Karin Schaupp interviewed in the Australian
German-born, with an Australian musical education, you’re regarded as one of the world’s top classical guitarists. How did it all begin?
My mother, Isolde, is a classical guitarist and she says that I heard the instrument in the womb. As I was growing up it was always that special sound that appealed to me – it’s lyrical and gentle, emotional and very moving. I wanted to make that sound. And, of course, I wanted to copy my mother.
You first performed in public at an early age. Did you take to the stage like a duck to water?
Yes and no. I loved performing when I was young and it seemed very natural to me. I began to suffer bad stage fright when I was about 16, quite suddenly, despite my previous performing experience. I was determined to find a solution so I began to explore the relaxation and imagery techniques used by sports people, and they worked.
It’s a beautiful instrument but the classical guitar is not often found in the classical orchestra…
The guitar has been present throughout the history of chamber music but it disappeared from orchestral writing in the classical period. Perhaps it’s because it has such a soft sound and makes a short note. But it’s occasionally heard in contemporary orchestral works and as a soloist in concertos.
Who do you look up to in the constellation of classical guitar greats?
The English guitarist Julian Bream – he’s a player I always come back to. I also admire the Scot Paul Galbraith and the Brazilian Carlos Barbosa-Lima. Then there’s the Australian John Williams, and of course Pavel Steidl, who I’m touring with: the first time I heard him he seemed to be playing beyond the guitar as if he were unrestricted by it.
Is there more music for guitar in the contemporary repertoire?
Absolutely, and some of it I’ll be playing with Pavel. Included in our Musica Viva program are pieces by the Australians Phillip Houghton and Ross Edwards. Of course we’ll be playing much more, from Spanish to Czech, from a Schubert transcription to Paganini.
Guitar seems a natural mate for the voice.
They have been very close friends through the ages. They’re very well balanced in terms of timbre. The guitar itself also has quite a vocal quality, you could say.
And, as an indispensable ingredient of the Latin sound, it’s also pretty sexy.
It can be sexy and passionate and lyrical and melancholy – it’s a very emotional instrument.
It’s possible that you’re better known outside of Australia. Do you still perform overseas?
I was travelling a lot more before I had two children – I have a boy of 10 months and a girl of four. For now I leave home in Brisbane only for projects I really feel I need to do.
Have you ever picked up an electric guitar and tried to play heavy metal?
I have pretty eclectic tastes but when it comes to making music my voice is in the classical guitar. To totally rock out on an electric guitar is not something I’m drawn to.
Can you tell us something quirky about your instrument?
Classical guitarists pluck the strings with the nails of the right hand. This became established in the 19th century and it has become quite a science these days, in terms of nail care, nail shaping and artificial nails. I’m a skilled manicurist.