About Gerald

Classical guitarist, composer, conductor

Let the wood speak-interview with the luthier Paul Fischer

[In the workshopWelcome

When Paul Fischer had a stroke a couple of years ago, his friends and family did not know what the outcome would be. As it happened, he recovered enough to speak and to drive again. However, it was a signal to him to ease off on the guitar making. At his peak, Paul was producing 30 or more guitars a year, and he had been doing this since the late 60s when we first met. This was at the workshop of David Rubio, and since then Paul has gone from strength to strength, becoming the doyen of English guitar makers, pioneering the use of alternative woods for the guitar body, and a friend of guitarists, composers, royalty and normal people alike.

After the stroke, he took to teaching guitar making, and out of this, with a student, came the idea of writing a book – “Let the Wood Speak“. This book is a story of Paul’s life told in the easy and engaging way that he talks, and I had the opportunity to ask him about it at one of the many meals we have shared over 40 years at his and Joy’s beautiful house in the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton.

Book
Get the book here

Over the years, Paul and Joy have welcomed many people to their house, and have been generous to a fault, sharing food and ideas with fellow luthiers and musicians. He has also encouraged composers, notably Nic Hooper, Raymond Head and Bill Lovelady, and has been associated with many famous guitarists – Xue Fei Yang, John Mills, Sergio Abreu amongst others.Bill and Paul

with Bill Lovelady.
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Joy Fisher with Ray Head
The late, great Rob Russell and Paul

With the late, great, Rob Russell.

In the workshop

Paul with Oren Myers

With Oren Myers

GGG archive – Interview with Dan Williams – cuatros, koras, learning and Warthogs in the Mist

  •  More GGG archive

Dan Williams

While out on the cliffs near West Bay last year, a voice uttered a by now familiar phrase – “Are you Gerald?”.
It was a surprise and great pleasure to see Dan Williams, whom I haven’t spoken to for around twenty years!
He happened to live and have a workshop in Bridport.

West Bay cliffs 29E77CE1-2060-4288-A1BB-020D4BF4E01C

The next day, Alison and I visited and were fascinated to see all the instruments he had been making – Venezuelan cuatros and West African Koras as well as fascinating wooden sculptures and artifacts.

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We first met when holidaying in France with his elder brother John (the guitarist!) in the 80s.

He had met Venezuelan guitarist and composerAlfonso Montes who features on John Williams’ album ‘El Diablo Suelto’ and became interested in the cuatro through that meeting.

Dan plays as well as makes his own instruments and has a background in film animation and woodwork. He learned to play from his father  Len Williams, as did his famous brother.

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Dan was about to start work in his first guitar, so I took the opportunity to ask him about his life and how it had taken so long for him to get around to making a guitar!

Will’s Way – Will McNicol in Chengdu

Will in Chengdu Global centre Will escalates

It was a happy coincidence that I bumped into Will McNicol in Chengdu when I was on my way to my Mum’s 96th birthday.

I was met at the airport by Will, Xu Bao and Joshua Jiao and rushed to a restaurant in an emergency food dash.

Will had been touring China with his own super charged yet gentle brand of acoustic music which he played on a new crossover guitar made by Martinez. This is a nylon strung instrument with a longer neck (the neck meets the body at the 14th fret) and a slightly shallower body. Will had just played in Chengdu the night before, following on from ten or more concerts throughout China, ably assisted by Josh.

After a wonderful lunch which culminated in the smashing of a wine glass while I was on a swing (don’t ask) we were joined by Alex Wang, CEO of Martinez. The following, slightly inebriated interview(s) discussing the future of the guitar in China, connections, Will’s music, life, the universe etc followed without further breakages .

A clip from Will’s latest recording
Dragonflies, Frogs and Bumblebees

Will was voted Acoustic Guitarist of the Year by Guitarist Magazine in 2011.
Here is his piece “The Wakeup”.

Lunch with Alex, Josh, Gerald, Will, Xu Bao

Ho’s Hong Kong History – interview with Kenneth Kwan, Bunny Leung and Ho Chung-Sze

 

HMCGS group 1982

The HK Classical Guitar Society ca.1981 – Mr.Ho is second from the left in the front row. Also present are Pepe Yeung, Simon Cheong Hing Liu, Edgar Chu, Stephen Kai Leung Chau, Ricky, Wilson, Summer Chan,Ng Ho Yi, Mr.Wong, Ngai Kai Tai Thanks to Bunny Leung for the photo

Hong Kong 1979-85– a group of enthusiastic amateur guitarists which met in a small shop in the Jordan area of Kowloon showed up at my first recital in my home town. They seemed well organised, and were hungry for any information and music that was out there.  It appeared that the shop belonged to a Mr.Ho, who allowed local teachers to use it and have their regular meetings. This was the Hong Kong Classical Guitar Society.

They were very kind and also friendly towards each other and towards visitors, so I made a point of keeping in contact on my regular visits and annual concerts. I discovered that there was also a connection with China – the society’s newsletter was sent regularly to contacts and teachers in disparate provinces.

The big name in China was Professor Chen Zhi, who had a reputation for producing wonderful players, but the growing number of classical guitarists in China wanted information – sheet music, recordings, videos…

The HK Classical Guitar Society grew into the HKGIA (Hong Kong Guitar Information Alliance) which involved the burgeoning number of  guitar teachers in Hong Kong, expanding the reach of the society to include all types of guitar interest – flamenco, baroque, nail players and no-nail players.

It was in this group that I first became aware of Kenneth Kwan, a student of the erudite Richard Szeto. It was also this group which made the links with Professor Chen Zhi that enabled John Williams and me to visit Hong Kong and China in 1995.

Prior to this visit Professor Chen Zhi organised The First China Artistic Guitar Festival at Zhuhai, China in 1987.
It was a very important event and has had a big influence on the development of the classical guitar in China.
Before this event Professor Chen Zhi had visited the HK Classical Guitar Society (and Mr. Ho) to invite local players to perform in the Festival. 
Some HK players performed in the China Artistic Guitar Festival 1987.

HK players in China 1987

None of us realised then what an explosion of classical guitar activity in China would result from John Williams’ and my visit in 1995 which was promoted by the British Council.

Most of today’s guitar professors in Chinese conservatoires were present at the concerts and masterclasses which John Williams and I gave.
Professor Chen Zhi has been instrumental in bringing his students to the west, and some of his ex students (and their students in turn) are now bright stars in the universe of the guitar.

I like to think that it all started in that small shop in Jordan, with a group of likeminded enthusiasts back in the early 80s. It should come as no surprise that we have kept in touch even though we have gone our separate ways.
In a world where thinly disguised self promotion seems to be the norm, it is refreshing to come across true enthusiasts who modestly make things happen which have far reaching implications.
Here is a meeting in a Hong Kong in a coffee shop – a meeting of old friends who hadn’t met up for almost forty years and still don’t know how to stop being enthusiastic!

GG and HK friends

GG and Leung Shui Pun

Teaching Bunny (Leung Shui Pun)

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My first recital in Hong KongGGHK programme

Susana and the Studenten Gitaar Ensemble Nederland, the Vickers Bovey duo and the OGS!

The Oxford Guitar Society had their annual concert with a difference in the church of St.Mary and St.Nicholas in Littlemore, Oxford yesterday, the 20th May 2018.

They were joined by the Studenten Gitaar Ensemble Nederland and their lively and enthusiastic conductor, Susana Opanski.

After some soulful playing of a Milonga and Roland Dyens’ arrangement of Alfonsina y el Mar, they did a wild and wickedly funny version of Libertango by Piazzolla.

They were then joined by Dan Bovey and Julian Vickers to play a version of Dowland’s Lachrimae with Sweelinck’s variations. What a wonderful sound!

This was followed by a standout performance of my “Lorca” concerto.

The SGEN gave it their all, complementing the wonderful virtuosity and fluidity of the soloists.

The tour

https://vickersbovey.co.uk/concerts/sgen-tour-utrecht/

Many thanks to Steve Greenslade and the OGS for making this such a memorable occasion!

We had a great time afterwards at the Tree Hotel in Iffley – it was a beautiful summer evening and the SGEN barely made it back int time to Oxford station to catch their train for their concert in London the next day.

I had a chance to chat to Susana, with whom I had a lot in common.

She believes that music connects us and that all cultures, ages and abilities have a common voice through this.

The Ensemble is made up of students and ex students of hers, some of whom are not professional musicians. They do not receive a grant and so feel free to play the repertoire they love.

Their enthusiasm and sense of belonging is infectious and evident in their performance.

Susana is convinced that music connects people and that playing an instrument plays an important role in the personal development of children and young people.

For more than 20 years Susana Opanski has been working as a guitar teacher at the Music School in Amersfoort. She also teaches at Muziek in de Wijk (Utrecht) Besides that she develops educational projects to bring children into contact with music.

In addition to being a guitarist, bassoonist and guitar teacher, Susana Opanski is also the founding conductor a of the Student Gitaar Ensemble Nederland (SGEN). Last year the ensemble released a CD thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Sean Shibe shed show

Sean Shibe

Sean Shibe

Sean came to the shed to play a preview of his Aldeburgh concert and CD recording last year. His programme was interesting as usual, starting with Forlorn Hope by Dowland and ending with Nocturnal by Britten, with Malcolm Arnold and Walton in between.

I had the chance to talk to him about his work as a New Generation artist with BBC radio 3, his attitude to competitions, and his idea of a good programme .
This was a welcome opportunity to catch up with Sean, whom I have known since he was a 13 year old in NYGE.
I was also present at his outstanding performance in London when he won the Royal Overseas League competition, ahead of an oboist, a singer and a pianist.

Here is a link to his Youtube channel where he shares his often individual view on the world and some fine performances, and here is our interview in the shed.


 

ARD Finalist Kuang Junhong

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17-year-old Junhong Kuang is widely recognized as one of the greatest young talents in the world today. He began receiving professional training in classical guitar at the age of nine with Professor Xu Bao in Chengdu, China. Only two years later, he won first prize in the Thailand International Guitar Competition, and soon after he was awarded a prize for the best interpretation of a Spanish piece and also for his interpretations of Bach’s “Chaconne” at the Iserlohn International Guitar Competition in Germany.

I met Junhong again last May in Baltimore, where he is studying with Manuel Barrueco.
Before that, I had been teaching him on and off, and recorded his CD for Naxos when he was 13 years old.
This is the interview we did

I worked with him on his ARD programme in Iserlohn under the auspices of his former teacher, professor Xu Bao

Here is his ARD semi final, playing Tedesco’s Quintet