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TESTAMENT

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SBT 1333 An Interview with Julian Bream by Nick Morgan The artistry of Britains first and foremost classical guitarist has been documented on dozens of LPs and CDs, television and radio programmes but never before have any of Julian Breams many BBC broadcasts been commercially available. Now retired from the rigours of concert-giving, after 55 busy years, Bream has had the time to pick the most important of his BBC archive treasures for this release. He has also started writing his memoirs and collaborated on a marvellous DVD biography, directed by Paul Balmer for Music on Earth Productions (www.musiconearth.co.uk). This self-portrait, comprehensive, lavishly illustrated and engaging, demands to be seen: Breams lively reminiscences are delivered to camera in his inimitable manner, bluff, droll but vivid and pointed (and garnished with mouth-watering extras, of which more below). Until you see it, some bare facts from Breams life: born in Battersea in 1933, Julian was first taught the guitar by his father, studied at Londons Royal College of Music but not the guitar, which wasnt taught there and then, with single-minded determination, embarked on a career unprecedented in British music, which only ended in May 2002, with his retirement. Bream has enriched the guitars repertoire with many commissions and rediscoveries, though without this release and Balmers DVD, two of his most important BBC recordings might have been lost. Bream also brought the lute back before the public, probably the widest its ever enjoyed in this country, and helped revive Elizabethan and Jacobean consort music. After a serious health scare, from which Bream has recovered, thanks to daily walks on the Dorset downs with his flat-coated retriever, Django, he is enjoying life out of the limelight in his country home of forty years; and there, last summer, he shared his memories of nearly half a century of broadcasting. recordings didnt have a certain spontaneity. Quite often though not all the time the early stuff was done live: the old red light went on and you were on! And when you pre-recorded, what you wanted to get down was the essence of the performance as perfectly, technically speaking, as you could but it was the musical essence which was the first priority and if there was a slight flaw, that wasnt necessarily a disaster. Whereas it is or it can be very annoying if its on a commercial recording, I think thats the difference. You used to find that quite constraining in commercial sessions? Yes I did, I did. And thats why my producer was so important; if I was being constrained, he would jolly well tell me! And Id go back to square one. So its good to have this record of your less constrained self? Yes, because a performance is a performance, its your thoughts on that work at that time in your life and also, playing on different guitars, in different recording studios, it becomes a kaleidoscope of your work. Youve recorded the Chaconne from Bachs D minor Partita for solo violin 1 twice, commercially, at either end of your career where does this BBC studio recording, made for Radio Threes series The Classical Guitar , fit in? Its the middle years I hadnt made a commercial recording of the Chaconne since 1957. So I burnished it up specially for that programme my aim was to do something for that programme that was special and serious. Its fascinating because your ideas do change but, even in the very early recording I made [for Westminster] in 1957, somehow its all there in embryo. What life has done in the years since is given me further insights and those insights largely develop with experience. That performance is a transitional performance, some way to where I think I got it in the 1990s, in the last commercial recording [for EMI] that has most of the things that Id wanted to say in the Chaconne. Its such a great piece and there are many problems that you have to solve, some specific to the guitar and some specific to the music. Phrasing on the guitar is not always as easy or as conventional as you may think because, from the moment that the string is plucked, the sound decays and you are faced with a lot of silences. And those silences, the relationships between them, have their own poetry some you make a little longer, some you play absolutely accurately, some you may shorten a bit. So you have a whole set of problems most other musicians dont have to grapple with but which I personally find very exciting, very stimulating to solve and bring to a poetic conclusion. The instrument Bream plays the Bach on was made to an old design in a workshop near his home, where he gave young and unknown makers a chance to perfect their craft: Ive always liked old-fashioned guitars, late-19th Century ones, very lightly built they have a soul that most modern guitars dont have. Its not because of the age, its simply the design. The guitar is a very quiet, intimate instrument and, over the past thirty to forty years, players have demanded a louder, more brilliant instrument. The guitar makers have complied to some extent but, in doing so, I think theyve lost a certain quality which is the guitar admittedly, with faults. The old-fashioned instruments arent even some notes are better than others (that happens on many instruments actually) but a lot of younger guitarists are irritated by that, they want them all to be equal. If they are all the same, you arrive, really, at a very bland response from the instrument, certainly not very exciting. When you play an oldfashioned guitar, which has a few notes that arent so strong, you have to use a little more left hand pressure and perhaps a little extra vibrato or you pluck it at a different part of the string there are all sorts of ways of doing things which you cannot teach, youve got to have an instinct for these things. But, on the other hand, the modern instruments are very much easier to play and I suppose thats life: people like good technology and theres nothing wrong with that! One of your many visits to the Edinburgh Festival is commmemorated in Fernando Sors Variations 2 on what is always billed as Mozarts O

What role did the BBC play in your career? A very strong one. They were in fact my first real employers in my youth. It was very hard to make a living playing the classical guitar, because nobody had heard one some people had heard of Segovia but he was a Spaniard and they considered it a natural thing for him to do, as a Spaniard, to play the guitar. To make a career, for myself, was almost impossible. But the BBC employed me in all sorts of ways. They had three networks, the Home, the Light and the Third, and for the Light Programme they had a roster of musicians that they employed full time to play light music mostly South American apache music! The band consisted of an accordion, clarinet and flute, plus a little string sextet, piano, guitar and bass. And, in between, they employed me, playing solos, and I used to play quite often pieces by Albniz, Granados, perhaps a bit of Sor and Turina it was always classical, whereas the band around me was playing light music, but somehow it fitted in and it was all part of my feeling that serious music is quite acceptable even when youve got light, entertaining music around it. In fact, it adds another musical dimension to the programme. And thats how my name gradually became known, because in those days youd do a broadcast on the radio and six to seven million people might well hear it tremendous! And then I would get the odd little recital on the Home Service; and when the Third Programme started up, there was suddenly a great interest in early music. I didnt have a lute in those days but I played lute pieces on the guitar until I eventually acquired a lute. On one day, I well remember, I played on all three networks! How did you feel coming back to tapes you presumably hadnt heard for years? I thought they had a quality that some of my commercial

TESTAMENT
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cara armonia but is in fact Das klingt so herrlich, the song for Monostatos and the slaves in the Act 1 finale of The Magic Flute, sung as Papagenos bells are working their spell. Sor obviously loved The Magic Flute and he made a number of arrangements of other airs from it. He also liked variation form very much. And, as a set of variations, I believe it to be a modest masterpiece for the guitar, because the instrumental ideas are very original and, for their time, highly developed. The proportions of these variations and of the phrases are very elegant; there are moments of pathos but theres a lot of very subtle and charming variation within the variations and nothings overstated its very Mozartian in that way, its note-perfect and its also one of the finest compositions Sor wrote. Now, when you go from the Sor [recorded at the Edinburgh Festival in 1982] to the Sonatina by Turina 3 - 5 [a 1956 studio recording] its a different world, as if another person were playing. I was a very impetuous performer when I made that recording but its rather refreshing, it had an immediacy which I lost, to some extent, as I got older. It has its blemishes but that, I think, is overridden by the fact that theres something very spontaneous about the performance and thats how I used to play in those days. Ive been re-studying the Sonatina, recently, and its an extraordinary thing, that after all these years, Ive found new ways of doing things and, actually, the way Id do it now, I think, is to some extent more convincing but its taken all those years of experience to know instinctively what to do. The instrument Bream plays the Turina on was made by a friend of mine, Hector Quine, who was an amateur maker, eventually Professor of Guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London he built it on his bedroom table! It had a certain bell like quality that I liked at that time. I didnt play it for very long but it was different from any other guitar that I played. You see, in those days, certainly in England, it was very hard to find a really good guitar. Perhaps the most historic document on this CD is Sir Michael Tippetts The Blue Guitar 6 - 8 , the composers response both to a poem of the same name by Wallace Stevens and to the famous painting by Picasso which inspired Wallace, The Man with the Blue Guitar, whose essence is contained in the first stanza: The man bent over his guitar A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. They said, You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are. The man replied, Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar. Tippetts only composition for solo guitar was written at Julian Breams instigation and with his advice, though it was commissioned by the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation in Pasadena, California, where it was first played by Bream on 9 November, 1983. It is dedicated to the American conductor Calvin Simmons (1950-1982) who died in a boating accident. Tippett was essentially stimulated by three moods or gestures which he used as the titles for the movements: Transforming: Being the lion in the lute Before the lion locked in stone. Dreaming: Morning is not sun, It is this posture of the nerves. Juggling: The old fantoche Hanging his shawl upon the wind.
Originally, the piece ended with Dreaming. Then the composer and myself had second thoughts on the movement order and Juggling became the last movement [and is played last here]. Much later Tippett had third thoughts and he decided to come back to the original scheme. You never recorded The Blue Guitar commercially? At the time I was performing it, my recording company, RCA, was in the middle of negotiations for a take-over bid, so it was very difficult to get them to accept a new, contemporary piece. And then another guitarist recorded it, Eleftheria Kotzia quite a good recording too, as a matter of fact! and then another [Norbert Kraft] and I thought, well thats fine, its been recorded. Then I went off the boil; as I often do with a new work, Id play it like mad and then Id let it rest and then Id re-study it, perhaps a few years later. And so there was the Tippett as well as the Richard Rodney Bennett Sonata, which circumstances also prevented me from recording commercially theyre the two performances that would have been, as it were, lost in the cracks. But here, at last, is your world premire broadcast of The Blue Guitar recorded without an audience in the BBCs large orchestral studio in Maida Vale while Bennetts Sonata has also been restored to circulation, by Music on Earth Productions, as a sound-only bonus track on your DVD biography: Im very pleased about that because I think the Bennett Sonata is a very fine piece and fantastically well written for the instrument, so that recording hasnt got lost. And the Tippetts not lost either, so Im delighted that these two fine works are now available, performed by their dedicatee. Commissions were one way in which you enlarged the guitars repertoire and scope; another was transcriptions and arrangements. Among the latter, there cant be many as substantial or as long in the making as your reworking of Schuberts Quartet in G minor D.173 9 12 again, never recorded commercially. Transcriptions? I find them very stimulating. And certain pieces have been ongoing transcriptions throughout my life, I come back to them from time to time and make minor adjustments. But the reason why I did the Schubert was, in my late teens, I was walking down Londons Wigmore Street one Sunday afternoon, past the Wigmore Hall, and I saw there was a concert by the Amadeus Quartet. So I just got a ticket and went in, and I heard this little G minor Quartet [transposed, here, into A minor] and then I thought, Yes, that would sound quite good on two guitars! Many years later I bought a record of it and I was convinced it would sound very well on two guitars but it was trying to find the time to do this. Because what I wanted to do was to make two equal guitar parts and that was in itself fun to do, stimulating. And so I didnt think about it any more until, for my fiftieth birthday I booked the Wigmore Hall for a concert and I asked several friends to take part. Amongst others I asked John Williams and he agreed and I felt, well, we cant just play a bit of our old repertoire, we must have something new, something special. And then I remembered the Schubert quartet it had always been in the back of my mind, like certain composers, who have ideas and then use them about ten years later! I was going off on a long tour of Australia & New Zealand just before and I had a brainwave. The flights are so long between London and Sydney, not to mention New Zealand and on the way back too that it occurred to me I could use all that time to do this transcription. So thats what I did. I really enjoyed it, I was so bored normally during these terribly long flights. All through the night I was working away and loving it: there I was, manuscript paper all over the place, the passengers couldnt believe what was going on. Dyou know, I completely dismantled that quartet and put it together again and, amazingly, I finished it just as the aircraft touched down in London on my way back! John and I tried it out and it seemed to be very effective, so we performed it at my fiftieth birthday concert. How does the chemistry with John Williams work? The chemistry works simply, inasmuch as we both adapt to each other. Its not always easy but it does create a certain creative tension which is rather exciting. We were not a duo, we were two players who came together to make

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music which, in some ways, is much the best thing because, instead of trying to bring the two instruments together in a blandly unified way, we actually played in our own styles. But we had enough musicianship and savvy to be able to amalgamate these two styles, so that they made an exciting composite whole. But in this Schubert, tension isnt really the name of the game? Sometimes it is in a way, particularly in the third and fourth movements, theres a lot of toing and froing between the instruments, a sort of crossbanter, which is rather exciting. The first two movements are more eloquent, of course. It was the last recording we ever made, so it has a little significance because of that too.

This is the only piece in this release recorded in Breams favourite studio, a remarkable neo-Classical Roman Catholic chapel at Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, near his house: I hated recording in New York. RCA had studios down on East 23rd Street and they werent bad at all, but I found the atmosphere in New York too electric. But I then managed to persuade them to let me make my records here, where I wanted to make them, and thats when I got my team together, just three of us: my great producer, Jimmy Burnett, and wonderful engineer, John Bower, and I also had the beautiful chapel just two miles from here, so it was a perfect arrangement and RCA agreed to that. Nick Morgan, 2005