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

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

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.
Read More

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.

Classical Guitar Beats

You may have read my interviews and posts with the extraordinary guitarist and enquiring mind, Jorge Caballero.

He and his wife Maggie have started a new project – Classical Guitar Beats – here is the intro

Welcome to Guitar Beats! This site is dedicated to the study of Classical Guitar, using advanced and innovative methodology. Our approach is innovative in that  total exploration of the psyche (mind, body) is employed to achieve mastery of the guitar. This pedagogical method is universal: its methods can be directly transferred and applied to other instruments and disciplines. Simply stated, our goal is to provide all levels of music students the tools to learn and progress.


The site provides fascinating insights into such vexing subjects as the collapsible joint rest stroke, semi-rest-stroke free stroke and the downward push free stroke,
Find out more by visiting the site which has a monthly feature.
Here are also my interviews in Iserlohn with Jorge.

Interview with Hanson Yao CEO of Altamira Guitars


When I was in Hong Kong in October, I had the chance to interview Hanson Yao, an unfamiliar name to many, but a highly successful guitar maker and manufacturer. His company, which he started with his wife Jenny in Guangzhou, is Altamira Guitars, which sponsors many guitar events both in China and the west.

I ask him how he started and how the company has grown over the last seven years to producing 28,000 guitars a year with 120 workers, all of whom have been personally trained by Hanson at the factory in Guangzhou.

His recent venture has been the opening of a guitar shop containing his workshop in Hong Kong, which is already becoming a centre for Hong Kong guitar activities (during the interview, David Russell was giving a masterclass in the shop).
As well as guitars, the shop also sells violins, and Altamira will be sponsoring CD recordings for Naxos of prizewinning guitarists in many of its competitions throughout China.
I was lucky enough to produce just such a recording with the 14 year old prodigy Kuang Junhong which is to be released in December, and the hope is that there will be many more.

This enthusiasm for the guitar and hard work to get it established commercially in China is an undertaking which many of us could learn from – here’s to Hanson and Jenny’s continuing success.

DSC02243 DSC01565

Shed of the Year 2014

The Shed of the year will be announced on the Channel 4 show with George Clarke

From http://www.readersheds.co.uk

Shed of the Year: Finalists revealed

A pub which holds 60 people, a stunning summerhouse and a giant teapot are among the front runners to win Shed of the Year.

More than 20,000 members of the public then voted for their favourites in eight separate categories, with each winner going through to the grand final on August 7.
The categories were eco shed, pub shed, garden office, Cabin/Summerhouse, unique, workshop/studio, Tardis and normal sheds.

Shame I was too late to enter.


Christopher Lee records heavy metal

Christopher Lee

Saruman rides again! This time, it’s a heavy metal version of “My Way” and selections from “Man of La Mancha” to celebrate his 92nd birthday last May. The new recording is called “Metal Knight”. Go, Sir Christopher!

Sir Christopher, who turned 92 on May 27, said: “The song My Way is a very remarkable song, it is also difficult to sing because you’ve got to convince people that what you’re singing about is the truth. It’s a man who is very proud of having achieved everything that he’s achieved his way.”
The actor, who said his version of the song was sung “more operatically” than Sinatra, also recorded two songs from the Man of La Mancha musical which is based on the character of Don Quixote.

Read more in Yahoo News

Blackbird with crow – Curt and Birdie

Another bird on a guitar!

Curt and Birdie
Youtube Link

Curt Stager is an ecologist, paleoclimatologist, and science journalist with a Ph.D. in biology and geology from Duke University (1985). He has published over three dozen peer-reviewed articles in major journals includingScience and Quaternary Research, and has written extensively for general audiences in periodicals such as National Geographic , Fast Company, and Adirondack Life.  Since 1990, he has also researched and co-hosted Natural Selections, a weekly science program on North Country Public Radio that is syndicated internationally, and has toured widely to offer presentations on his research to audiences ranging, as one colleague put it, “from middle-schoolers to formal scholars.” In 2013, he was named the New York State Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation.

In whatever spare time remains, he performs and records on banjo and guitar (YouTube).

Gordon Crosskey Celebration: RNCM Guitars 1973-2014


I first met Gordon Crosskey through his student Stephen Gordon who was then studying at the Royal Northern. He was a quietly spoken man with definite ideas on technique and the importance of finding accurate and original source material. He was also not adverse to a bit of fun although I recall that he used to go to bed a bit earlier than the usual carousers at the Prussia Cove Summer School.
Other students at the time included Richard Wright, Pete Batchelar, Forbes Henderson and Joe Fung.
Later students of this unassuming pedagogue included Cheryl Grice, Nicola Hall, Paul Galbraith, Jonathan Leathwood, Graham Anthony Devine and many others.

It is typical of Gordon that there is very little biographical information on him. he was highly recommended as a teacher by John Williams in the 70s and rapidly became professor at the Royal Northern College of Music, but most references to him are from his past students.

Now celebrating 50 years as one of the world’s leading guitar teachers, seven of Gordon Crosskey’s most successful students come to perform at the RNCM in a spectacular evening.

A student of Gordon’s in the 1980′s, Greek guitarist Elena Papandreou is one of the world’s leading players and has had many works written for her by composers including Nikita Koshkin and Roland Dyens.

The Aquarelle Guitar Quartet are more recent graduates and have established a major role for themselves in the UK music world as Chandos recording artists with a busy series of engagements and regular appearances on BBC Radio 3.

Tom McKinney has a busy performance career in the world of contemporary and chamber music and as a broadcaster and presenter on BBC radio. He has commissioned many cutting-edge works and his extraordinary abilities have seen him rise to become the leading UK-based guitarist in the world of serious contemporary music.

Craig Ogden studied with Gordon in the early 1990′s and began teaching at the RNCM straight after he graduated. He has established a diverse career encompassing solo, chamber, concerto, session and recording and his work for Classic FM has seen him become one of the most recognized names in the UK.

Venue: Carole Nash Recital Room
Date: Wednesday 25 June 2014 7:30 pm

Gordon Crosskey is also a leading authority on old Sheffield plate!

Daniel Stachowiak and “lesser known Iberian music”

Prog2 Prog1
When was the last time you saw a programme like this (unless you were lucky enough to attend the Oxford Guitar Society meetings)?
Daniel Stachowiak refreshingly original programme was performed with great panache as well as being scholarly. The most crowd pleasing pieces were probably the Bacarisse or the Pedrell (Carlos, who was the nephew of Felipe Pedrell). There were also rare pieces by Andres Isasi, a Basque composer who wrote many orchestral and chamber works, but only a handful for guitar. This is the sort of territory explored by Ricardo Iznaola, Eugenio Tobalina etal and takes in the Jose Sonata, amongst other significant guitar works which are just coming to light.
This was definitely not rent-a-programme!

Daniel’s first programme for the Oxford Guitar Society was:
Beyond Torroba: Iberian Guitar Music from the 1920s and 1930s
Peacock-Pie (Tres Piezas Infantiles), 1923 – Ernesto Halffter (1905-1989)
Giga Op. 3, 1930 – Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987)
Sonata del Escorial No 1 Op. 2, 1928 – Rodolfo Halffter
Española, 1930 ca. – Rosa Garcia Ascot (1902-2002)
Corranda (Ancienne Danse Catalane), 1926 – Agusti Grau (1893-1964)
Romancillo, 1923 – Adolfo Salazar (1890-1958)
Romanza, 1921 – Jose Maria Franco (1894-1971)
Homenaje a Matteo Albeniz, 1930 ca. – Gustavo Pittaluga (1906-1975)
Pavana (Heraldos Op. 2b, No 3), 1920 ca. – Salvador Bacarisse (1898-1963)
Tempo di Valse, 1930 ca. – Andres Isasi (1890-1940)
Impromptu (Tres Piezas Op. 45), 1930 ca. – Andres Isasi

I managed to have a word with Daniel afterwards. He spoke about his interest in obscure original guitar repertoire and his journey as an avid guitar student from the age of six until the present day.
Being a purveyor of recherché guitar music myself, I was fascinated to hear his story, and see some of the scores.

Daniel Guitar 1

Here is Daniel’s Story:

I started playing the classical guitar at the age of six.  I had a visiting guitar teacher come and teach at my primary school in Italy and that’s how I picked it up.  My parents were always very supportive of my musical development.
My dad is from the USA and for a while he used to play the clarinet and sax in a band in his twenties in upstate New York to support himself.
At school, I was the kid that always figured out all the new songs quicker than the others in guitar lessons and my first guitar teacher decided that he wanted to teach me privately on a one to one basis.  From there, I quickly enrolled into a specialised music school and, shortly after, I auditioned to enter into the local state music conservatory under the guidance of Pierluigi Corona.  He is very fond of left hand technique and I credit him for helping me develop a strong left hand as we would spend hours together just working on left hand exercises.  In terms of repertoire, we played a lot of Giuliani, Regondi, Bach, Torroba and Dyens.

Daniel Guitar 2 I also studied with Marko Feri who instilled into me an obsessive attention to right hand sound production.  I was so engulfed with left hand exercises and technique that I really did not pay attention to my right hand posture and the way it affects the sound you make.  Marko Feri really helped me develop my right hand and also, as I grew older, a musical understanding of the pieces I was playing.  At the time, we played a lot Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
My last mention goes to Frederic Zigante, who instilled in me my current interest into researching lesser known guitar music.  He pioneered the music of Alexandre Tansman and focused on his lesser well know pieces.  To this day, I consider Tansman’s Preludio from the Cavatina, Danza Pomposa and Mazurka to be amongst some of my favourite guitar music of all time.

Independently, whilst studying for my IB diploma at the United World College of the Adriatic in Italy, I started investigating and playing as much guitar music as I could get my hands on written by non-guitarist composers.
I played a lot of Ponce and Mompou during that period alongside my favourite Tansman tunes. It’s through the latter’s posthumous works published by Berben in Gilardino’s The Segovia Archive series that I became fascinated with all of the music composed by mainly non-guitarist composers which Segovia never really played or paid much attention to for one reason or another.
To this present day, I am still working out and performing pieces from that series.  Currently I am working on the pieces written by the Catalan composer Jaume Pahissa.

In 2005, I graduated from the state music conservatory with full marks.  The final test required giving a 75 minute recital.  I played transcriptions of lute music by Molinaro, works by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Berkeley, and some Bach and Giuliani.  The same year, I left Italy for the UK for a three year stint at Oxford University, reading music at St Peter’s College.  As a classical guitarist fresh from graduation, I was hoping that the world of Oxford academia would be an ideal place to pursue further my musicological interest in 20th century guitar music written by non-guitarist composers.  I quickly discovered that I was the only classical guitarist reading for a degree in music and, in a insular world dominated by choral music and organ scholars, I did not really feel part of Oxford’s musical scene.  Back in Italy, I started transcribing lute music for guitar from tablature and this side interest of mine became my main field of interest at Oxford University.  I borrowed a lute and taught myself how to play the lute and read music straight from tablature.  I then took lessons with the Oxford lutenist Matthew Spring and started playing the lute full time and pretty much retired my guitar for the moment.R Halffter Sonata Title Page-page-1 Isasi Tres Piezas Excerpt-page-1

I finally felt I had something to offer in Oxford and was in constant demand as a lutenist.
I was very popular with singers and played many lute songs at the time.  My Oxford experience culminated in 2008 with a critical edition of a hard-to-find anthology of lute music compiled in the 17th century by Pietro Paolo Raimondi along with a lute recital at the Holywell Music Room.Gombau Valse Excerpt-page-1

How did I return to the classical guitar? Well, in 2008-2009 I took a PGCE course at Oxford Brookes University training to be a secondary school music teacher and in 2009-2010 I worked towards a masters degree in music.
The Oxford bubble of early music, countertenor singers and lutes of various sizes was behind me.  During those two years I slowly started revisiting my favourite Tansman, Ponce, Torroba and other ‘golden oldies’ and in 2010 I joined the Buckinghamshire Music Service as a peripatetic classical guitar teacher.
I fully regained my command of the guitar and I even think I managed to improve my technique since my days as a keen guitarist in Italy.  I resumed my research into lesser known guitar music composed by non-guitarist composers and was lucky enough to get in touch through the Internet with a group of keen South American collectors of rare guitar music who helped locate a lot of the music I perform these days.

Salazar Romancillo Excerpt-page-1At first, my recitals were based around the theme of Segovia, presenting both music he liked to play and music which unfortunately he wasn’t able to fit into his busy concert schedule.  I particularly enjoyed playing Albert Roussel’s Segovia, Gustave Samazeuilh’s Serenade and of course Tansman’s Mazurka.  All three works were written for Segovia in 1925 as a result of his Parisian debut concert in the hall of the city’s Conservatoire the year before.
Currently, my main interest is investigating Iberian guitar music written between the 1920s and 1950s beyond the Torroba, Turina and Rodrigo canons.  Some of the music belongs to the sphere of Segovia such as the works by Jaume Pahissa, Jose Antonio de Donostia, Gaspar Cassado Pedro Sanjuan and Vicente Arregui, but a lot of it belongs under the umbrella of music composed for Emilio Pujol, Regino Sainz de Maza and Narciso Yepes.  In it, we mainly find guitar music composed by the forward thinking group of Madrid composers known as the Grupo de los Ocho (Ernesto Halffter and his brother Rodolfo, Juan Jose Mantecon, Julian Bautista, Fernando Remacha, Rosa Garcia Ascot, Salvador Bacarisse and Gustavo Pittaluga).
Other composers worth also mentioning are members of the Catalan Group of Eight (El Grup dels Vuit) Agusti Grau, Federico Mompou and Roberto Gerhard, the Basque Andres Isasi, the eclectic Gerardo Gombau and finally Adolfo Salazar, Jose Maria Franco and Eduardo Lopez-Chavarri; composers who were part of the broader group of artists known as the Generation of ’27.
Remacha Preludio excerpt-page-2
All of this goes without even having mentioned Antonio Jose and his monumental Sonata para Guitarra.  I seem to have a mental block against the piece and still haven’t found the courage to work it out properly.  Personally, I prefer to drift from one short piece to another grouped together under a common research umbrella.  In order to offer a broader story line to these groups of composers, I also include in my performances a couple of cheeky transcriptions from piano works mostly done in the 50 and 60s by the Basque guitarist Jose de Azpiazu.

Remacha Preludio excerpt-page-1


I firmly believe that all of this mostly forgotten Iberian guitar music should be more well known as most of it, in my opinion, is very playable, audience-friendly and doesn’t require excessive editing.

Currently, the challenge of this repertory is tracking it all down as much of it remains still in manuscript form or published by small specialist publications in Spain.

For example, I am yet to get my hands on Juan Jose Mantecon’s Danza del Atardecer and Jesus Bal y Gay’s Pastoral both composed in the 1930s for Regino Sainz de la Maza.  Maybe sometime in the near future, I will make the pilgrimage to Spain and visit the Juan March archives in Madrid where all of this excellent guitar music is kept.

This was certainly an enterprising programme containing most interesting and musical material.

Congratulations to Daniel – may his spirit of adventure continue, and congratulations to the Oxford Guitar Society for having the acumen to put on such an adventurous programme and performer. Vivant!
Daniel’s YouTube Channel including music by Isasi and Halffter.