You were already a seasoned guitarist and rock musician touring around North America when you picked up classical music (and mandolin). How do you compare these seemingly very different genres and your experiences with them, what do they have in common and what do you think about rhythm and energy in classical music and mandolin?
My passion for classical music started at an early age. One of my guitar teachers, Peter Pupping, would make me listen to various recordings and write reviews. Luckily during all my rocker stages of youth I was taking classical guitar lessons which installed a love for classical music and ensured that I concentrated on good technique.
I think that there isn’t as much of a divide between classical music and other styles as the media tends to portray. I find that the music industry, whether it is classical or popular music, tends to be very similar. It’s all about selling units and which artists have the most appeal. Musically speaking, or course there are some clear differences but that line between the various styles is getting more blurred every day. Even in Early Music we can find a new vibe and energy that wasn’t there in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Ensembles like Europa Galante and Il Gardino Amonico have brought a whole new pulse, rhythm and image to Early Music. I think the best classical music is when artists pull from their past and touch the core of all that makes them who they are. It makes performances of traditional repertoire like Beethoven, Hummel, Calace sound more convincing and less like an educated reciting of notes on a page. In general, classical music as an industry is adapting to the constantly changing market. There are quite a few new composers who are writing exciting music that has elements of other music styles. Avner Dorman, Gabriel Prokofiev, Zoe Keating and Max Richter are worth checking out.
There are two directions in classical music that can be followed by mandolinists. The first is presenting historical performance mandolin repertoire; whether it be performing Calace Preludes to 18th Century Repertoire. The other direction is to think outside the box and try to create a new inspiration for young aspiring mandolinists. As a professional mandolinist I want to be rooted in both avenues. My latest album on Centaur Records is all 18th Century Sonatas and Triosonatas for mandolin. However, as a composer, soloist and in duo with guitarist, Zura Dzagnidze, I focus on writing and performing new, fresh modern mandolin music that has elements of Eastern European folk music, rock, hardcore and jazz mixed with classical structure such as American minimalism.
My rock and roll background plays a big role in my life as a classical musician. I tend to be attracted to repertoire that “rocks out” and is high energy, no matter the musical period. A lot of my personal compositions have some kind of popular music element to them. My solo mandolin compositions, “Imardin,” and “2014” have a very driving aspect, which was completely inspired by my past music life. It’s nice having the ability to bring various styles into classical structure and a way of personalizing new music for my instrument.