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 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