Guitarist  Oscar  Ghiglia

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Oscar Ghiglia (Guitar)

Born: August 13, 1938 - Livorno (Leghorn), Italy

The Italian guitarist, Oscar Ghiglia (pronounced "GHEE-lyah" with the hard G), was born of an artistic family - his father and grandfather were both famed painters and his mother an accomplished pianist. Oscar had to choose between a path strewn with brushes and colours and a world cut into harmony and melody. Though his early choice produced a few hundred water colours and a number of oil paintings, he soon realised music was his way. For this decision he thanks his father, who one day made him pose for a painting showing a guitarist. For this he had to hold his father’s guitar, a companion to his artistic musings in front of his forming works. This painting was the start to a lifetime of disciplined dedication to music.

At the age of fourteen young Oscar decided to study classical guitar at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, where he won certificates of honour not only in guitar but also in theoretical subjects as well. In 1957 he began study with the Spanish guitar master Andrés Segovia at the Academia Chigiana in Siena and at Santiago de Compostela in Spain (1958-1963). Segovia was his major influence and inspiration during his formative years. The young guitarist has also studied with Venezuelan virtuoso Alirio Díaz.

Ghiglia's graduation from the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in 1962 was followed by several important awards: 1st Prize at the Orense Guitar Competition, 1st Prize at the Santiago de Compostela Guitar Competition (1963) and 1st Prize at the International Guitar Competition of Radio France (ORTF) (1963, Unanimous Winner). After the latter winning, he received scholarship to the Schola Cantorum in Paris, where he studied music history with Jacques Chailley in 1963-1964. Andrés Segovia chose Ghiglia as his assistant for classes at the University of California in Berkeley in the summer of 1964.

Since then, Ghiglia has given numerous concerts and master-classes throughout the world. He made his first tours to the USA and Japan in 1964-1965, and his British debut in 1966. In addition to appearing extensively in all parts of North and South America and Europe (Italy, Spain, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands), he is a frequent performer in the Far East, Turkey, Israel, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Besides touring as a solo performer, Ghiglia has played and recorded with such names as singers Victoria de Los Angeles, Jan DeGaetani, Gerald English, John McCollum; flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and Julius Baker; ensembles including the Juilliard String Quartet, the Emerson String Quartet, the Cleveland String Quartet, the Quartetto d’archi di Venezia and the Tokyo String Quartet; violinists Giuliano Carmignola, Franco Gulli, Salvatore Accardo and Regis Pasquier; violists B. Giuranna, and P. Zuckerman; cellists K. Adam, A. Roman and L. Varga; guitarists Eliot Fisk, S. Fukuda, Loretta Guerra, Antigoni Goni, and Elena Papandreou. Ghiglia was a founding member of the International Classic Guitar Quartet (with, in different turns: Benjamin Bunch, O. Koga, Anders Miolin, S. Schmidt, and Andreas von Wangenheim).

While being active as a concert artist, Ghiglia has always favoured teaching as a sister profession, and spreading his own teaching around the five continents. Very few well-known guitarists today have not at one time or another been in his classes and profited from his lessons. In 1969 he founded the Guitar Department at the Aspen Music Festival (Aspen, Colorado USA) and taught there for twenty years. He also founded the Festival de Musique des Arcs and the “Incontri Chitarristici di Gargnano”, and has been artist in residence, or visiting professor in such centres as the Cincinnati and San Francisco conservatories, the Juilliard School, the Hartt School, University of Hartford, the Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois, and the Banff Centre of the Arts in Canada (from 1978). In all these centres and elsewhere Ghiglia has been nurturing talents and forming or perfecting young artists' musical outlook and interpretation. In 1976 he “inherited” Segovia’s class in Siena's Accademia Chigiana. From 1983 to 2004 he was professor of guitar at the Basel Music-Akademie where he taught post-graduate students. He now regularly gives summer classes in Europe (at the Festival d'Arc in southern France, at the Chigiana Academy in Siena, Italy, and at the Festival Garnanno, Italy), America and the Middle East. Founder of the International Guitar Competition of Gargnano (Italy), Ghiglia boasts a very high number of first prize winners among his students, in competitions around the world.

Oscar Ghiglia has recorded for Angel and Nonesuch Records.

--  Biography from the Bach Cantatas website (with slight emendations).  


This interview was done in mid-April of 1998.  It was at the time of his annual performances and classes at Northwestern University.  Portions were aired on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago (along with recordings) a few weeks later to mark his 60th birthday, and now the entire conversation is being presented on this website twenty years later, to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Bruce Duffie:   How has the teaching and the appreciation of the guitar changed in recent years
if at all?

Oscar Ghiglia:   It’s been developing all over.  It has been developing a lot.  When I was beginning, my teacher was self-taught, and now everybody’s had at least five or six teachers.  The opening of most schools and conservatories in Europe has been very important for this.  It started out in Rome in ’54, and in Madrid it has been open for a few years.  At the same time, we did a big thing in ’64 in the United States, when Segovia came to the University of California at Berkeley, and had a four or five-week master class, to which I was appointed as assistant.

BD:   So you had already arrived at that point?

OG:   I had been playing quite a lot, and had graduated from the conservatory.  At the same time, I had already a first prize.  In Paris, I had won a most important competition in ’63, and I had my first recording out.  So I was beginning.  Also, in ’64 was the start of my world concert tours.  After the Berkeley stint, I traveled further west to Japan, and back to Europe.

ghiglia BD:   Do you like traveling all over the world with your guitar and with your music?

OG:   I liked it a lot, and I still like it a lot.  It’s probably one of the most stimulating things one can do.  I also understand why my English colleague, John Williams, prefers to stay at home, because he has many things
including money, of course.  But I have my life spread all over the world, like here, where I have seen many friends that I’ve had a long time.

BD:   So every place you go you make friends for yourself?

OG:   Right.  The hard thing is make the talent.  You can’t do that.

BD:   In every place you go, do you make friends for the guitar?

OG:   With the guitar, and through the guitar, and for the guitar.  They’re mostly guitarists, although I also have friends in the sciences, but mostly they are related somehow to music.

BD:   When you give a master class, obviously everyone in the class is a guitarist, and they are there to learn more about the instrument and about music.  How is that different from presenting a concert for a general audience?

OG:   That is quite different.  The main thing is that the player is sitting in front of you, which makes a big difference, but otherwise there are many things in common.  You have to awaken his best interpretive abilities, so that’s the same as you do on stage when you try to play.  It doesn’t matter what kind of audience you have.  Audiences are all audiences.  I used to believe that certain audiences were, perhaps, a little bit particular
like when I played in Latin countries.  I’ve always had a feeling that they would prefer Latin music, and when I played in Germany, I thought they’d prefer Nineteenth Century music.  In a way it’s true, but you cannot do that.  One does what he can anywhere, and the audiences tend to participate in that.  It is the same with students.  You share a certain curiosity; you share certain values; you try to make something happen in both cases.

BD:   Something musical, or just ‘something’?

OG:   Something that happens to be expressed through music, but they’re not musical events in themselves.  I don’t believe that music is a separate science, and that there is only music.  Even science is related to philosophy, so why is music not related to life much more than one can say?

BD:   Then what is music?

OG:   Music???  I don’t know what is music because it’s something that expresses itself without the need of words, and for which words are useless.  You speak about it, but as soon as you start speaking then you don’t need words anymore.  It connects people who want to hear, and it expresses the same things that come from musical experience, and from life experience.  Life experience gives you impressions that you afterwards turn into language or into musical experience.  That’s the only way that makes music worth living for.  It’s not a means of making money
except for Michael Jackson, and people of that kindbut otherwise it’s an expression of life.

BD:   Do you want to draw the crowds to your concerts that Michael Jackson does to his?

OG:   That’s another point.  Probably I would have to put a lot of amplification into my guitar.

BD:   Is your music for everyone, including the Michael Jackson crowd?

OG:   I’m pretty sure that the people who attend pop concerts and who go to night clubs, also have an open mind for classical music.  It’s not necessarily the case that they’re staying because of the personal impact of a stage star.  He doesn’t have to play; he doesn’t have to sing; he just has to be there.  In a way we try to do the same thing, and we end up doing the same thing.  When you play, people like you.  Whatever you do they will like, even though you can tell them later that it wasn’t really that good, or that it wasn’t what you were trying to do.  They have some kind of need to like things, so if they can give you that stamp, it’s not bad.

BD:   [Somewhat shocked]  You have put one over on the audience when you have a poor night???

ghiglia OG:   [Smiles]  Sometimes, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing because you can never really tell what people like.  An artistic experience is a chance that you give people to like themselves, so if they end up liking themselves they applaud.  If I am the cause, or offer some kind of help for that, then it
s better, but I also have to like myself.  Sometimes I don’t, sometimes I do.

BD:   Are there nights when everything comes together and it all works?

OG:   For sure, and that’s nice.

BD:   Is there ever a night when it’s perfect?

OG:   I don’t know about that.  I’m not looking for that.  I’m not a perfectionist.  I know that I regret not being a perfectionist in a way, because by scraping and trying to climb up as high as you can, you end up higher than if you just woke up and played.  But I’m a little afraid of trying to get things perfect.  I try to get excellence.  Then when I’m hooked on it, so to speak, I let the music speak for itself.

BD:   But you’re helping it along?

OG:   Of course, I’m always participating in that.

BD:   How much is the music that the composer has written, and how much is Oscar that you have put in?

OG:   I don’t think there’s any Oscar.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Not at all???

OG:   [Laughs]  No, and I think that the music comes in and I interpret it.  If I had to interpret it in my own way, with my own view of my own representation of music, then I would be in trouble.  I would be really in a difficult spot.

BD:   Isn’t this the interpretation?  You must feel differently about a piece at different times, or you must see it differently than other guitarists.

OG:   That’s for sure.  I don’t mind seeing it differently.  I understand the question, and I know what you want to get at, and it’s a very important issue, but I don’t believe that interpreting a piece of music will necessarily change it from what the composer gave.  I actually have found this sometimes when I teach and interpret pieces for my students.  These are sometimes brand new pieces that I’ve not heard before.  They might have just been composed the night before, or the week before, and my student plays it.  He plays this music, and sometimes he comes with a friend who is the composer.  I don’t know him, so I go over the piece, and after he’s played it I go over the piece again and bring out all the things that he’s not been able to bring out.  This changes the interpretation, necessarily, and I see the composer
s smile get bigger all the time, because that is what he wanted but he couldn’t say it or he couldn’t write it.  There were no other ways to meet it.  In other words, it becomes some kind of sign, and you understand the sign.  You’re not just playing the particular score in itself, but when you understand the meaning of it, the signs, the gestures from the smallest to the larger elements of music, you understand what it means and what it wants to say.  It doesn’t matter if the music was written by Stravinsky or Bach, or by somebody else.  It’s there.

BD:   It sounds like you’re a miner digging for nuggets of beauty in the music.

OG:   Right.  You dig for nuggets, and then you’ve got to do the scraping, and that is more the style.  But if you do it on poor stones, it doesn’t work.

BD:   Is this what you look for
something that is not just poor stones?

OG:   That’s goes by itself, I guess.  There are nice-looking stones, but there are also better elements.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   From the repertoire for the guitar, and transcriptions, how do you decide what you’re going to play, and spend your time on, and what you’re going to let go?

OG:   It depends on how much time I have, and how many times I’ve been in the same town, many things go into the selection process.  If I have to play the pieces that I like the best, I have no problems, but if I have to play in a town where I have played twenty-five years in a row, then I can repeat things, but not everything.

ghiglia BD:   But these are things that are in your repertoire.  How do you decide what you will put in your repertoire?

OG:   I like to fill the repertoire with works of all kinds, of all styles, of all periods
contemporary, ancient music, Renaissance and older, or baroque such as Bach, and many guitar composers like Villa Lobos, Sor, and also composers of today who are researching and looking outside, composers who have never written for the guitar and will try it for the first time.  I played a piece once by Donatoni.  It was a new piece for me which I played a few times and I didn’t think it was a good sounding piece.  It was an ugly piece, actually.  I was going to play in a little chapel in northern Michigan, and I thought these people will not like this piece.  It was in the program because I was playing the same program wherever I went.  So I told them, I have to warn you that this piece you’re going to hear now is not a beautiful piece.  It is a piece that has very ugly connotations at times.  It’s not a pleasant piece of music to listen to.  It’s rather arrogant and aggressive, and you might not like it, so you don’t have to like it.  But if you like it, don’t feel ashamed to show it.

BD:   Did they like it?   [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Peter Maxwell Davies, and Richard Wernick.]

OG:   A lot!  It was about the most successful piece on the concert.

BD:   Did that give you courage, then, to warn each audience when you played this piece?

OG:   [Laughs]  Well, I would have to do it almost for every piece I play in different ways!  But I was very happy to see that.  The way they responded was really ready and spontaneous, and it showed that they had understood.  It’s just like seeing a movie like The Fly.  If you see on TV at two in the morning, you might not be able to sleep afterwards.  You immediately have something in your head.  This is a horror movie, so if you want to see it, you can see it.  You can also like it, but you don’t have to.  I like that actor [Jeff Goldblum] who is now doing films about dinosaurs [Jurassic Park].

BD:   What advice do you have for people who want to compose music for the guitar?

OG:   Just go ahead and do it!  Then contact a good guitarist and discuss it openly to see if what he wants can be done.  If he’s a pianist or a violinist, he should play it on his instrument.  He should make sure that the playing of the piece is also viable on the guitar.

BD:   Technically it just might not work?

OG:   It might not work, so you correct that, but still it might not be a good piece to play.  It should be somehow retranslated into the guitar language, which it also has highs and lows.  It has highs in which it sounds very well, and lows in which it sounds not at home at all.

BD:   Do you use any amplification?

OG:   No, I don’t usually; only when I play with orchestra at certain times I have, but I prefer not to.  I’m like Segovia.  He got very mad when they amplified his guitar.

BD:   I just wondered if it had gotten subtle enough that it would be viable in the concert hall.

OG:   I’m sure it has, and I’ve heard concerts with amplification.  It is certainly going through as far as sound goes.  Sometimes it’s not nice to look and see one or two or three or four amplifiers there.

BD:   But maybe if it’s so discreet that you don’t even know they’re there...

OG:   That would be okay, yes.  In fact, it would be all right.  I think we have the means.  You can also distribute hearing aids to the people who don’t hear very well.  Sometimes that’s a problem in the hall when hearing aids are whistling.

BD:   Is it the fault of the composer for not balancing the guitar with the orchestra better?

OG:   Definitely, because the orchestra has an incredibly large, vast dynamic world.  It can play as soft as a whisper, and it can shout as loud as a bomb.  But sometimes this is not understood.  Villa Lobos, for instance, was a great composer, and he knew the guitar very well.  Unfortunately, he put the guitar together with a trombone and bassoon.  These are big instruments that were supposed to have a dialogue, and it’s possible.  In this case, once I conducted an orchestra for a student who had to play this concerto by Villa Lobos.  I had to pray on my knees that the bassoonist would play as soft as she could ever play, and the trombone had to put a mute into his bell.  There are many things to do, but still it’s almost impossible to do, unless you don’t use those instruments.  If composers think of the orchestra in terms of trombones and bassoons, then it’s different.  I’d never write a guitar concerto with a brass band, for instance.

BD:   How do you divide your career between solo appearances, orchestral appearances, masterclasses, and teaching?

OG:   It used to be all together.  Now I just go out for a couple of concerts, and a couple of teaching jobs.  I teach all year round in Basel.  I have had a course since 1983 at the Academy of Basel, which is very rewarding.  I teach also at the Academy of Sienna where I started when I was a kid with Segovia.  I have taught there since 1976.

BD:   Is it special to go back where you studied?

OG:   Oh, yes, that is very, very special, but the first day was very depressing because it’s a very old town, a Renaissance town that’s not very exciting from the point of view of enjoyment.  You meet with the students, and you go to eat, you go to dance, you go to walk around, and as soon as the students left and everybody said
Good-bye, Maestro, I was left alone.  That felt bad, but I always like to mix with my students.  I will never give that up.  I’ve always been friends with my students, so that’s why I also teach.

ghiglia BD:   Are the students better today when they come to you than they were ten or twenty years ago?

OG:   They’re more informed for one thing.  They know more about what they want.

BD:   Are they better technicians?

OG:   That’s definitely so.

BD:   If they’re better technicians and they’re better informed, are they better musicians?

OG:   That is harder.  That takes longer.  It takes a long time.  Of course, being more informed they can be taught more easily, but you still find once in a while a few students who really have a big talent.  They’re the same as they used to be.

BD:   Are there enough guitarists in the world, or perhaps too many guitarists in the world?

OG:   Never enough!  Sometimes I think there are not enough, considering that there are so many violinists and so many pianists.  There probably aren’t enough, but there are many more now than there used to be twenty years ago.  When I started teaching here in 1964, there were a few.  There was James Norris, who started the Classical Guitar Society here in Chicago, and there were guitarists who were playing both classical and jazz, but very few classical guitarists.  There was Ron Purcell of California, and I sort of went hopping from all these places bringing, so they thought, a
good word because I was coming from Segovia’s course from Siena.  I had a diploma, and they thought I was everything!  I had more and more classes, and I was teaching more than I could actually afford to, and after a few years I decided to stop that.  It was okay from the point of view of meeting friends and making new friends, and teaching and having jobs, but it was not for good for me because I’d spent so much time traveling to different places.  I started a classical guitar department at the Aspen Festival in 1969, and it’s still going now.  There is a former student of mine teaching there, Sharon Isbin.  She’s been there already almost ten years.  I left in 1986 because it was impossible to teach there anymore without raising enough money to pay for the school facilities, and to pay my fee.  I couldn’t go out raising money all the time.  When I was there it was beautiful.  It was expensive, but affordable.  The first year, the students came with their guitars across their shoulders, and just walked in and were sleeping in the woods.  The second year it was much better, and the third there were sixty-five students.  We became very famous then, and I had to start having assistants.  Eliot Fisk and Sharon Isbin were my two main assistants there.  It went on for many years like that until the funds were depleted, and we needed help from the government.  The students didn’t have any more money to go out there, and the prices went up.  I just spoke with a violinist and teacher who was there.  He said it’s more and more difficult.  Now it’s the billionaires who are chasing away the millionaires!  [Both laugh]

BD:   Everything just keeps escalating.

OG:   Yes, escalating.  I was just thinking about what would happen if I had bought that little apartment I was staying in back in 1969.  It was available and not so expensive.  Now, everything is so much more.

BD:   It was expensive then.  You just realize that it would be cheaper now.

OG:   It would probably be, but we didn’t have the money back then.

BD:   It’s always just out of reach.

OG:   [Sighs]  Just always a little out of reach.

BD:   Does it please you that the music is always just within your reach?

OG:   Yes, that’s a good thing, and that’s a nice thing to say.  That’s probably why I like making music more than making money, because when you make money, there’s always something out of reach, always something you want that you can’t reach or can
t have.  All the things you have become worthless.  I work with something musical in mind, and all I have has to be worth something.  The simplest ideas I have are worth enough for me to continue, and then everything becomes large as I develop from those little things.  It’s not so easily within reach.  You have to still do a lot of digging because there are other things that are more reachable, and they tend to get in the way.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Tell me about your instrument.  

OG:   My instrument is a Fleta Spanish guitar that I have had since 1989.  It
s the best instrument that I have, and I have many instruments like that.

fleta guitar

Ignacio Fleta Pescador
(31 July 1897 – 11 August 1977) was a Spanish luthier and a crafter of string instruments such as guitars, violins, cellos, violas, as well as historical instruments. Fleta is widely regarded as one of the foremost guitar makers in the history of the instrument and sometimes described as the Stradivarius, or Steinway, of the guitar. Born into a family of cabinet makers, he initially built string- and historical instruments, and was inspired by Andrés Segovia to focus his efforts on the guitar.

During Ignacio Fleta's Golden Age, from the 1960s to the 1970s, he revolutionized the cedar top and is considered the greatest maker in that material. Fleta's guitars from this period are known as the " Rolls-Royce" of the classical guitar world.

BD:   I assume you have a number of guitars, but there must be one that you prefer to play.

OG:   This is the one that gives me more satisfaction although it’s more difficult to play.  It’s too small for my hands, and it does not travel very well when the weather is not right.  It loses sound, and so on.

BD:   Because of the change in humidity?

OG:   Humidity and temperature, but it’s the one that when I play well, I play better than with the others.  The others seem to have a limit, after which, I don’t get more.  But when I practice, I never practice on this instrument.  I take other instruments that have nice fingerboards that I can really feel right.  They are also good in terms of sound, but not so surprisingly.  On the Fleta, when you dig deep, you find gold.  The other ones you don’t.

BD:   You have to dig, but once you dig, it’s there?

OG:   Yes, it’s there, so I’m happy for that.  It’s like a person, this one.

BD:   Do you have some instruments that work better for baroque music than twentieth-century, and do you change them around for performance?

OG:   There are a lot of people who do that.  You can’t really think that, because for one thing, the guitar was not there at the baroque period.

BD:   It was the lute?

ghiglia OG:   A lute is a lute is a lute.  It has nothing to do with the guitar, so I don’t see how there could be a guitar sounding more like a lute, or one that sounds less like the lute.

BD:   Do you ever play the lute?

OG:   I have a lute, and I know many lute players, and I love to hear the lute.  It’s very similar to the Spanish guitar because of all the left-hand technique, the tying over, the slurring of the notes.  Unfortunately, today when they play lute music, the guitarists tend to try to imitate the keyboard.  The keyboard is the impersonal instrument with all those beautiful keys, one next to the other, and there’s no actual traveling.  You just depress them, and play, and they all respond the same.

BD:   It’s just a machine?

OG:   It’s much more a machine than a lute is.  If you think of an instrument like the lute, think of Chinese medicine.  I don’t know if it really makes sense, but every point on the human body responds to a different part of the organism, and has responses elsewhere.  A certain finger corresponds to the heart, and so on.  I think that an instrument in which you have to go and make the notes, every point has a different meaning.  The instrument has eight strings, and you can take those same notes in so many different moods and so many different feelings, but on a keyboard you have got those notes already there.

BD:   When you’re playing the guitar, you have it in front of you in your hands.  Are you playing an instrument, or does it become really part of you?

OG:   You’re playing an instrument, whatever that means.  Actually, it becomes part of your environment more than it becomes you.  You respond to the environment, and you respond to the instrument in about the same way, so it’s like if you are walking or dancing or sitting or sleeping.  On an instrument, there are certain things you do, and you transfer your weight from one note to the other like one finger to the other.  When you walk, the keyboard is actually your ground, and everything we do is transferred to the ground, and it ends up on the ground and in the ground.  When we play the guitar, we create an artificial ground, which is the instrument.  We live on it.

BD:   You live on the resonance of the sound?

OG:   Ah, no, no, no!  There’s also a resonance, but resonance is a more spiritual world.  The real concrete world is the instrument as a piece of wood and strings, as a piece of machinery.  It’s something of a machine, yes.

BD:   But a very special machine?

OG:   Special, but when you drive a car you’ve got a special machine there, and you respond to it in many ways
except that you don’t have a deadly accident if you miss the note!  [Much laughter]

BD:   Are there still improvements being made to the construction of the guitar?

OG:   Yes, I’m sure that there are, and some instrument makers have a lot of intuition because it’s not really understood yet how a good instrument is made
although there are schools of thought, and there are makers that now make very good instruments, consistently good instruments by American, German, English makers.

BD:   With the violin, performers are always wanting to play the old instruments
the Stradivarius and the Amatis.  Are there some guitars extent from that era that are perhaps better than today, or have we made a better guitar today than before?

OG:   We have, because the instrument at the time of Amati was not the same size.  It was smaller and had fewer strings, and was not the instrument of today.  It was a different instrument.  It was a baroque instrument.  A baroque guitar, like the baroque violin, is a different instrument.  Today’s instruments are not the same as the ones made back then.  Today, nobody makes violins as well, apparently, as Amati or Stradivarius, but that’s not really the issue.  The point is that violinists respond to these instruments in a magic way.  If they don’t know what instruments they are playing, sometimes they play as well on a modern instrument.  I know Franco Gulli, who’s a very famous violinist.  He teaches in Bloomington, and he always travels with a Stradivarius but he never plays it!  He prefers to play on another instrument, and told me that it was because it was more comfortable.  We are also instruments, and what matters is how we are tuned, and how we respond to the world of sound.  We are more important instruments than the instrument that we play.

BD:   So, it’s your responsibility to get as much out of the music and out of the instrument, but it’s still you?

OG:   Sure, it’s you, actually.  It’s your instrument.  You play yourself as an instrument.  You resonate and you respond to certain things.  You see this sound, yes, or this sound, no.  Even if it’s a very great instrument, in your fingers you still respond in your own way.  There is a relationship.  When you marry a woman who has certain things that she keeps pounding on you, in the end you wind up accepting them.  [Much laughter]  So, also, a great instrument has these things, and in the end they make up your own personality.  They’re part of your personality.  They’ve been accepted and assimilated.  When you play a Spanish instrument, it gives a player, after a while, certain Spanish overtones, as well as what the instrument gets on its own.

BD:   Do you feel you’re married to one instrument?

OG:   You’re married to one instrument.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Or are you married to many instruments?

OG:   It is probably very polygamous, but when it comes to going to a big party, I take the one I always take.

BD:   Do you feel that you’re married to music?

OG:   I don’t know.  I don’t think there is a possible marriage to one art.  I think it runs differently.  I’m not jealous, for one thing.  If you are married to something, you’re jealous of others being married to the same one, so it doesn’t work at all like that.  We’re probably all married to the arts in general, so we all accept that, and we all need them, and we all worship them, and we all enjoy them, and so on.  But we can’t say that we have some kind of a pact of togetherness, to have to live together.  If one day I have to stop, I have to stop, and so I would try something else.

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BD:   Are you pleased with where you are at this point in your career?

OG:   [Thinks a moment]  Yes, and no.  Artistically, yes, and professionally no.  But I made the choice, so all in all I’m satisfied.

ghiglia BD:   You’ve made some recordings.  Are there still more recordings coming along?

OG:   This is one of the things.  I have made more than ten recordings, and they are out of print.  I would like to bring them back, but it’s too difficult.  You can’t buy the rights.  They won’t sell them to you.  They won’t give you some kind of franchise.  I have to find a company that would republish them.

BD:   So, you are pleased with the early recordings that you made?

OG:   Very much.  I think they’ve very good.  That’s why I’d like to republish them because they’re done in a very nice way.  Also, technically the sound is beautiful.  I was between twenty and thirty years old at the time, so that makes a difference.

BD:   You gave them a youthful vigor?

OG:   Right, a youthful vigor.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You don’t have a middle-aged vigor now?

OG:   [Laughs]  Yes, I would say that, but I wouldn’t trade the two.  One is today, but the other is something else.  I’m not looking for that now because it would give me tendonitis!  [More laughter]

BD:   Singers need to rest two or three days in between each performance.  How often can guitarists play
every night if they have to?

OG:   I guess they could if they know how to manage it.  They could play even better if they did play every day.  Of course, if they have to play every night for a year, no.  It’s not a matter of physical strength.  You can’t hold it together mentally because every time you have to squeeze some of the juices out, eventually you haven’t got the orange at all.  One of the hardest tours that I gave was in 1964 in Japan, just after that class in Berkeley.  I gave some twenty-three or twenty-four or twenty-five concerts in one month.

BD:   That’s too much!

OG:   That’s too much, but I enjoyed it very much.  I spent the time either on the train or visiting.  I went to see the castles.  I went to see the nicest places.  Then I played, and then took the train to the next place.  I was not tired.  Another time I was tired, but that was because I had one of those killer things
a week in Baltimore where I had to have sixteen concerts in five days.  

BD:   I hope you told your agent he was nuts!

OG:   But that was the first time I’d done it, and he reminded me that I had accepted it.  It was three concerts a day, and then one on Saturday.  Now I would tell him to forget it!

BD:   Thank you for coming back to Northwestern so often, and for taking the time with me today.

OG:   Thank you very much.  It was very pleasant.


© 1998 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Evanston, Illinois, on April 15, 1998.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following August.  This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.