The Facts of Life – David Leisner at West Dean

David big head
When I first met David Leisner, he was helping guitarists to get over focal dystonia. He stayed and taught at my house, and was the first person to offer real hope to many guitarists who were suddenly struck by the focal dystonia. He had been through it himself and had subjected himself to all manner of therapies before working out a way through before any permanent damage was done. He is a very patient and encouraging teacher.

David and GG W Dean

David Leisner and GG

David and Marcin Dylla W Dean

David and Marcin Dylla

David teaching W Dean

David teaching

Now, he is back on form as one of the most innovative guitarists around, with a beautiful sound, solid technique and unerring musicianship.
He is also an exciting composer, hence an early epithet of “Triple-Threat performer, composer and teacher” bestowed by the New York Times.

Here is a revealing interview I did with him at this year’s West Dean Summer school, where he talks about dystonia, David del Tredici and performing. Shortly after this, he went on tour in China, where it seems he was a big hit.

Here is a link to his latest CD, Facts of Life featuring music by Bach, David del Tredici, and Golijov

About Time – Stephen Goss and Tetra’s Last Stand

At Iserlohn’s annual guitarfest this summer, I had the opportunity to talk to Stephen Goss about his busy composing schedule and the final concert of the Tetra Guitar Quartet, which he founded and has nourished over the last 26 years.
He is one of the busiest guitar composers around, but also writes for orchestra and other instruments.
I also managed to catch the last encore which the specially reconstituted Tetra Quartet played at this, their final ever performance.
A historic and triumphant, but sad occasion.

Here is the interview with Steve Goss, whom I have known since he was a young student with extremely short hair and an unflappable performing style (I remember a particularly unsubtle joke involving the Benjamin Britten Nocturnal and a condom at an early summer school of Steve Gordon’s in Prussia Cove in Cornwall. Goss carried on serenely…)

Here is the final encore – a Sevillana (!) by Elgar, with Stephen Goss, Carl Herring(flown in from Japan), Alan Neave(flown in from Glasgow) and ex-NYGE alumnus, Michael Button(flown in).

Here is an earlier incarnation of Tetra playing Goss’s wonderful compilation of Mahler tunes.

More on Tetra and a link to their 25th Anniversary CD-
About Time

Busking – a musician’s life for me

Max was given his first guitar at the age of nine, cost six guineas from the Bell Musical Catalogue. The first song he learnt to play was “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. After playing in various local bands, in 1980 he moved to London to join street theatre group the Demolition Decorators, touring France and Holland with them. Whilst in London he also played in a number of musical/theatre projects at the Albany Empire, Tricycle Theatre Kilburn and others, and in London he also tried his hand at busking for the first time.Tiring of London, or possibly London tiring of him, he returned home to Oxford and has been there ever since


I recently had the good fortune to meet my old friend Johnny Hinkes who was busking on the streets of Oxford. We had worked on a session together many years ago and I was impressed by his ability to get into the meaning of the music we were playing as well as his reading and improvisational ability.
So why busk?
We had an interesting conversation about busking, playing for love or money,accompanying classical music,  Richard Rodney Bennett and “Stealing Bob Dylan from Woodstock: When the World Came to the Isle of Wight” by Ray Foulk, amongst other subjects.

Here are some more clips of Johnny playing

Here is a link to his CD Baby page
and a link to his webpage

A bit more about busking in Oxford

Statement on busking in Oxford city centre

Oxford City Council encourages busking in the city centre. It adds a great deal to the vibrant and exciting city centre experience that we all know and love. For the last decade, the City Council has had a Code of Practice that buskers are asked to agree to observe when they obtain a busking permit from the Council. The Code includes:

Not busking for more than 60 minutes in one place

Not obstructing the highway

Using amplification responsibly and maintaining a reasonable volume.

The aim of the Code has always been to create a level playing field for all buskers and to stop any nuisance to everyone else who uses the city centre – traders, local residents and visitors. We currently have no legal power to enforce this Code of Practice and have received complaints from traders, in particular, about buskers playing loudly and for long periods of time outside their shops, which is not fair to them.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been proposed in order to provide a legal power to take action against busking which leads to complaints from the public. In all cases, buskers will be asked to conform to the Code before any enforcement measures are used. 

The PSPO will allow the Police or designated Council officers to issue a £100 fine or, in the most extreme of cases, to take the person to court, which could result in a maximum fine of £1,000.

But the Order will also remove the current requirement to obtain a permit before busking. After the PSPO has been introduced, people wishing to busk will be able to do so without contacting us in any way. All they will need to do is adhere to the existing Code of Practice.

The measures proposed will therefore have no impact on the vast majority of buskers and will in fact make it easier for musicians to busk in Oxford city centre. We think the measures will help to improve the liveliness of the city centre.

Released on Wednesday 20 May 2015

Oxford City Council Leader Bob Price said: “Point three of the Code of Practice – to smile, enjoy yourself and entertain others – is there to encourage people to regard busking as fun, rather than just as a way to make money. “It is not an element of the Code that would be the subject of enforcement action.”

Quote added on Thursday 21 May
More links!






  Max and Lewis                              

  With SweetnSour Swing        

With SweetnSour Swing        

With Sweetnsour Swing    

Interview with Kenny Hill

I was in Iserlohn this summer and met American guitarist, luthier and composer Kenny Hill.
He is the third man who together with Alex Wang and Wolfgang Jellinghaus make up the driving power behind the Martinez Guitar Company.
I looked through a composition he had published, which Johannes Moller plays, and this seemed a good occasion to ask him his views on playing, making and writing.

Interview with Wolfgang Jellinghaus

Gerald and Wolfgang

I first met Wolfgang Jellinghaus in Chengdu, where he and i seemed to be the only ones capable of taking on a drinking challenge proposed by a couple of university administrators!
Needless to say, we beat them hollow (I think we did anyway – I seem to recall pitchers of Mou Tai being bandied about).
I learned that Wolfgang was one of the triumvirate who make up the Martinez guitar company, the other two being Chinese entrpreneur and luthier Alex Wang and Kenny Hill from America.
Wolfgang also produces his own brand of “Milestone” guitars, and I was lucky enough to grab an interview as he drove us to a concert at the Iserlohn Festival this year.

Interview with Su Meng

Su Meng is famously a Chinese guitarist who studies and plays in the USA, as a soloist, in a duo (the Beijing Duo) with her compatriot Wang Yameng (whom John Williams and I met on our Chinese tour in 1995) and in a trio with her teacher, Manuel Barrueco.

  • In 2002, Meng Su won first prize in the 5th Vienna International Guitar Competition.
  • in 2005, she garnered first prize in the 48th Tokyo International Guitar Competition.
  • In 2006, she was the winner of the first Parkening Young Guitarist Competition.
  • in 2006, she was the winner of the first Iserlohn Guitarist Competition.
  • in 2014, Meng Su received the Maryland State Art Council’s Individual Artist Award in Classical Solo Performance!
  • in 2015, she was the winner of the fourth Parkening Guitar Competition.

I was lucky enough to catch her on my latest visit to Hong Kong just after she had won the prestigious Parkening Competition for the second time (the first time was as a junior) and we managed to have a brief conversation about practice, competitions and living in the USA.
There interview took place in the studio of my old friend Wong Yik Hung.


The Beijing Guitar Duo

Alex in China

When I was in Chengdu recently, I had a fun time with Alex Wang, CEO and founder of Martinez guitars, and persuaded him to do an interview just before I left for Hong Kong.
Here is a little bit about Martinez guitars, which are sold worldwide. In between drinking competitions  I was astonished to discover that Martinez sold 70,000 guitars last year!
The new era of classic guitar producers were initiated when a talented China luthier, Mr. Alex Wang (the founder of Martinez brand) who learnt from the American luthier, Mr. Kenny Hill who trained & influenced many aspect of Martinez team for best practices based on the USA hand-made classic guitar making. The third influential person in this joint venture is a German luthier, Mr. Wolfgang Jellinghaus who fill in the role as the tone woods sourcing for the best of Martinez guitar sound.
In summary, the tradition of hand-made best practices from USA, the internationally trained China skills to assemble guitars in a modern guitar factory out of China and the sourcing capability for best tone woods out of Germany are the example of a globally integrated classic guitar brand, that is the Martinez Guitars ! This is another proof that the buzz word of “globally integrated company” were no longer dominated by the high-tech industry, it is happening in the classic guitar industry. The result is a new era classic guitar which inherited the “the hand-made guitar making” quality out of the modern guitars factory facility at the affordable price points. The consumers who buy these guitars will benefit the outcome of ‘globally integrated company’ concept.

Intrigued? I was, and will be visiting the factory very soon.

Mr.Naxos – interview with Klaus Heymann

Klaus Heymann

On Monday, May 18th, 2015, at a ceremony at Yale School of Music, Naxos Chairman and owner Klaus Heymann was presented with the prestigious Samuel Simons Sanford Award. Previous winners include Yo-Yo Ma, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Sir George Solti, Eugene Ormandy, and Juilliard President Joseph Polisi.
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I have known Klaus for many years – my first recording was with his wife, violinist Takako Nishizaki in 1985 – it is a collection of Chinese melodies for violin and guitar. This was first issued as an LP on HK Records and subsequently reissued on the Marco Polo label.
We recorded at the Gulbenkian Institute in Lisbon, and I have fond memories of Klaus helping to carry our bags so we wouldn’t damage our hands! I mention this because, since those days, Naxos was founded and one of the guiding lights in the selection process has been Takako.

Since then, I went on to record several CDs for Naxos and have recently produced a CD in China of the prodigy Kuang Junhong.
Naxos has gone from strength to strength and is a pioneer in the streaming of classical music via the Naxos Music Library. They now also have the ability to print CDs in smaller quantities and are establishing a classical music database.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Klaus Heymann has won an award, but he is particularly proud of this one.

Recently I was in Hong Kong, and had a chance to talk to Klaus about his latest award, his attitude to recording and digital distribution, and Naxos’ importance in the promotion of the classical guitar.

Xu’s Shops

What job do you do after graduating in classical guitar?

When I first visited Chengdu two years ago, I was surprised that the professor at the conservatory, Xu Bao also ran a music shop.
I learned that this was a place his more advanced students could teach and it was a general meeting place for the increasing number of students he had.
There were also guitars for sale.
On this present visit, he had just opened a new shop, a hundred yards down from the previous one, but I also discovered that there were another two shops in other areas of Chengdu.
They all sold relatively expensive guitars from Altamira, Martinez and Milestone.
Overall, there were around 300 students and each shop was managed and part owned by one of Xu Bao’s students.
Intrigued, I wanted to find out why there was such a demand for guitar studios, their function in the life of students who have finished their studies and how Xu Bao manages to sell higher quality and more expensive guitars to his students.
The studio/shops themselves were also an interesting design, incorporating lots of open space and making use of all the space that was available.
In the following interview, I was ably assisted by one of Xu Bao’s former students, Wenjun Qi, who is now studying with Bill Kanengiser in Los Angeles.

Written by Mrs Bach

Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello (BWV 1007-1012) are among the most famous pieces in the canon of Western music. Recent claims by the Australian researcher Martin Jarvis about their authorship have become a media sensation, causing heated scholarly debates in normally restrained musicological circles. Jarvis claims that the Cello Suites were composed not by Johann Sebastian but by his second wife Anna Magdalena.
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Here are some recent superb interpretations of the cello suites by David Watkin