth of musical characterisation was breathtaking.

What is your favourite music to listen to? 

I love listening to things for the first time (especially at a live concert). Nothing beats the excitement of discovering something new. You listen not knowing where the music is going to end up or what’s going to happen next. Recently, I was really taken with Ginastera’s Piano Concerto and Janáček’s Violin Sonata. In terms of familiar favourites, Bach, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Miles Davis and Beethoven again.

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

  • To listen without prejudice
  • To question everything
  • That asking for guidance is not a sign of weakness
  • That everyone has creative and inventive ideas all the time. The difficulty comes in taking those ideas and realising them in a satisfying way.
  • That the notion of an individual compositional voice is a dangerous one. W.H. Auden once said that as an artist, you spend the first half of your life imitating others and the second half imitating yourself. I would argue that self-repetition is a bigger problem than any notion of a composer having to nurture or seek an individual voice.

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

Exactly where I am now, but with a more manageable schedule.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Spending time with friends and family, and watching live football in N5.

Stephen Goss is currently composer-in-residence for Orpheus Sinfonia who will give the world premiere of his Triple Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Piano at the Cadogan Hall in London on Thursday 11 July.  The soloists are saxophonist Pete Whyman, cellist Thomas Carroll (also Artistic Director of Orpheus Sinfonia) and pianist Graham Caskie, with Toby Purser conducting. 

Stephen Goss’ Piano Concerto was premiered by Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia in London in April and will be released on the Signum Classics label in October. 

“Composer Stephen Goss draws on a variety of sources for his eminently listenable music. Despite the eclectic nature of his influences, which range from Beethoven’s late piano music to the films of former Python Terry Gilliam, Goss’s musical language comes across as brilliantly integrated….”  International Record Review

Stephen Goss is much in demand as a composer.  His works have been recorded on over 50 CDs by more than a dozen record labels, including EMI, Decca, Naxos and Deutsche Grammophon.  His collaborative project with Professor Charles Jencks, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (2005) for violin, cello, bass clarinet and piano, was profiled on The South Bank Show on ITV1. 

His latest projects include a new guitar concerto for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be recorded and toured by guitarist John Williams in 2014.  He has also received commissions from guitarists David Russell, Milos Karadaglic and Xuefei Yang, cellist Natalie Clein, violinist Nicola Benedetti, flautist William Bennett and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. 

Goss has also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, arranging melodies from his new musical, Stephen Ward, for solo guitar.  The piece was premièred by Milos Karadaglic on ITV on Easter Sunday (31 March) as part of a 90-minute celebration of the life and work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, marking 40 years in London’s West End.  It is the first time any material from Lloyd Webber’s new show, which is based on the Profumo scandal which rocked the British government in the early 1960s, has been heard.  The track is being released by Deutsche Grammophon to coincide with the TV broadcast. 

After several years on the staff at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Steve Goss is now Professor of Music and Head of Composition at the University of Surrey, and a Professor of Guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London.