17 ene 2014

MASTER SERIES: Manuel Barrueco 2013 (Ie)

By Fernando Bartolomé Zofío. Julio 2013. Córdoba (España).

Edited and revised by Karen Nelson

This is one of the most interesting interviews I've had the opportunity to do for Modern Guitar Ensemble. I’m glad to talk with one of the great masters of the classical guitar of our times and do it without restrictions. Manuel Barrueco has opinions about everything and everyone, and he is always sincere and open.

In this interview, conducted during the Cordoba Guitar Festival, we looked back at his career and the teachers he has had through it. We talked about people who, directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, marked and conditioned him in some way -- people like Leo Brouwer, Toru Takemitsu , Alicia de Larrocha , Aaron Shearer, John Duarte and many others. And, as I said, in some cases he has followed in the footsteps of some of these teachers and in other cases he has learned from them to avoid doing what they did radically. Barrueco has a memory of everyone and hides neither praise nor criticism.

We spent a long time talking about musical issues but without forgetting some of life’s other important issues:  meetings with Segovia; Barrueco’s getaway from Cuba; the life of an immigrant in the United States, and many other topics. I have to thank Manuel Barrueco again for his kindness toward me, considering that he had to break off a meeting with Manolo Sanlúcar where they were collaborating on the "Medea" album, in which the Cuban guitarist plays a work of the Flamenco composer for guitar and orchestra.

In this interview I would like to take a tour through the teachers you've found, or have sought, throughout your career. There are famous people who I wish you would tell us about, and the influence they have had on you throughout all these years of music, and also there are people who are not well known and who perhaps deserve oblivion, people like Rey de la Torre and others. But let's go back to your beginnings in Cuba. Who was your first teacher?

The first teacher I actually had came from the popular music tradition. It was the type of Mexican music trios, Los tres reyes, Los panchos, and this kind of thing. His name was Mondéjar and besides playing in a trio he was a barber.  We already know the tradition about guitar and barbers, and he was teaching in Santiago de Cuba. As my dad told me, when talking to him about me, he said I seemed to show talent with the guitar.  He was looking for a teacher to teach me the basics, music theory and such things, so I found a teacher named Guillermo Dufurneau. He was a very elegant gentleman, black, very nice, and he taught me to read music. I was about nine years old.

I remember there was a guitarist in La Havana called Elias Barreiro, and he wanted me to play for him. I went and played for him. He advised me that the Local Conservatory, which had a guitar department, could be a good place for me to study.  And there was Manuel Puig, and I think of him as my first teacher, although he really was not, but maybe because the time I spent with him from age 10 or 11 until I left Cuba at age 14, I think so. Moreover, my relationship with him and his wife was very close; it was as if they were my parents. Sometimes I was tormented because I did not know who I loved more, my parents or them. They were very sweet and welcoming people.

Was your father a musician? Did he have any musical influence on you?
He was an amateur in the sense that he liked the music but he didn’t play any instrument or even cared to buy records. In Cuba the music is everywhere – I am talking about the time I lived there, and when there was a party everyone pretended to be a singer. My father was one of them. In that sense he was a music amateur, but I do not remember him buying me a disc or something similar.

In your career a turning point occurs at the time you met Leo Brouwer.  That was like a self awakening for you, although he wasn’t your teacher. You knew he played Bach's Chaconne when he was 12, and you didn’t want to achieve less.  So it pushes you to do the same before the age of 12.  Regarding this, I can think of two issues in your learning. On the one hand it’s good to have high expectations and progress, being ambitious, having an important person as a reference, an idol, but otherwise the top advice of many educators is "don’t play above your possibilities." I don’t know how you'd play around that time but the Chaconne at age 12 seems to be a task as fascinating as hypothetical.

Well, maybe when I said that I meant I could play the notes of the Chaconne, not that I could play it well. Although to be honest I have no idea how I played it. Musically I'm sure I played it horribly but technically I could not remember.

But the simple idea of daring to do that is very eloquent... 

Sure, yeah. It indicates something. What happened with Leo was that there was a TV show in Cuba named “Viernes de gala” and there were music recitals. One Friday there was a recital by a young Cuban man returning from study in the U.S. to play, and that was Leo. Something that is interesting is that I think Leo studied at Juilliard for a while and then at Hartford University, Connecticut, and I know of students who have known Leo Brouwer had books out of the library {this isn’t clear to me – whose books?  Brower’s?}. Anyway, I do not know the exact moment when he returned to Cuba and it would be interesting to know when he was awarded a scholarship. *

* (In the book “Leo Brouwer. Caminos de la creación Victoria Eli Rodriguez Marta Rodríguez Cuervo assure that he received a scholarship in 1959 and returned to Cuba in late 1960 when he was appointed Professor of Harmony, Counterpoint and Composition in the Conservatory of Havana . pp 27, 31)

I said I saw him on television and for me, for a guajirito from Santiago de Cuba on the other side of La Havana, I was blown away. For us, and by that time we can say that person was a semi eccentric man in the sense of the way he talked, dressed ... Everything caught my attention.

And also in the way he played.

Yes, but at that time I had no frame of reference. After the Revolution, which later became a Dictatorship, people stopped going to play there. Before Castro had passed Segovia and others. We knew local players like Elias Barreiro, Leo Brouwer and Jesus Ortega, but I couldn’t compare them with other foreign guitarists because no one played there. So I couldn’t see him as a different guitarist. It was what it was. When the Conservatory students traveled to play for him I was very impressed by him and then I heard the comment said about me: "Beware the ugly one with the big head."  Since then, whenever he came to Santiago de Cuba I tried to be around him, watching and following him everywhere. I was about 12 or 13 and he was 27.

We met at Manuel Puig’s home. We played first and then Brouwer, Barreiro, Ortega or whoever was there. For me everything he said was like the bible. In that sense it greatly influenced me. Once he appeared in Santiago de Cuba dressed all in black.  Imagine dressing that way! It was like watching someone from Mars. Childish things.
Leo Brouwer

Eventually these are things that motivate one to choose and work in one specific direction.

I remember several striking moments about him. The following year he gave another class at the Conservatory and played Pieza sin título. For a boy like me at the time, this music was like something from another planet and it must have meant something to me.
There was another time, in a choir concert, the Orfeón Santiago, where Leo was sitting alone and I decided to sit next to him. Me and Leo alone. Once in a while I tried to talk to him but he made a gesture to keep listening to music. It was very important for me, as it would be for a child nowadays to be next to Messi, for example.

Again, I remember another detail about Leo. In one of the meetings with the other teachers he was not going to go, and she called me to tell me that. Figure that one out!

Ultimately, the biggest influence he had on us was to insist on being above all musicians, not just guitarists. As I recall, he was young and it was his right to speak as a young man, and probably now his opinion is different, or maybe not.  I remember asking him about the most famous guitarists of the time and none of them was a musician for him. Perhaps because of this way of thinking, I grew up with a certain lack of respect for other guitarists.

So, for Brouwer, among musicians there wasn’t any guitarist who meant anything to him.

Segovia was a guitarist; Bream was a lutenist; Williams was a guitarist... They weren’t musicians to him. It’s true it was the opinion of a young man, but it influenced me. I also thought that way for a while. The point is that at that time he had a great influence on me as a young man who I admired.

When I went to study with the teacher Aaron Shearer, I did not know who he was.  He asked me who I liked as a guitarist, and I told him anyone. And he loved my answer. It wasn’t a forced attitude, it really was what I felt at that time, probably influenced by Leo, but it was as I felt at the time.

And then you went to the U.S. at 14 years of age.

I was almost 15. I went in September and in December I turned 15.

Did you go with some musician’s recommendation? Did Leo inlfuence you in some way?

No, no. We went as a political exiles. At that time there were certain people in Cuba, in the world of music, they wanted to take me to Havana to study. Even when Barreiro had gone, they told me about playing concerts, but at that time we were ready to go away. When we left, my family did not want me to contact anyone. Neither Leo nor anyone else, for fear of being held there. I left Cuba without saying goodbye to anyone. I think any of them would have told me to leave the country. At that time in school we were taught that if your father was not a Communist he was not your father, and if you were against the government you were a worm.

Then there were the “actos de repudio" in which people who want to leave the country should be stoned ... Things of an uncivilized world. But this was the reality. And I experienced it directly with family and friends. The “actos de repudio" campaign was promoted by the government and I know a person who was found in an acto de repudio against a friend of his. It sounds easy but imagine being in that situation. That's not even civilized. It is embarrassing to be Cuban and know that this has happened. One gets angry at the time. After many years without returning, they see what has happened to people; my parents are dead and I could not return, and it is an individual matter. It's not political.

So no one in Cuba that was for the Government said anything about the possibility of going to the United States. They even wouldn’t dream of saying anything like that.
So it was a personal and non political thing.

So, it was really a great getaway.

That's what was happening at the time. Cubans began to leave and realize that in Miami, only in Miami there are more than one million Cubans. It is a high percentage that have gone there. So we went in exile, which means that you go with the clothes you are wearing, leaving it all ... And we got to Miami.

And there you met a teacher named Juan Antonio Mercadal.

Yes. There we knew him as Juan Mercadal .

Juan Mercadal
How did you contact him?  Because I imagine that, given your personal situation, the last thing you would like to do was worry about playing the guitar... but perhaps that served you as a safety valve. How were those times?

I could not get even one guitar. We got nothing. Then Manuel Puig told me to go to see a lady who had been his master {I’m not sure what that means}, Fela González she was called.  I am told that she housed Segovia when he was there, and in a small apartment in Miami she received me. And what happened, and I'm not bragging about anything but it was what happened, is that she received me kissing my feet! She was very expressive and that was what she did . Then she had a party in a nice house, where there were several people. I do not remember if at that time Juan Mercadal was there, but among them was an Ecuadorian guitarist who lent me a guitar and he got me some scores.  Because we had no money at all. Nothing. We just arrived with debts that my dad had, because of the getaway he lost his job too.

Anyway, Juan Mercadal was famous in Cuba and he started giving me lessons. He never charged me a dime for anything. He picked up and took me home.  He was a very effusive person. The last time I saw him was at the airport in Madrid, where he played a concert. I have one of his albums and I think it would be worth listening to. He had a problem: he played without nails. But he was a very "macho" guitarist. You had to see him when he played the first string apoyando the third ... and so was his personality, very strong.

It looks like the profile of a flamenco guitarist.

No, no. He said he had to, to play the guitar to be heard, because he also played chamber music.  But the sound was without the nail. If you listen to the recording, there is a musicality and phrasing that there wasn’t at that time. And I think it is the objective what I'm saying.
He had a personal way of playing. His playing wasn't based on the guitar but on the music. He said the guitarists had to develop a way of singing a musical phrase, like a trumpet or clarinet players did.

Did he give you classes regularly?


What did you work on with him? What repertoire?

He loved the Sagreras studies, and we also worked on the Coste studies. But I don’t  know if we spent 8 or 9 months in Miami. Apparently he talked to my dad and told him that if I was in a place like New York I would be known as one of the best guitarists in the world. I was 15 then. So off we went.

I can’t remember how it was the contact with Rey de la Torre was made. I know my mom had a childhood friend who had a relationship with Rey and Julian Orbón, and the idea was to study with them. But Orbón, a great Spanish composer who lived in Cuba for a long time, told me I was too inexpert, "too simple," and he didn’t accept me as a student. With Rey himself I took some classes, and all I can say about Rey de la Torre is that in America, for a time, he was one of the most famous guitarists. According to legend, which may not be true, Miguel Llobet went to America and brought with him Rey de la Torre to study with him. The fact is that there was a relationship with Llobet and his way of playing that said he was a very fine person.

It may be that what happened there was what happened in Europe with Llobet. He was a great guitarist, arranger, and composer, and today is highly regarded, from all the opinions I hear from people who have heard the recordings or chronicles of his time. But maybe he wasn’t famous enough for the great figure of Segovia...

When I was in Cuba, the influence of the Spanish guitar in Cuba was very strong there. Things that we studied were the methods of Pascual Roch , Emilio Pujol. I don’t know if Llobet went to Cuba but at that time all these people were legends there. What I have heard thousands of times is that Rey de la Torre studied with Llobet.  Rey was a different person from Juan Mercadal. Juan was more folksy while Rey was more in the world of art, the guitar, and possibly he had less interest in me. He was more into his world. I did not take many lessons with him.

What did you learn from Rey de la Torre?

At that time I lived close to New York and caught a bus to get there. I don’t remember many lessons. I remember more or less an unoccupied apartment, shared with a painter, a bird in a cage... I guess he had a more bohemian lifestyle. What I remember is that he was very cautious about muting the strings. He had a lot of different ways to mute the strings. What you will notice about him, I'm talking years later, he was ahead of his time because if you see the things he did, they are fine things. He played very good works of Julian Orbón, such as the Prelude and Toccata.

He also made ​​a few recordings.

He recorded some of the Sor works; Sarabanda lejana, by Rodrigo; I’m not sure if he recorded a Sonata by Ardévol -- I don’t know much about him but I do know this work well because I recorded it and I can say he was a good composer.  I think the first guitarist that recorded it was Leo.  I also remember that he recorded the Variaciones sobre un tema de Milán, by Joaquin Nin- Culmell.
Rey was more distant. I also remember he charged something for the lessons, he said that it was as a matter of discipline. I, so young at the time, couldn’t believe I was taking classes with these people. He left Cuba soon and he was a legend there.

In Cuba, after the Revolution when it became communist, there was nothing in the stores or the music shops, and in any case all had been nationalized by the government. Then you couldn’t buy an album, but a friend gave me a disc of Segovia playing Albeniz and Granados, and now I think, maybe, it influenced what I did after. It was a Long Play, with Albéniz and Granados on one side and on the other Torroba , Llobet Catalan Songs, Danza Mora by deTárrega. And the album itself impressed me a lot and for me it is a classic. And I say this because the other day talking to someone I realized that the first disk Leo made in Cuba, with the Abreu Sonata, Elogio de la Danza, Villalobos Estudio 7, Ponce Sonata Meridional, Carlos Fariñas Preludio... All of this I recorded later on, but I recorded it unconsciously. And there must be a connection to all of this. On one of the trips Leo made to Santiago, as I recall, in the house of the master Manuel Puig, he said us something like he wouldn’t write for the guitar because he won’t make  history writing for the guitar. At this time he was already involved in the issue of concrete music, random music. But there he played his last composition, Elogio de la danza, which was awesome for all of us .

Anyway, Rey went to California and for a while I was not studying with anyone. I was quite alone, and even stopped playing too.

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