Below the reflector - Interview on Guitart International #10 (Italy, 2005) to Paolo Pegoraro and Stefano Viola by Roberto Calabretto
How did you get into music?
S.V. My introduction to music came quite naturally. My parents are musicians, so at home we breathed music day and night. I heard my mother and her pupils playing the piano, as well as two of my three siblings, who both completed their musical studies, one going on to teach in the Conservatory. Not to mention the records of classical music we listened to…
P.P. Music has always played a part in my life, too. My paternal grandfather was a violinmaker. My father played the violin as a young man and he had quite a lot of concert experience to his credit, while my uncle, who was a passionate music-lover, played various instruments, among which the guitar. It’s thanks to them that I developed a love for music. I can still remember when my father listened to the concertos of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart – played by Heifetz, Oistrakh, Milstein, Ferras: I would sit on his lap, and while we listened he would point out the beauty of some of the passages and the differences in interpretation between the artists. It was so exciting!
…and the guitar?
S.V. The guitar wasn’t my first instrument, because when I was a child I studied the accordion, and then the piano for several years. The results weren’t particularly brillant, however, so when I was twelve, my father decided to give me my first guitar lessons. It had the vague sense of a last chance: I can still remember the thrill
that went through me at the sound of the insrument. From that moment I have not left it; every day I love it more.
P.P. I started with piano and violin. Then one day my uncle played a recording of some pieces by Albeniz. I was stunned! Manuel Barrueco was playing. My uncle gave me my first lessons. He explained some technical details and gave me some exercises to do of the Julio Sagreras method. A week later I had prepared all the exercises in the book: I remember that he was very pleased. I was ten years old. I believe that the enthusiasm and passion my uncle transmitted to me have been deciding factors. If I love music and the guitar so much, I owe it most of all to him. He gave me a lot of scores…he made me listen to a lot of beautiful music. My parents deserve thanks, too, for always supporting my choices. Yes! I’ve been very lucky.
What sort of training – in music and guitar – have you received?
S.V. I can say that my guitar training has been of a particular kind. In fact, after the important basic instruction I received from my father, I enrolled in the Conservatory, and in each of the four years till I received my diploma I had a different teacher (Pino Briasco during my diploma year). My preparation was inevitably influenced by this fact, even if now, 25 years later, I believe that having to elaborate these different teachings, at times contradictory, was fundamental in creating an approach to technique and the mechanics of the instrument that are based on analytical-objective criteria, rather than the dictates of a “school”.
P.P. After studying with various teachers, I enrolled in the Venice Conservatory, and ended up in the class taught by Maestro Tommaso De Nardis. I studied with him till my Diploma. I think he was truly a good teacher, and I’m grateful to him because he gave me so many opportunities. Lessons were not only about music: we also breathed a cultural atmosphere that was very stimulating. Then, too, it was a real class, a group of young people who wanted to grow together, to enrich one another through comparison and contrast. We were very close and together we lived a variety of experiences.
Have you had any role models?
S.V. I met Ruggero Chiesa the year I received my dipoma (1979). During the following four years he gave me lessons in guitar, music and much more. His teachings, based on freedom of thought and comparison without losing fedelity or the respect due to music (what we can call the right balance) are still strong within me. Thanks to Chiesa I later met Oscar Ghiglia, with whom I had the pleasure of studying in Siena and Gargnano, in what was probably the richest moment of the guitar movement of those years, full of of energy and stimuli. Some other people who transmitted energy, even if through different channels, were Stefano Grondona, Pavel Steidl and Angelo Gilardino.
P.P. After I received my diploma I studied with Russell and Barrueco, attending two courses with each, though over the years I have also attended dozens of lessons with Russell in master classes organized in Pordenone. They gave me the right suggestions at what was just the right moment for me. They enabled me to discover and understand tehnical and musical aspects which have helped me enormously. The classes with Oscar Ghiglia at the Chigiana were illuminating…I have a wonderful memory of them. A man of great culture and sensitivity, Ghiglia was able to make me perceive a poetic world which gave inspiration…you know, the sort of things that you can say only after you have a few grey hairs. He was the teacher who showed me that one can go beyond the score, who pushed me to search for that “right balance” that Stefano just mentioned, the balance between the work, the composer, the period, the style, the player. It’s a never-ending search. There are many people who have influenced my ideas, directly and indirectly: Betho Davezac, Ruggero Chiesa, Alvaro Company, Alberto Ponce, Angelo Gilardino, Carlo Marchione, Stefano Grondona, Pavel Steidl, Radu Lupu, Grigory Sokolov, and others. These are people I owe a great deal to, though they may not be aware of the fact.
Could you tell us something of your experience as concert musicians and as teachers?
S.V. I prefer to keep the two areas separate. Concert activity meant a great deal to me at the beginning of my career, when I dedicated a lot of time to studying the solo repertory and preparing for competitions. Nowadays my concert experience is mainly with chamber music: I perceive the concert as personal enrichment which is then directed into teaching. I fact, I think that I can be described more as a teacher than a performer. In this area, too, my training was not typical. Since there were no schools for the teaching of instruments, the only way was to apply myself, to study and keep my knowledge up-to-date. This permitted me to absorb information and new technical and teaching styles through the studies and research of teachers who have been pioneers in this sense. I have thus developed a critical sense which is fundamental in teaching. Direct experience is very important: I’ve been teaching in Conservatories for 26 years, having begun at the age of 20. The unusual experience of being precarious, working as a substitute teacher for 20 years, complicated my life on a practical level, but meant that I was able to meet and get to know innumerable “schools”, settings and students thoughout Italy. Today, as a teacher in the “Agostino Steffani” Conservatory in Castelfranco Veneto, Italy, I must acknowledge the importance of this priceless professional experience.
P.P. When I walk onstage, I feel enormous responsibility, towards the audience, the music, the guitar, my students…towards myself. When I teach, I demand a lot, and I can’t be serene if I’m unable to do what I’m asking… it’s not easy, it’s a constant challenge! Over the years I’ve come to the understanding that I must feel prepared in every way, so that I’m in the right mood to express my best. I try to have perfectly clear ideas of what I want to do in each piece and in the concert, and of what I want to convey to the audience…then I just close my eyes and let the music flow. Preparation for a concert entails time and tranquillity, which would be almost impossible to find without the help of my wife Angela (another guitarist), who over the years has managed to help me and to lighten my load of daily commitments. Sometimes, if concerts are distant in time from each other, it becomes difficult to maintain a continuity of study. Fortunately, 2005 will be full of appointments; in Mexico, Czech Republic, Ukraine and Italy. Teaching is a very important element in my way of being a musician: I couldn’t live without it. I like trying to help other people enter the world of music, as they learn more about themselves and the world around them. When I teach I try to understand what the right and important things to say are at that moment, and I use a great variety of information (technical, musical, expressive, stylistic, cultural, the human aspect, the everyday aspect ). I believe it is very important to encourage motivation, which triggers in the student the desire to express themselves and to evolve, giving their best.
Paolo, how do you select a concert programme?
P.P. Above all I try to play beautiful music! Music that takes hold of me completely, which is inevitable when I play important music written for my instrument. In the past few years I’ve made an effort to evolve a certain coherence in the programmes I choose, at least in the two parts of a concert. I love Bach: that’s absolute music. It’s never missing from my programmes. It may take me a very long time to choose the pieces I want to perform, because the emotional understanding of a piece is not immediate. I also like to pick up pieces I haven’t performed for years, because maturity brings new light and perspective. I feel very different from the person I was a few years ago, but the beauty of being a musician lies in this continual evolution. I often come to know deeply and to love new pieces that I’ve studied with a student; this happened to me recently with works by Takemitsu. It’s interesting to work on a piece of music with a pupil, because we have to break the piece up into its smallest part. It’s like a puzzle. When you have all the little pieces on the table in front of you and you begin to join them together, you realize that each piece is in its place for a precise reason, with precise meaning. I believe it’s important to give space to new compositions, so long as they reflect a certain artistic quality. Recently I’ve been dedicating time to works by Simone Iannarelli and Stefano Casarini, both of whom compose well, in my opinion.
Are you involved in any recording projects?
P.P. Naturally, ideas aren’t lacking. After my first solo CD, an anthology of works that are very dear to me, I’d like to get involved in some monographic or thematic projects, beginning for example with Bach, or a CD dedicated to the most important works of the twentieth century. I’ve recently approached the romantic guitar, an instrument which fascinates me and with which I’d happily record something.
How would you describe a good teacher?
S.V. A good teacher must first be an excellent observer, both visual and auditory. What he sees and hears a pupil do determines what he best should say in that particular moment. During a lesson, among a variety of things, there is always one particular, significant thing to say or piece of advice to give. Choosing the correct one is not easy, and for this reason I’m convinced that teachers are born, just like concert artists are born. Another fundamental characteristic of a teacher is the ability to evolve over time. Willingness to elaborate, to change, and at times to revolutionize one’s technique and mode of interpretation after contact with new experiences which stimulate the search for new paths…it’s not easy but it’s essential, if you want to move on and not stop, thinking you know everything.
P.P. I agree absolutely. I’d just like to add what I see as the importance of knowing how to relate to your pupil, as you try to understand his or her needs, above all helping the pupil to exploit those characteristics that make him or her unique as an individual.
And now let’s talk about your work together, and about all your activity in the past ten years in the guitar world. When and how was the idea for the Accademia Tarrega born?
S.V. I’m “older”, so let me speak. Paolo will be my witness. I went to one of Paolo’s concerts. I was attracted by the programme he was proposing - the Valse Poeticos, Fantasia Ungherese - works that weren’t as frequently performed then as they are today. I liked the concert so much that afterward I went to speak to him (at the time we only knew each other by name), and compliment him. As chance would have it, a few days later some of my pupils gave a concert near Pordenone. Paolo came and was very warm in his appreciation of my teaching. After that, we remained in contact, exchanging opinions, until finally we decided to work together, sharing values, ideas and attitudes as to how to regard music and the profession of musician. Our musical preparation and trainiing are totally different, and this has kept us away from any closed concept of a “school”, as is demosntrated by the number of colleagues from all over the world who have given lessons to “our” pupils in Accademia…nothing is immobile, everything moves! We work serenely, with discretion, convinced that facts and results will speak for us.
As part of their training, your pupils study with both of you, which is rather unusual; can you describe this process?
S.V. and P.P. This question has been put to us a number of times in the past nine years. Actually, there has never been a problem, though obviously there have been situations of tension and incomprehension. However, thanks to our mutual esteem and respect , and to the fact that we regularly talk over all the aspects of teaching that touch us (new ideas, intuitions or confirmations, study plans for our pupils), I believe we have reached a perfect balance. Within this, though we have common programmatic lines, we feel free to express our personal potentiality and individualness. By a strange coincidence, our qualities can be considered complementary, all to the advantage of our pupils’ training.
Besides the normal teaching activity, your school is known for the constant presence of seminars and master classes. How do you set up this type of parallel activity?
S.V. and P.P. We begin with the idea that it’s not possible to know and understand everything. We feel that our pupils should be in contact with the experiences of people who have done specific studies in particular areas. For example, in the past few years we have organized seminars on the Baroque period, with Betho Davezac, Carlo Marchione and Eduardo Fernandez, in which various problems related to the diversity between the Italian and the French styles were examined: the articulation and phrasing of that period, the dances of the time (with the possibility of listening to performances of great interpreters), rhetorical and semantic aspects in Bach, the Ciaccona (and the interesting analysis made by the musicologist Helga Thoene). And this only for the Baroque. In studying the nineteenth century we were fortunate to have Pavel Steidl, while for the twentieth century Angelo Gilardino, Tilmann Hoppstock, your courses (Roberto Calabretto, n.d.r.), and in the near future Stefano Grondona. For all of us, teachers and students, these experiences bring continual enrichment, and offer the possibility of broadening our knowledge. In the past nine years we have invited more than fifty colleagues, and each one of them put their personal knowledge at our service with great professionality and generosity.
We’ve almost finished our interview. Nine years after its birth: could you give me your thoughts on the Accademia?
S.V. and P.P. They’re definitely positive, especially since the results of our activity have pushed the Accademia to the top, among the best schools for guitar in Europe (and our opinion is also held by our students, more than 70, who come from Slovenia, Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Russia, Ukraine and Switzerland). One of the most significant aspects can be seen in our organization and in the teaching model used. Our students become professionals who adopt similar models in their own countries and local areas: thus we can see the emergence of festivals and schools in Italy, Mexico, Slovenia, Ukraine, Spain, thanks to young musicians who were a part of the Accademia for a number of years. As for former students who worked with us and who now have regular and intense concert programmes, we can cite Adriano Del Sal, Mauro Zanatta, the duo Bonfanti, the trio Nahual and Marco De Biasi (a young man who is also dedicating time to composition, with flattering results). We’re happy about the 62 prizes won in important national and international competitions: the “Michele Pittaluga” in Alessandria; “Juliàn Arcas” in Almeria, “Fernando Sor” in Rome; “Castelnuovo Tedesco” in Parma; “Benvenuto Terzi” in Bergamo; Taranto; Ragusa; Isernia ecc.
What plans for the future?
S.V. and P.P. We can use the word historic for an event that will take place in 2005: the festival “Omaggio a Segovia”. There will be master classes and lectures, as well as concerts, and the largest and most complete anthological exhibition ever offered in honour of the great Andalusan Maestro.
Two other projects are beginning to take form that will be given priority: a series of publications describing the work done with pupils on the most important pieces in repertory and a collection of recordings on monographic projects for our pupils.