Andrián Pertout speaks with guitar virtuoso Karin Schaupp about the classical scene, and her latest release ‘Evocation’.
Since her musical awakening at the age of six, German-born classical guitarist Karin Schaupp has been building on a reputation that so far has yielded countless awards and accolades, such as the ‘The Best Interpretation of Spanish Music’ awarded to her in 1992 in Madrid. From the very beginning, her principal guide and teacher has been none other than guitarist mother Isolde Schaupp, and today Karin Schaupp’s performance credits lists recitals throughout Australia, Europe, Asia and North America, with one of the highlights being her inclusion as a special guest artist on China Radio International’s 50th Anniversary celebrations of 1997, attracting an audience of twenty million listeners in China. The theme of her latest offering (the follow-up to ‘Leyenda’ and ‘Soliloquy’) is 19th and 20th century composer/guitarists, and features pieces by Francisco Tarrega, Andrew York, Maximo Diego Pujol, Johann Kaspar Mertz, Phillip Houghton, Roland Dyens, Agustin Barrios and Mauro Giuliani, including a Karin Schaupp arrangement of Tarrega’s famous composition ‘Fantasia sobre motivos de La Traviata’. ‘Evocation’ was recorded early this year in the Nickson Room at the University of Queensland, utilizing yet again, a cedar-top guitar custom-made by Simon Marty.
What have you been up to since the last time we spoke, which was actually two years ago, following the release of ‘Leyenda’?
KS: “Lots of playing basically. I did a big tour with ‘Leyenda’ around Australia, and after that I played in the States and Canada. And I played at probably the biggest classical guitar festival, the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) festival in Canada. That was in ’98, and in ’99 I opened up the Darwin International Guitar festival, toured with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, played in Germany and at the Wirral International festival in England, up near Liverpool. This is also a guitar festival, but it’s not exclusively classical. That was really good. And what have I done this year? I’ve been over to San Francisco, and I’ve made the album. And so I had a couple of months of no concerts, to do that.”
How does a classical musician prepare for a studio recording or live performance? Could you take us through the various processes involved – from selecting and practicing a piece, to its final execution?
KS: ”Preparing for a live performance or a recording is quite similar. I guess in a recording there are more subtleties that come across, but you know, when people are sitting far away, then maybe it’s more of an energetic projection. But I think a good recording is one that is really like a live performance, so that you have that connection with the audience, even though you can’t see them at that point in time (laughs). But I think preparation for any classical musician is a very involved process, because we have to be very precise; we’re playing music that’s written down, there’s not any sort of improvisation or anything that we have to memorize – well, we don’t have to, but we chose to memorize pieces. So I do several hours of practice, six days a week, usually about four hours – and learning pieces, practicing, usually a bit of both; practicing for whatever’s coming up. If I’m recording pieces that are new works, that I haven’t played before, and if they’re reasonably difficult works, then I probably wouldn’t want to record them until I’d been playing them for several months. I wouldn’t record them in two weeks, I could probably play them in two weeks, but I wouldn’t record them. And I’d practice them for a couple of months not so much so that I can play them, but so that the piece becomes like a really malleable toolbox for expression. So that in the end, when I play it, it feels like I’m just making it up. I know that’s like a contradiction (chuckles) – first I’m saying that I’m practicing all this time and then I feel like I’m making it up, but it has to just become so second nature that you don’t think about the actual piece, and it just becomes music making.”
And how do you go about choosing your pieces? Do they just pop up out of somewhere or do you get suggestions?
KS: ”I wouldn’t say suggestions, but I get a lot of music sent to me now, by composers, by publishers, and so on. And that’s a really good part of all this (laughs). But I totally chose pieces just by my own taste, by what I like, what I think says something, and I guess pieces that I feel like I can relate to. For this album the theme was guitarist/composers, but I didn’t come up with a theme and then think, ‘OK, I’ve gotta find pieces now.’ These were the pieces I liked, and then realized that they were all by guitarist/composers.”
Is there a specific marketing strategy developed around you? How much artistic freedom is granted to a classical musician by the record company? Is there artistic control as in the pop world?
KS: ”Really not at all, it’s really totally my choice, and I guess the reason that I can have that freedom is because classical music is not about a passing fad or fashion, it’s been the same for a long time. And even though there are new pieces, new styles, and new ways of playing, it’s still not about a short-term fashion. And this album and my last album won’t be out of fashion in five years, ten years or twenty years, and that’s why I think there’s no kind of pressure in that way. And so what is on this album is completely my choice. I chose every single piece on there. I guess that’s one of the many good parts of being a classical musician (laughs).”
Tell me about your latest album ‘Evocation’.
KS: ”All the pieces were written by guitarist/composers, and by that I mean composers who were or are themselves guitarists. So that makes the music very idiomatic, very well suited to the instrument. And I guess guitarist/composers sometimes have the courage to explore some effects, or different tunings – it’s got a lot of different tunings on it – that maybe non guitarist/composers may shy away from a little bit. So it was just a really nice combination of pieces. There are nineteenth-century greats such as Tarrega and Giuliani – Tarrega in particular is considered one of the fathers of modern guitar technique, and his piece ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’ is probably ‘the’ most well-known and popular classical guitar piece ever! So that along with another piece of his that hasn’t been recorded that often, which is the ‘Fantasia’ based on themes from the opera ‘La Traviata’. It’s a beautiful piece, I don’t know if you’ve heard that one, it’s the first one on the album. And yeah, then there’s a couple of guitarist/composers who are still alive as well (chuckles). There’s a French guitarist/composer Roland Dyens, Maximo Diego Pujol, Phillip Houghton and Andrew York – actually a piece ‘Evocation’, which I’ll tell you a little story about in a minute. He actually wrote that for me, quite recently, only a couple of months ago. And the great thing is that I’ve met and come into contact with all the composers who are still alive, so that’s really good, a bonus as well.”
What is the little story behind ‘Evocation’?
KS: ”It was just the strangest thing, and it’s really absolutely true (chuckles). It makes a good story, but it’s true. I wanted to call the CD ‘Evocation’, because of what it means to me, it’s like a real evoking of the spirit and it’s really a deep personal expression for me, this album, and so I thought, ‘I’m going to call it Evocation.’ And literally the next day, I got this piece from Andrew York, by email, as you do these days, and he’d called it ‘Evocation’. And I hadn’t told him, I’d just told my family that I was going to call this ‘Evocation’. The odds of that are pretty amazing, so that was really nice. Some of those warm fuzzy moments (laughs)…”
The music that you perform is more or less classical Spanish music, which is much more subtle and delicate than its fiery cousin of Flamenco. What is your opinion of this other related style and its various interpreters?
KS: ”Flamenco is the Spanish folk style of playing the guitar, and it’s just a different way of playing the guitar. They use different guitars, totally different technique. A flamenco player playing classical would sound a little bit strange to classical people, and a classical player playing flamenco, unless they really learnt, would also sound strange. It’s a totally different set of techniques. The thing is that the image of flamenco is in a lot of the Spanish music that we play, and funny enough a lot of the Spanish music that we play on the guitar, all those pieces that are really well known – not in this case, but on the last album – are piano pieces. ‘Asturias’, ‘Leyenda’, ‘Granada’, they’re all piano pieces, but they’ve all got that image of the guitar, because it’s the folk instrument of Spain. So I absolutely love flamenco music. I remember being in Spain when I was about nineteen and being in this restaurant which we were told at the time was one of the best flamenco bars, slash restaurants in Madrid, and the players there were just incredible. They had flamenco dancing, singing and guitar playing, and they were just phenomenal. And I’ll always remember that.”
Do you ever attempt to play in that way?
KS: ”I’d like to actually learn some more. I know a few basic flamenco techniques, every classical player does, but no I don’t, I can’t play flamenco. They have a very different technique with all the strumming, and so on. And I’d need to superglue my nails before I do that – they do actually, they have superglue on their nails. And the guitars they have are constructed quite differently. They have really low action, which means that the distance between the strings and the fingerboard is really, really small, so it makes it really comfortable to play, but it means that the guitar gives off those buzzing noises, which are desirable in flamenco and totally undesirable in classical. It’s a very percussive style of playing.”
How do you believe that your understanding of Spanish music has grown over the years? Do you actually research the music in any way, or do you prefer the hands-on approach?
KS: ”I’ve been to Spain, I’ve got a masters degree in music. Yeah, I know a lot about music, the history of music, the guitar; I’ve listened to a lot of the great interpreters, not only on guitar, but on piano, singing, but I wouldn’t say that Spanish music is my specialty. It’s just that it forms such a large part of our repertoire. Often it’s the pieces that appeal to the audience the most. And like any other music, I do a lot of research, but it’s also an intuitive creative process. But the centre of the classical guitar is really not in Spain anymore, I wouldn’t say there is a centre, but it’s very big all over Europe, it’s very big in Asia, and it’s huge in America. So you wouldn’t say that Spain is still the homeland of classical guitar, it’s the homeland of flamenco, but not of classical guitar.”
Are you still using the same guitar?
KS: ”The same maker, but I’ve actually got a new one, which I got last year and used on the album. It’s a Simon Marty – he’s a Sydney maker, a very, very good maker. Actually now he has a very high international profile; his guitars are in high demand in America, in Europe, all over the place. And this particular guitar is a cedar top. There are two kinds of tops that classical players play, either cedar top or spruce top, and top is what makes the sound mostly, it makes the biggest difference. So yeah, this is a cedar top, which tends to have a slightly mellower sound. And I just think it’s a really beautiful, velvety sound. I love it! It’s my baby...”
‘Evocation’ out on WEA Records. For further information visit the Karin Schaupp Web Site.
'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #75, July 5, 2000
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Karin Schaupp: Leyenda