Classical musicians (like myself) often play what is strictly notated on the written score. However, I think there is something we can learn from musicians of other styles that might offer us a different outlook. Evidence seems to strongly suggest that classical musicians from past centuries were not slaves to the score and were modifying, ornamenting and extemporizing the majority of the time. The French Baroque composer François Couperin even went so far as to rather bluntly say “we write differently to what we play”.
For now, I’d like to share with you my experiences with a Peruvian guitarist, Giovanni Riveros Lopez, whose outlook on interpreting Latin American music has completely reshaped the way I see and hear this style. My debut album, ‘A Mysitcal Journey’ (released June 2013) contains some works by Paraguayan composer Agustin Barrios (1885 – 1944). Barrios, like many other Latin American composers from the 20th century, combined elements of Western classical music with those of his own native style. Perhaps one of the most famous examples of such a composer was Astor Piazzolla, whose music (alongside Barrios and many others) will be on our ‘Latin American Journey’ program.
I asked Giovanni some questions about his experiences with the guitar and Latin American music. After reading his responses and spending time chatting with him personally, it seems that I have totally underestimated the value of getting acquainted with popular music. Giovanni points out that both Western classical music and Latin American music are influenced by the popular music of their time and place. I hope you can join Giovanni and I as we bring you a unique program that blends popular and classical music from Latin America.
DN: What were your first experiences of Latin American music?
GL: My first experiences of Latin American music was with a very popular Andean instrument in South America (the Quena – a type of traditional flute made in the Andes) that awakened my musical interest when I was 13 years old. It was my father who bought me my first instrument and this instrument helped me to know different Andean rhythms from different countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador.
DN: What would you say are the most defining features of Latin American music?
GL: Latin American music is defined more by the rhythms and styles that are very similar to each other. Or that is to say, they seem to be the same but there are in fact always differences. I think the difference is in the instrumentation and the way of life of each region the music comes from.
DN: Describe your path to the guitar and how the instrument has brought you to so many places around the world.
GL: My path to the guitar was a bit difficult and windy. From adolescence, I dreamt of playing the guitar so much that after finishing studies in industrial mechanics, I decided to start classical guitar studies. Studying classical guitar brought me to Alemania (Germany). During my studies, I had the opportunity to meet many musicians from different countries and this expanded my knowledge of both classical and popular music. Through the concerts held by the university and members of many classical festivals, I got to know many networks from Perú, Germany and Europe
DN: Can you talk about how Western music has influenced Latin American music or vice versa?
GL: The western influence in Latin American popular music has been very important. Thanks to it the musical interpretation has reached a high level. Classical music has enabled people to learn much about Latin American countries and their culture. Thanks to classical music, many South American musicians can make known their Folklore and not only interpret it better, but also teach it. Many works by Latin composers were not written for lack of musical knowledge and usually pass from generation to generation as anonymous.
DN: What is your approach to interpreting music that’s on the score? Do you strictly follow what is indicated in the score, or is there a lot of flexibility in your interpretation?
GL: When I have to read works from the score the first thing I do is to play exactly what the composer wants and then analyze it. In popular styles, I try to change or improve what is notated without losing the musical roots. When it comes to interpreting a musical work, you have to think about the type of music that it comprises and the origin of the music, and base the interpretation on this.
DN: If a classical musician (like myself) wishes to understand Latin American musical style, then how would you suggest one does this?
GL: I think that for any classical musician it is very important to develop a sense for popular music. Do not forget that classical music also has much influence from European popular music. For a good Latin American musical performance it is important to listen and know the Folklore of the region. Latin American music is the reflection of the people and this music brings with it the experience of the people of the region.
Catch Daniel Nistico and Giovanni Riveros Lopez in concert at St Bartholomew's Church on Sunday December 10th at 6pm. Entry by donation but bookings essential.
Win CDs from Daniel and Giovanni!