31 may 2014

Master Series: Ana Vidovic

Natural talent for the classical guitar

Interview by Fernando Bartolomé for MGE. Córdoba Guitar Festival. 2013

Ana Vidovic. Cordoba Guitar Festival

Ana Vidovic is one of the most important guitar players in the world with an extraordinary technique, sensibility and musicality. She’s been doing public concerts since the age of 7 and playing internationally since 11. Despite her young age she’s a veteran in the guitar world with a brilliant career full of concerts, programs, collaborations and prizes. Albert Augustine International Competition in Bath, England, the Fernando Sor competition in Rome, Italy, or the Francisco Tarrega competition in Benicasim, Spain, are a few examples of her importance in the guitar scene.

My first time listening her was a few years ago. I remember her interpretation of the Walton’ Five Bagatelles and the Bach' 4th Suite. I was impressed by her interpretation and technique and since that moment I’ve tracked her. We talked the day after her first appearence in the Cordoba Guitar Festival in Spain about music, guitar, child prodigies, teachers and repertoire. I have to thank her for her kindness and extreme politeness with me and also for dedicate her natural talent for the classical guitar.

Is it your first time in Spain?
No, I was in Barcelona many years ago. But this is my first time in Córdoba, in the Guitar Festival, and I was very excited because, you know, this is a very prestigious festival and I’m very glad to be invited and I had a wonderful time. I’ve been here since Wednesday and the concert went well, with a wonderful audience, very attentive, very quiet, listening very carefully… I was teaching classes for two days so I’ve got to hear a lot of students, which is nice too, and a good opportunity because I’ve never taken a class in Spain, so it was a great week.
Sometimes the audience here in Spain is a little bit noisy.
Really? I was impressed with the level of the audience. Maybe there were a lot of guitarists, but I had a nice welcome.
Which repertoire did you play?
I played Turina, Sonata Op.61, Sor “Variations”, Granada, Asturias, “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”… I wanted to include a lot of Spanish music. Those are some of my favorite pieces. Then I played Bach, Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, Barrios and Tedesco.
There is a book by Dorothy Delay, a reputed violin teacher, called Teaching Genius in which she talks about child prodigies. She says that we can’t talk about exploiting a child but instead of driving them to what they are good to.
Yes, there is a fine line between exploiting and encouraging talents.
All the people around talents--parents, family, teachers--want the most of you. They want you to give everything. How can we find a balance between pushing towards a goal and respecting the fact that we are working with kids?
Well, I think it’s very hard for everybody involved, for the parents, for the teachers and for the child. In general, parents, when they realize they have a talented child, want to give him or her everything. They want to develop the talent of their child, and sometimes it may happen that they give them too much, and that’s not good for the child. It can be overpowering. Sometimes the child grows up resentful and starts not liking the music or whatever it was.
And also, I think it’s the teacher’s role to guide the parents and the child. It is his responsibility.  It’s very important to have a good teacher. In my case I had a wonderful teacher, supportive, very kind and gentle, and he understood the issue. I was fortunate because he was my guide from when I was very young until I was 18. So in that way I was very fortunate to have that kind of environment. I think it is possible to have a healthy environment.
But I think it is very difficult because “child prodigy” is a complex term.
Maybe it’s an easy way of talking about that sort of thing?
Right. I mean, when one is born with a certain amount of talent, it could be anything, music, sports or whatever it was--but that’s not enough. That was something that was, maybe, given, an ability. But ability needs to be developed, and there’s a long road of development from the beginning to the fully grown musician, artists or whatever.
Dorothy Leeds talks about the people who see a “child prodigy” or talented child, and thinks about the pressure their parents and environment  exert on him. But her experience tells her that, in many cases, the kids aren’t pressed that much, and usually they do what they do because they really like it and have fun with it.
The first thing is the love and passion for whatever the child is doing, in this case music. When somebody is very young and everybody is admiring him and saying “Oh my God, this is something special”, it can be a little bit overwhelming sometimes. I won’t say damaging but just overwhelming because a child can grow up and never really develop his or her full talent. So I think it’s good to be level-headed if you want to keep developing the talent. This is the key.
It’s the teacher’s role to do that and to challenge the child. But they have to love it and like what they’re doing because if they don’t, once they grow up they’ll stop.
What are your childhood memories? Do you have nice childhood memories? Maybe it was very hard because of the war in your country
I have very nice memories of my family because everybody is a musician. My brother is a guitarist, my other brother is a pianist, my father is a guitarist… so there was a lot of music in our house. I always remember I loved the sound of the guitar; always listening to my brother practice… and that’s why I play, because of my brother. So it was a nice time.
Later on there was some trouble with the politics, we had a war, and it not was a good time. It was very difficult to focus on the music, but our parents were so good because they kept us focused on the music, and they didn’t let us think about the war. It was really nice to have something that interested us.  We went to music school regularly and we never stopped.
Of course there were difficult times, like my teenage years, when I just wanted to go out, be with my friends, but I just didn’t get time and I had to stay at home and practice. So, that was difficult sometimes. I didn’t always want to stay practicing over and over. But it’s the way it was. It’s the way I was brought and I’m grateful today that I had my family supporting me, because if I hadn’t had that I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it for so many years, with my music, so I’m very lucky.
I saw in your last video, Mel Bay’s video, a piece by the acoustic guitar player and composer Pierre Bensusan called “Altiplanos”. He is an incredible musician who mixes in his music pop, folk, jazz, classical music… in a very interesting way. What can you tell us about Pierre?
He’s a wonderful artist.
Do you know him?
I met Pierre many years ago in Europe and I heard him play and I was so impressed with his playing and composing abilities. And I thought “I’ve got to get to know this music”, because I get very inspired by other musicians, not just classical musicians but  all the other styles like jazz, blues… and then I talked to him, and he doesn’t compose in standard tuning.  So, “Altiplanos” was the only piece he ever wrote in standard tuning so I had no choice but to play it.  All the other songs are in a different tuning.
You don’t like changing the tuning…
I don’t know how to… I would have to change everything. I wasn’t ready to do that. He said “I wrote this piece in standard tuning and I’ll give it to you”. I loved it from the very first moment I played it. It’s a really beautiful piece so I wish he could write more… in standard tuning.
Has he heard your recording of his piece?
Yes. Through the process of learning he was very helpful with advice and he said he liked the interpretation. I hope so! But it was something different I wanted to do, some kind of different style of music. I admired him and I just wanted to have something different in the repertoire.
One of the things you say in interviews is that you want to expand your repertoire. What musical works would you like to incorporate to your programs?
I like things like this, by new composers. I mean, if I can do more on that, if I can find pieces from different composers…
Are you preparing some of this type of music now?
I’m always working on something. Now I love jazz and blues and I’ve always wanted to do something that maybe combines classical and jazz and blues … Maybe do a duo with different artists. I’ve been playing classical for a lot of years. So I’m really interested in expanding and doing something different, but this is for the future. I really have to work hard because it’s a different kind of project.
Do you know Martin Taylor?
Yes I do.
He is like a classical musician, with an amazing and polished technique but in the world of jazz.
There are many great artists that are able to combine all those styles. I really admire everyone that’s able to combine all the different kinds of styles. I’d like to do something like that in the future.
Maybe it is a must for the classical artist to start introducing all those things in concert repertoire and combine it with the classical one. These are hard times for people to come to classical music concerts and maybe this is a way of attracting different people and introducing them to this world. There are really good composers that could fit well in the concerts and we can’t keep ignoring this music and not looking ahead.
Absolutely, you’re right. It’s always important to look ahead and plan for the future.  Maybe it’d nice to combine both. We have great works written for guitar from Segovia’s time and that are still fabulous. Together with those we could do something that was in a slightly different direction. So it’s possible to combine both, have the traditional guitar but also lead it along new paths.
Once I read you said that if you weren’t a guitarist maybe you’d be a psychologist.
Maybe. That’s true.
So let’s talk about the psychological side of music. How do you prepare the moments just before the concert? Do you have some rituals?
I usually arrive at the hall 2 hours before the concert; then I have a rehearsal on stage; then we work on the sound, lights, etc. and it gives me a chance to get familiar with the hall. I usually play for an hour; sometimes I’ll play though the hall because it relaxes me to get to know the hall; then I’ll go back to the dressing room and just relax for another hour or so. I really don’t do anything special. No ritual… I eat bananas but I just try to concentrate and try to get into a peaceful frame of mind, just prepare for the concert; then, for 10 or 15 minutes before the concert, I just keep playing again because I like to be warmed up before its time to go.
When you are playing, what happens in your mind?
I try to let go. I think the first initial contact with the audience is the hardest. Maybe slowly throughout the concert everybody relaxes and it’s much more relaxing. But I try to really not think too much because all the work has been done in the practice room so right now I just have to let go and play the music and express my feelings though it. And then, hopefully connect with the audience throughout the concert which is a wonderful feeling, if that happens.
 Maybe it’s happened to you that you are playing, focusing on the music, and then some thoughts come flying into your mind. How do you react?
Sometimes yes. I try to go back. Sometimes it happens that my mind strays somewhere else and that’s dangerous and I have to get back into the music. Actually, it happens in a flash, and I try to really relax my mind and just let the music speak. It’s really hard to put into words what happens. It’s just the energy going through the guitar and trying to convey it to the audience. It’s just playing music and enjoying it.
Do you like to visualize the music?
I do a lot of work without the guitar because if I’m travelling sometimes I don’t have time to practice. I have to think and do the work without the guitar. So visualization is really good to practice. You have to do everything in your head.
It’s a very hard way to practice.
Yes, it’s hard to do it for a long time, so I maybe do it for an hour and then I rest. But it’s a really good exercise because it really makes you focus on the music.
Let’s talk about recordings. You have recorded about 6 or 7 CDs…
I think 6, but there are also some DVDs.
Is there any difference in the preparation for the concerts and the preparation for the recordings? Is recording harder perhaps?
It’s different. Both are difficult in their own ways. I feel more comfortable with performing. That’s something that I love to do because there is contact with the audience.
In which way is performance different?
It shouldn’t be different. It should be the same, ideally.
But when recording there is the pressure to do things as perfectly as possible, the recording engineer is looking at his watch…
Personally, I would prefer to have live recordings because everything is the way it is, very natural. I prefer it to repeating the same thing time and time again, over-recording… The energy is also different. In the studio sometimes the energy may be lost, like you said, with recording engineer s, the pressure of time, etc. But both take a lot of preparation. Actually, it’s the same type of preparation.
Has it happened to you to, in a recording session, that you stumble in a particular place several times and when you have to record again you begin to think, “Oh no, here we are. It’s coming again…”? How do you handle this situation?
It happens sometimes. Your head’s telling you “It’s coming, it’s coming” and in the same spot! It’s happened to me a couple of times and it’s very upsetting, but I think it’s our mind playing with us. When you have a clear and positive mind and you aren’t worried about mistakes, it’s much better. Maybe there’s a chance of making a mistake and I think there’s a lot of this in our mind.
You’ve had 3 main teachers throughout your career: Manuel Barrueco, Istvan Romer and your brother, Viktor. What did each one of them mean for you? What did you learn with them?
Many things. I really was very fortunate to have these 3 teachers at 3 different stages. Viktor, my brother, was the reason why I started playing because he was practicing and I was always listening and I wanted to do the same thing. And then Viktor taught me to read music, the basics of the guitar, how to move my hands, how to hold the guitar. He was the first motivator and the first person who introduced me to the guitar.
Later, with Istvan I was studying for 12 years, and I think this was the most important time in my life, because to teach somebody from very young to 18 is very difficult. And he was an amazing teacher. He talked to me about technique, musicality, how to relax on stage… everything. So that was a very important part of my life.
Then I came to Baltimore, to stay with Barrueco. That was a wonderful 4 years working with him in different things.
But when you came to Barrueco you already had 3 or 4 recordings and had won a lot of prizes. A high reputation. What did you learn from Barrueco?
It was a different stage in my career.  I wanted to learn more about musicality, about sound, about dynamics, relaxation techniques… I wanted to challenge myself to do more, and he was very helpful.  It was 3 different stages. But I also worked with other musicians: cellists, violinists… but it is true that those 3 people were the most important.
What do you think are the main features a teacher has to have for a kid?
It’s a good question. A lot of knowledge, of course that comes first; a lot of experience teaching young children because that’s a different type of teaching, completely different from teaching adults; you need sensibility and a lot of patience to teach young children; also sensitivity, compassion,  to just be understanding and gentle because there are some teachers who are very tough. All those things, but knowledge comes first.
And maybe be funny with them. Because they are little kids and what they want is to have fun all day and play.
Yeah. I think is possible to make it fun because children should enjoy it. That way they’ll learn better. If the teacher makes it fun it’s great, but there’s a serious side and also a fun side. I think it’s possible to combine both sides.
Some decades ago a lot of teachers were too tough and there was nothing you could do about it: “If you don’t like my classes you can go”. And they didn’t care at all about introducing some strategies to get kids interested.
But I think now there are still tough teachers… But it’s extremely important to find a good teacher, and parents have to decide and find the right teacher.
I know you’ve played a lot of guitar with orchestra works but I don’t know much about your activities in chamber music.
I’ve done it occasionally but not very often because I don’t get much chance to play with other people because of my schedule.  I did play with my brother a lot and when I studied at Peabody I played with a lot of musicians (flute, oboe…). But now I don’t have enough time. That’s my wish—maybe  one day I could do more chamber music because it’s important to make collaborations with other people.
What does ensemble playing mean for a musician’s  musical education?
It’s extremely important because it teaches you to work with other musicians, to learn how to listen. One of the most important lessons here is the listening lesson because you are not alone, you have other people with you, and you have to work together and so it’s important to listen to them, follow what they’re doing. You just learn a lot about music. For example, I love to play with cellists because the cello is such a very beautiful instrument producing such a nice sound and I’ve always wanted to imitate what that instrument can do and what the guitar can’t do. So it’s a learning experience.
What are you projects for the future?

I want to just keep performing, travelling and, as I said at the beginning, try to reach more people and introduce the guitar to a wider audience, because classical guitar is popular but it could be even more popular among young people, and one of the ways to achieve that may be to collaborate with other people, in jazz, blues… like I said before

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