Could you give some biographical details: where you grew up, family, that sort of thing?
My father was in the military, so we moved quite around quite a lot. I lived in the deep south, Mississippi and Alabama until I was eight. After that it was mostly California.
Is your family musical?
My mother played piano and my father sang and listened to a lot of music.
What was your first musical instrument? What age did you start?
I received a little Silvertone guitar for my seventh or eighth birthday. I was fortunate to have a very good teacher at the start. We were living in Biloxi, Mississippi at the time. The teacher's name was Carmen Massey. He played bass in a combo at a local hotel. He got me started with Alfred's basic guitar method and a book from Arai ( a flamenco player, I think) which included as a last piece a duet version of a little solo piece from Coste which I still like a lot after all these years. He made me feel very accomplished by having me play both parts of the duet. I discovered years later that it was really a solo piece, anyway. ( I also had my first public performance at this time. I played some Carcassi or Carulli in a school talent show which was won either by a tap dancer or baton twirler. I'm not sure which, anymore. )
Did you go right into classical guitar or did you play any popular style before that?
Unfortunately, I was only with this teacher for a couple years. We then moved to Sacramento where I eventually had another teacher, an older violinist. We went fairly seriously through Carcassi method and the Segovia Sor studies. I hated the Carcassi at the time. He'd lighten things up occasionally with a hand written version of ì Under the Double Eagle, Tenessee Waltz, or Walk Don't Run(popular music). I started playing electric guitar when I was about twelve and played in various bands until I was in college. I played guitar in the school Stage Band, and percussion and string bass in various other school orchestras and ensembles.
What attracted you to the lute?
The short answer is: The music.
The longer answer:
During college I got more interested in classical guitar ( Thanks partly to very good chamber music classes with Bertram Turetzky. A well-known bassist for modern music and pupil of the American pioneer lutenist, Joseph Iadone) After several years of playing the standard repertoire I began playing more and more baroque and renaissance music. My last performance on the classical guitar was mainly Weiss and Dowland. The University had an old German heavy 8-course lute, which I started out on. Just at this time (mid seventies) Dombois gave his first seminar in Carmel California, organized I think by Donna Curry. This was my first contact with the historical lute scene. During this week I cut off my nails, bought a lighter lute and started playing thumb under. By the end of the week I was off to a pretty good start. I had an immediate affinity for thumb under. As a matter of fact it's taken me years to get my thumb out more. I'm just getting to the point now where I really play baroque lute thumb out. I think playing thumb out is important for having a concept how they really might have played from the 17th century on.
Did you start with Renaissance lute or Baroque?
Who were your teachers and what did you get from them?
After the initial advice from Mr. Dombois at the seminar, I more or less taught myself for the last two years at UCSD (University of California of San Diego). They were very liberal there and allowed me to specialize in lute with advice from various music professors. After graduating I came to Europe where I studied with Michael Schaeffer for a short time. I think I got some good ideas from him about tone quality on the lute. The teacher I was with the longest was Eugen Dombois in Basel. At the time I may not have appreciated it, but I think he influenced me very much in realizing how important precision and timing are. These are still things I work on a lot. I try to make the music as expressive as I can within a formal timing structure where (ideally) the listener can keep track of the basic pulse the whole time. I think this is particularly important in the music of Weiss, which is perhaps 90% based on dance movements.
While studying in Basel I also got some good technical advice from Hopkinson Smith.
These recordings made in Canada sound great. Could you tell a little about the recording set up? What kind of mics? Where they were placed: how far, spacing, configuration?
Sorry, I don't know what mics. There were two about five feet way and five feet high. Two more about five more feet back and quite high for the room sound.
Why did you switch recording venues for volume 5 of the Weiss series?
The church we were using was only available late evenings. We had to stop when it rained or when trucks or trains went by. The church was rather large, so I had to play quite hard to fill it. Although I like the overall interpretations better in the church recordings, the actual lute sound may be better in volume 5. I think we found a good compromise for volume 6 which should be out around the end of the year.
Did you plan out many CDs ahead of time or do you do it one at a time?
One at a time.
There seems to be a representative work from early and late periods on each CD.
That happened by chance on the first two and then I tried to continue that idea.
Do you use the same strings for recording as for performance?
Until now, yes.
What kind of strings do you use? How often do you change them?
Top two courses nylon. 3rd and 4th gut. 5th old wound Savarez.
Basses: old copper wound Savarez with gut octaves. I'm experimenting now with nylgut to avoid tuning problems in concert, but am not so convinced at the moment. For me it's much easier to trill on gut but it can be problematic in concert. Speaking of strings, I touched on the matter of how they really might have played in an earlier question in relation to hand position. Of course the bass strings are an important question here. I'm not convinced that plain or loaded gut is the solution for late baroque lutes. There has to be something in between Pyramid or Savarez and plain gut. I've seen guitar strings from the last century that were fairly thick wire around a fat silk core. So even for romantic guitar the bass sound and feel might be quite different than we imagine today. For baroque lute I think there has to be more work done for possible solutions. Unfortunately, there isn't a big financial incentive for someone to do this. At this point I'm not aware of any historically accurate solution for stringing on a baroque lute. I will continue to experiment, but it takes a lot of time (and money), and is difficult to try new things out in concert. Sorry, my point was that the type of bass strings will certainly affect the overall concept of right hand technique.
How do you tune?
No system. By ear, or with a tuner if I'm nervous or under time pressure.
Do you use equal temperament?
Have you tried non equal ones?
Not with any system. In certain keys I move the first fret down a bit to get a cleaner f#, but in general am happy with equal temperament.
How do you practice? How long? What do you do to prepare for a concert?
I try to do two or three hours regularly. More before concerts and recordings. To what extent do you finger each piece? Do you write in fingering? Do you map out what each finger in each hand is doing? I find it interesting that in Renaissance lute music they seem to have taken great pains to indicate the right hand fingering, index at least, (which may have had an element of place keeping in it) and middle finger in later music and almost no left hand fingering. In Baroque guitar music some composers indicate much left hand fingering, but no right hand fingering. I find it frustrating that very little historical lute music indicates fingering for both hands. Geisbert doesn't count, of course.
I work out left hand fingerings in the process of learning a piece. Right hand fingerings are more instinctive, but of course worked out for difficult passages.
(If you look at Saizenay you'll find lots of fingerings for both hands. )
The right hand technique for baroque lute is not as schematic with strong and weak beats as renaissance. I think we even have to reexamine he concept of not repeating fingers. Although alteration of m and i was clearly used, it was perhaps not as prevalent as today. One often sees in Weiss a finger repeated in a place someone with classical guitar training might never think of. Weiss may have used primarily m and i in running passages. Again, questions of fingering are coupled those with hand position and stringing in arriving at a concept of how to play this instrument. I don't think anyone has all the answers. All instruction from the period tell us and the pictures show us that the right hand was at the bridge. How seriously should we take this?
Have you done much research? Do you have a musicologist's personality?
I definitely do not have a musicologist's personality. I do try to have an overview of the Weiss sources. It's not easy when the Dresden manuscript alone is a lifetime's work to interpret.
In the London and Dresden manuscripts, the tablature is, for the most part, very clear and legible. The rhythms are easy. What are the problems associated in bringing a Weiss sonata to life?
In a way, as you imply, Weisses music is easy to understand. In another way, interpreting this music on the lute presents us with countless possibilities. How loud? How soft? How many colors ? How fast or slow? How to bring out the rhetorical elements and emotions content to the maximum extent? Not to mention the technical challenges. Playing a six minute Presto of running 16th notes is very typical of late Weiss. Where else do we find this in the guitar and lute repertoire? When is it really a Presto? It will take a while (if ever) before the lute world is anywhere near the technical level of, say, concert pianists.
I thought Weiss was supposed to have been secretive and protective about his music, so how come there is so much music of his music that has come down through the ages to us?
This is not in my area of expertise. I think we're just lucky that the two main manuscripts we have today were preserved. For whatever reasons.
It's really hard to say how much music of Weiss we have, or don't have. But I have the feeling London and Dresden do include the bulk of his work. From looking at the Breitkopf Catalogue, I get the impression that we might not have 10% to 40% of his compositions, with some fairly major works missing. This is just a feeling. I may be totally wrong. One may also consider, perhaps he never wrote down his Passacaglias in the common keys.
Who are your first and second favorite composers?
Please ask me something easier.
I heard you play some Bach for the first time on this recent trip to Japan. What are your feelings on transcriptions and the Bach manuscripts from the period?
I find the question of playing Bach very problematic. One of the main reasons I like playing historical instruments is that the music fits the technique and instrument (at least in principle) perfectly. I hate playing anything where I don't have the feeling I at least have the possibility to get it just right. With Bach you often have places where there may be no ideal solution on the instrument. I've more or less decided that I'd rather try to play the music written for the instrument first. There is a great deal of lute music which is still virtually unknown today, and I'd rather dedicate myself to this. I may change my mind as the years go on.
Do you have any interest in the French repertoire, Gaultier and so on?
In principle, yes. Especially in how it served as a basis for the tradition in Germany. Some pieces ( the D major pieces by one of the Gaultiers recorded by Anthony Bailes years ago, for example.) are incredibly beautiful, but a large part of the repertoire has harmonic turns which just do not interest or move me. I do like de Visé though, on lute, guitar and theorbo.
Why does Weiss write an appoggiatura sign when all around it there are written out appoggiaturas? Is there some essential difference?
I don't think this is a big problem, Ed.
To what extent do you feel that his pieces reflect improvisation? Just how much improvisation do you think went on? What kind of improvisation?
From looking at Weiss's music I would think that he regularly improvised preludes, fantasias and passacaglias. It's interesting to note that we only have a few Chaconnes or Passacaglias from him. I assume he would occasionally also improvise suites, but that these might have been fairly simple and schematic in nature. Here again I may be way off.
How close do you think we (lute world collectively) and you (personally) are to recreated the Baroque music the way it was actually performed?
I'm really not sure. In the end I think the emotional content of the music is most important. When we can make this content clearer or more compelling through a historical approach, then so much the better. It's hard to say how a modern listener is moved differently from someone hundreds of years ago.
You mentioned that we can determine the tempo by how long notes sustain. Is there a danger of getting it wrong due to increased sustain of modern strings?
Of course. I was mainly talking about slurs on the upper strings in slow movements.
What other aspects do you use to determine tempo? How much leeway do you think there is?
This is difficult. Historical info. Technique. Daily form. Room acoustic. There is certainly a lot of leeway. When one hears a baroque music from instruments other than the lute, however, it does seem that it was common to have rather quick tempi in the faster movements.
Why do you think classical guitarists and pianists usually memorize their material but most lutenists don't?
I can't tell you. All the various tunings may be a factor or the lacking of a romantic tradition. I do try to memorize when I learn pieces, just so I don't always have to have the score. I don't know how important it is. On the stage, it is certainly less pressure to have the music in front of you. On the other hand, it's interesting that the American expression for memorizing is learning by heart.
What was your impression of Japan and the lute in Japan?
My short concert trip to Japan was certainly one of the most enjoyable I've had. I can't be grateful enough to the people of the lute society who helped me out and showed me around. I found the Japanese society fascinating and the food spectacular. There seem to be very good players and makers in Japan, and I hope that the lute society, as well as the baroque music enthusiasts and the very established classical guitar scene there, can contribute to continued interest in the lute.