Welcome to India, Mr. Rodrigues! Is this your first visit here? How has it been so far?
First of all, thank you so much for this interview! And yes, it is my very first visit to India. So far, I’ve played in New Delhi at the India International Centre and then I played at Mazda Concert Hall in Pune. These were amazing days and I’m very happy to have such a contact with India’s famous courtesy and beauty. Unfortunately, I’ve had a very short time in these cities so I’m glad to spend more time in Goa and especially to have some time-off to visit the place.
You started your musical studies at age 5. Tell us a little about that.
Well, although there are no musicians in my family, my parents are great music lovers. My father had bought a guitar while he was studying in Coimbra and he also sang occasionally Fado and other popular songs. So the instrument choice was made quite naturally: we had a guitar waiting for someone to play it. The classical music input was made by my mother who introduced me to the great masters such as Beethoven; his symphonies are some of my earliest musical memories.
Any outstanding teachers you’d like to mention? Who have been your main influences?
I’ve studied with José Mesquita Lopes in Leiria’s Music School for eight years. This amount of time is enough to show how important he was for me. He’s a great teacher and friend. Then, I went to Paris to study with Alberto Ponce at the École Normale de Musique. I don’t have words to thank him for everything I’ve learned in his classes. He is Music and everything he does is Art.
Also, I had the chance to play in masterclasses for many teachers such as Leo Brouwer, David Russell or Darko Petrinjiak. They play a great role in my way of viewing music as well.
You have won several awards and prizes at prestigious competitions around the world. What is your opinion about competitions in general? Do you think they are good for developing young players?
Well, like almost everything in life there are some pros and cons. It is a great way to know and prepare some repertoire, sometimes within a very short period of time, so you must learn how to be effective in your study. Competitions are also a great way of meeting friends and to learn from all the talented players you hear. Naturally, if you win a prize, some concert invitations may appear (Not exclusively, though. I’ve received invitations during competitions I didn’t win).
Now, many players focus their career exclusively on this type of events without considering the “real world”. I’ve met great musicians that had won, let’s say 10-15 competitions and had 2-3 concerts a year.
About developing young players, I think it depends on how old they are. In Portugal there are now many competitions for small kids, starting often at 8 years of age, I consider it too aggressive for them and somewhat unhealthy. They should be allowed just to have fun and do not suffer some sort of stress that may jeopardize their love and their relation with music.
How many hours do you rehearse daily? What advice would you give young musicians in Goa regarding daily practice?
Usually an average of 5 hours, sometimes less with travels and sometimes more when I need to learn a new program. About the advice… you know this feeling when you hear your voice recorded and you say “that’s not my voice!”? A good way of practicing is by recording yourself and becoming aware of what you’re really playing. Sometimes, you’re just concerned about “well, now I must use this finger and now here comes a difficult passage” and the music just doesn’t flow. And also, do not hate technical exercises! They’re good for you!
What instrument do you play on?
Currently, I’m playing a 2010 guitar by Zbigniew Gnatek. He is a Polish luthier living in Sydney. I love this instrument for its wide projection and colours.
You have premiered the works of several contemporary composers. Do you commission works from them, or do they write with you in mind? Are most of them composers especially or exclusively for guitar?
Both situations occurred actually! Or sometimes a festival may commission a work for me to premiere. I would say that 50% of them are non-guitarists composers and to work with them is a great way to learn more about music, and a great way to discover new possibilities to be made with the guitar.
Any particular favourites among these? I note that one of them (Nuno Guedes de Campos) is on your Goa concert programme.
Many of these compositions are for guitar and live electronics. Here I must mention the marvellous works of Isabel Soveral, Michal Rataj and José Luís Ferreira, to name just a few. Unfortunately, the live electronics addendum it’s not easy to be performed everywhere as the logistic is somewhat complicated, so I often ask the composer to make a second version of the work without electronics. About Nuno Guedes de Campos: he’s a great composer and a very good friend of mine. His music it’s quite enthralling to play (he knows the guitar perfectly as he’s an amazing jazz guitarist) and this jazzy ambience he brings is a breath of fresh air to my music programs.
Tell us a little about your forthcoming concert programme. Three out of the four works are your own transcriptions for guitar. Your transcriptions are published by Mel Bay and Notação XXI publications. Do you transcribe music to address the relative lack of dedicated music for the instrument, or because a particular work just seems “right” for the guitar, or some other reason?
Well, I made the first transcriptions when I was about 12-13 years old. The music library in my school was rather small and I had finished reading the guitar section. So, once I took a piano book and thought “Let me see if I can play this” and so it started… But you know, now I just transcribe music because I would love to play it for myself. To keep it simple, that’s the main reason for my choice of this concert programme for Goa. It’s music that I love to play: Bach, the 4th Harpsichord Partita; another harpsichord suite by Handel and the well-known piano music (in Portugal) by composer António Pinho Vargas. I’m pretty lucky that they are published and it’s a great pleasure to hear others playing these transcriptions.
You have recorded several CDs which have in them repertoire ranging from baroque to tango, to contemporary music. Would you like to elaborate a little about them? Any favourites among them? Is there a genre that you are partial to over others?
The first CD was a flute-guitar duo and it was recorded during my student years while I was on a South Africa tour with flutist Liesl Stoltz. For this formation, L’histoire du Tango by Astor Piazzolla is a cornerstone of the repertoire and we added some other essential composers for this duo such as Tedesco, Ibert and Villa-Lobos.
The second was recorded in Puerto Rico, it’s called “Densidades” and it’s dedicated to the music of Alberto Rodriguez-Ortiz, who was a colleague of mine at the École Normale de Paris. It features wonderful works for one, two and three guitars, so besides me and the composer playing, I also had the privilege to record with Nicholas Goluses, Professor at the Eastman School of Music (USA).
The third, a solo record, was entirely dedicated to one my passions, baroque music. I played my transcriptions of Bach, Marcello, Handel and Vivaldi, and I will play some of these works here.
The forth CD is entirely dedicated to the music of Portuguese composer Isabel Soveral that I mentioned before, one of our best composers and luckily is considering the composition of a guitar concerto.
Actually, I do not have a favourite genre or period, but I believe I cannot “defend” or play all the styles the way I would like to. This happens especially with late 18th and 19th century music, so, for now I’ll just enjoy hearing it played by others.
How do you approach a new piece? Do you make an analysis of the music, or do you play it through first?
Usually, if the time until the day of concert allows it, I memorize and analyze the music without guitar. This way, the assimilation is deeper and you do not become distracted by certain guitar issues you may encounter when playing. Then, after the music is memorized, I’ll start playing. Like I’ve said before, I like to work with recordings and I often record myself to make sure that the global result is near the vision I had for that particular work.
You’ve taught at the National Conservatory Lisbon, Oporto Music School, and you currently teach at Aveiro University. Are you intrinsically a performer or a teacher? Is it possible to be both in equal measure? What happens to your students when you are away on tour?
I am rather lucky to have time for both activities that I love equally. Obviously, when I’m on tour, sometimes I have to displace certain classes for other days but my students are understanding about it. For now I have 30-40 concerts per year and I think it’s a good number for a balanced relation between performing, and being able to assist and help my students. It is great to realize how much I learn with my students and how the concert situation may provide solutions to help the students, so I consider it to be a rather symbiotic relationship.
Tell us a little about your duo "Machina Lirica". What does the name mean?
It started (and sometimes it still works) as a trio with flutist Monika Streitova, composer José Luis Ferreira for the live electronics and me. We had a contemporary music concert at the Music Viva Festival in Lisbon and no name… and finding a name is not an easy task. There we were, a mix between “traditional” classical instruments, computer sounds and technology. So, one day I was reading one of my favourite poets, the great Portuguese writer Herberto Helder, and there it was one of his poems called Máquina Lírica, the Lyrical Machine. I felted that was the synthesis of our trio as it combines the lyricism of the acoustic instruments and the new technologies and simultaneously it’s a tribute to Herberto Helder.
Thank you so much for taking the time to introduce me to your readers!
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 1 June 2012)