Jason Vieaux Interview w/ David Cohen Classical Guitar

Jason Vieaux

Part 1   

One of the “youngest stars of the guitar world” (New York Times, 2010), Jason Vieaux is a musician regularly noted for his engaging and virtuosic live performances, imaginative programming, and uncommon communicative gifts. Recent concert highlights include recitals for Lincoln Center and the 92nd St. Y in New York, Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, a debut with the Charlotte Symphony, and recitals for Spivey Hall and Indiana University. Vieaux’s 2010-2011 concerto performances include works of Rodrigo, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla and Roberto Sierra, in performances with the Chautauqua Music Festival, the symphonies of Mexico City, Ft. Worth, Grand Rapids, Illinois, Williamsburg, Reading, Dubuque, and with Boston’s A Far Cry Chamber Orchestra. His current chamber music collaborations with the Escher Quartet, flutist Gary Schocker, and bandoneon/accordion virtuoso Julien Labro continue to display Vieaux’s extensive range of musical interests. As one of the “leading guitarists of his generation” (Absolute Sound, 2009), Jason Vieaux has established a lasting connection with his audiences, as evidenced by numerous return invitations in 2010-2011 to series in Toronto, Cleveland, Kalamazoo, Greenville (NC), and the Music@Menlo festival. In October, Mr. Vieaux will receive a 2010 Salon De Virtuosi Career Grant and perform with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke at the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Vieaux is a frequent guest with orchestras across the United States. He has performed as concerto soloist with, among many others, the Cleveland Orchestra, Ft. Worth Symphony, San Diego Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Orchestra 2001, IRIS Chamber Orchestra, and the Auckland Philharmonia in New Zealand, while working with such renowned conductors as Miguel Harth-Bedoya, David Robertson, Michael Stern, Jahja Ling, Stefan Sanderling and Alasdair Neale. Vieaux’s triumphant programs and collaborations for Music@Menlo, Strings Music Festival, Grand Teton, Jupiter Chamber Players, and others, have forged his reputation as a first-rate chamber musician. As a passionate advocate of new music, Vieaux has premièred new pieces by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, José Luis Merlin, Eric Sessler, Arthur Hernandez, Gary Schocker, Fazil Say, and frequently plays works by Mario Davidovsky, Roberto Sierra, and John Corigliano.

DC: Do you hear comparisons to a lot of other guitarists?

Jason: Well, I’ve heard people say after concerts for years, we saw Segovia, we’ve heard Williams, Isbin, Barrueco. I play with a lot of orchestras in halls that normally don’t have guitar players on a regular basis. That’s where you will have people who are seeing a guitar player for the first time in fifteen years. They are not regular guitar society members Those are the place I hear the comparison. It’s a real honor because those are some real heavy weights.

DC: Does that put pressure on you?

Jason: At first it was a heavy thing. The last person they might have seen was Sharon Isbin-it was like WOW! In those situations now they relax me. People are there for the real enjoyment it’s less pressure. Playing for guitar societies are more pressure because they have six or so performers in a season.

DC: You’ve mentioned a lot of older names from a time that seemed to have those names in concert halls every season. Do you think the guitar’s popularity has diminished that it isn’t in concert halls as much?

Jason: It’s harder to get in there. I will say it’s harder to see a violin and piano recital in the bigger halls too. What the halls want are package concerts with lots of different musicians. There trying to combine the fans of one classical music in with the fans of others to attract more people. So you’re seeing a lot of hybrids of classical music and world music. That across the board.

Classical guitar is actually on the way up. I think there are a lot of fine players, young player with a lot of potential, not that the mainstream classical guitar societies are aware of them. My experience is that with each passing year more and more classical musicians are wanting to play, wanting to play the guitar chamber repertoire and having to come up with programs to meet this demand. I think there is a lot of fertile territory to meet this demand.

DC: I was looking at the course list for the guitar program David Starobin and you have created for the Curtis Institute of Music. Does your entrapanorial program come into play with meeting that demand?

Jason: With President Roberto Diaz – he wants to modernize the conservatory. Get it so the students that are there are more active in performing and also more actively in touch with the world around them so they can communicate what they do, not just the music they’re playing but what’s its value is to people in the outside world.

That’s something I’ve worked on very hard as an aspect of my career. David Starobin has too. David has been very successful not just communicating some very difficult music but also started an incredible record label Bridge Records and premièred three hundred and fifty original works for the guitar. So he has an experience level I don’t have. We brought different things to the table but complimentary so the student will get a wider spectrum when they get out and make the transition from conservatory to working.

DC: In terms of from “conservatory to working” I have run into many classical musicians who feel marketing themselves cheapens their art. For me marketing is part of the art and I am always learning.

Jason: Business is learning. I’m learning all the time and I have a lot to learn.. I’ve come along way in fifteen years. When I think of where I was fifteen years ago it was hard to make connections. In that sense it’s not a dirty word. It’s a dirty word to compromise what you’re doing. I feel that is a fear a lot of musicians have. When you become successful and are able to sell what you do to a wider public there are always acquisitions of selling out. But if you believe in what you do you are not compromising the your art.

The more people I meet who are successful in music at what they do, the more I learn about the history of performance in this country and abroad, the more I realize our most hollowed names in performance were not space cadets wondering around from place to place with no idea of the machinations of a career. These people knew about what was happening and they cultivated it. Maybe it was easier for an artist one hundred years ago not to do so much groundwork, so much office work. I seriously doubt that Caruso was completely unaware of the music business.

DC: You’re right and those are the ones who make it. I have a picture of you in the press kit I was sent of this little kid whose behind his guitar with fire in your eye and this look of nothing is getting in my way.

Part 2

DC: You’re right and those are the ones who make it. There is a picture of you in the press kit of this little kid whose behind his guitar with fire in his eyes and this look of nothing is getting in my way.

Jason: Which picture is that?

DC: (picture description)

Jason: I was twenty-one in that photo. I had just won the 1992 Guitar Foundation of America International Guitar Competition.

DC: How old where you when you started?

Jason: I was eight years old when I started learning classical guitar.

DC: Is that what you wanted to do when you were eight?

Jason: I never told anybody, ”I dig classical guitar I want to take lessons”.  I grew up in a house in Buffalo, NY that had a lot of LP’s. My mom liked dance music, soul and R & B from the 1960’s. There were stacks of Motown. Elvis! A lot of the Beatles, I really got into the Beatles as much as anyone. My dad listened to jazz, Amad Jamal, Peter Vogel Orchestra.

We didn’t know what classical guitar was but my mother bought me a guitar when I was five years old because I listened to music all the time. She never sent to the local music store for lessons. In that generation there was Spanish guitar and it was something you studied. When I was seven the Buffalo Guitar Quartet came to my school. My mother was working at the school as a secretary and it clicked in her mind. She asked member Jeremy Sparks to come to our house to listen to me. I didn’t know what to play but he thought I had potential so he took me on as a student. Within a few lesson he wanted me to continue.

DC: Do you remember what your first big boy piece was?

Jason: (laughs)There were different stages I can remember a few. Classical Gas, my teacher transcribed it from the Mason Williams recording. I was nine or ten I remember thinking that was a difficult piece. Maybe that was one of the first ones that was a big step forward.

There were several pieces a long the way. I played my first recital when I was twelve years old. I didn’t play Classical Gas it was all classical, pre 20th century except maybe a study by Segovia. But it was all concert repertoire. I remember along the way Sor Variations on a Theme by Mozart. When you’re a kid you’re thinking, “Wow, I’m doing something different”. Then there was Rumores de la Caleta when I was fifteen, I remember thinking you can’t get much harder than this. That’s the way it feels when you’re a kid but then you challenge yourself with more difficult pieces.

DC: There is always a place in your heart for your first big piece of music.

Jason: Oh yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing my first public recital again

DC: You remember it?

Jason: Yes, I even remember the order of what I played.

DC: What was it?

Jason: Four Lute pieces from the Renaissance. It was from a book collection.

Fantasia by Mudurra ( I remember this was difficult for a twelve years old)

Three Sor Etudes,

Sor Op. 9 Variations.

As it progressed the pieces got harder. I closed the first half with Tarantella.

The second half was:

Prelude in E by Ponce/Weiss,

3rd Cello Suite, (two movements)

Estudio,

Asturias,

and I ended with Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

That was my first recital.

DC: Was the book you mentioned 100 Years of Classical Guitar?

Jason: Yes! It was a fantastic book.

DC: You have a particular love of Spanish music.

Jason: I do! The melodies are great. There’s a certain feeling to that music that I identify with. I love playing that in concert. I do a lot of special programs that don’t involve Spanish music but in my typical varied programs I always like to have Spanish music as well as Bach.

DC: Your love of Bach is very apparent in your last CD, Bach Vol.1 Works for Lute. The CD prior to that

Images of Metheny shows your love for the music of Pat Metheny as well. It was also a different direction for you. Was it a conscience move to make that CD?

Jason: There wasn’t that much forethought into it. I had done a lot of Metheny arrangements, maybe thirty tunes. There are only thirteen tracks on the CD but I had done at least twice as many. I started getting into his music. I think he is a great melody writer of jazz music of the latter part of the 20th century. He’s a fantastic melodist, the chords, and the rich harmonies underneath. I started to make little arrangements from the records just to play for myself or if I ran into a Metheny fan on the road. People would say I should make a recording of the arrangements. I was recording by that time but I never thought there would be an outlet for it.

About ten years later my producer Alan Bise suggested I record the Metheny tunes. I was reluctant because most of the tunes were ballads and it would be a slow album, beside I’d only be playing the head. I had no chords or solos. Alan said to see what I could do, pick up some fast tunes and give them structure. As the date approached we set up to start recording I had the idea to take five Metheny pieces from different albums and seeing what I could do. I started to hear the tune James in a different meter. It had a mid-tempo bossa nova feel and I started to hear it as a gigue. I thought maybe I could recast some other tunes as a baroque dance. That added the structure. I kept all the melodies and harmonies of the tunes I used. Then I added chord solo’s – doing improv over the changes.

It’s a nice record. I’m really proud of it. It came about very naturally.
DC: What can you tell me about the CD you’re working on now?

 

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