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15 Questions to Matthew McAllister

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am feeling good, I have had a busy year which has made may a little tired and needing to relax over the Christmas period. I am back in Scotland in Glasgow at the moment. Which feels great after having been all over the world recently!

What’s on your schedule right now?
I have a concert to launch my new album 'Recital' - a collaboration with Irish flautist Aisling Agnew, we are giving a concert in a stunning old church in the East Nuek of Fife in Scotland where the album was recorded earlier this year. After that I have a performance in the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama just before Christmas and then I'm off to Ireland after the New Year for a short tour.

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?

I have no idea! Music really took over when I was younger, there are lots of other things I was interested in but I was so focused on music. I would love to be a world chess champion but that probably takes even more practice than what I'm doing now!

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
From a guitar perspective Julian Bream is a huge source of inspiration for me. When I was younger I got really excited listening to his playing. I didn't at the time really understand why I was so engaged by his playing but now I am older I realise the depth of musicality and sensitivity he has as a player. A more recent inspiration is the American guitarist Ralph Towner, I have recorded some of Ralph's compositions and I plan to record more in the future. A few other musicians who have had a real effect on me outside of the guitar world are the pianists Glenn Gould and Keith Jarrett, I remember the first time I heard a recording of Glenn Gould play and I realised that yes talent like this did exist!

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?

The hardest part for me at the moment is the travelling, it always takes a toll on your body and it is hard to keep yourself in the right shape for the next concert. Finding the time amongst the travel for real dedicated practice is also a tricky one, as I get busier and busier I am practising 3 programmes, my solo repertoire and two duo repertoires. Keeping all this music topped up and in great shape is demanding.

The best bits are numerous. I wouldn't do anything else. The communication is great, for me being in a foreign country and knowing a handful of words in it's language but being able to communicate so much to an audience through music is a great feeling. The chance to visit and perform in places I would never have dreamed I would visit is also an amazing experience. 

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

I'm not sure if there is a crisis. Every genre of music goes through strong and weak patches, classical music will come out the other side intact I'm sure. There is so much depth to our art form and as it continues to grow in new ways and new artists come on to the scene with fresh ideas it helps bring more people to classical music and makes it more accessible to listeners.

Unfortunately at the moment there is a real trend for the quick overnight media born semi-classical semi-pop style acts that is showing classical music in a very odd light. Some classical music is being produced and marketed in a similar way to the mass pop culture at the moment, but not good pop, instead it is the mass produced boy band style of corporate entertainment that really doesn't have a place in classical music.

This is merely a trend and I feel that most real enthusiasts and artists see through it and continue to produce and enjoy performances and recordings that offer new repertoire, fresh interpretations and communicate a deep love for music.  

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?

It all depends on the repertoire you are recording the reasons for recording it.

It is a bit of a minefield though!

With my first solo album I needed to record an album that showcased my level  of performance on the classical guitar, so therefore it featured works that had been previously recorded a good few times but alongside that, to balance it out, there was a world premiere of a new piece for guitar by a Scottish composer and also some works by lesser known contemporary composers who I felt strongly I wanted to record.

There are a multitude of things you have to consider when making a recording, now my albums are more geared around new music, never before recorded arrangements and world premieres.  I know artists who did it the other way around though, starting with the more avant garde recordings and later moving to record more standard repertoire.

You have to believe in you recordings and you have to have people close to you who you can trust to be your ears and tell you, “no, there is no need to record that!” Having faith in a producer is an important aspect in all of this.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

I love watching an artist communicate with an audience, I enjoy seeing someone play who really acknowledges the audience and performs to them and also for themselves. Often the uptight atmosphere of many classical performances is a bit off putting for me, if a player is really enjoying themselves and letting this communicate to the audience then I really enjoy it. It is possible to be 'in the zone' and relaxed.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
Many things. First and foremost a player can only be responsible for their interpretation of a piece of music, they cannot legislate for what anyone else may feel or think. For example I have in concerts endeavoured to perform a piece in a specific way with a chosen phrasing that I feel illustrates something and an audience member or colleague has comprehended something completely different from my performance. I always concentrate on putting forth an interpretation that I believe in and that I feel I can communicate well to an audience, copying another player’s interpretation is a dangerous game.

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.
True. I my opinion it is the interest of a player to put some of there own emotion and feeling into the music. We are not robots. Hopefully at the core of every musician and performer is a real childlike excitement about music and an uncontrollable desire to play and perform music, if you try an suppress this instinct and detach yourself from the music I feel it's not as honest an interpretation.

True or false: “Music is my first love”
False. After my mother, father, relatives girlfriend and friends yes! Without all the people around me who share in my love for music and help me make music and give concerts it wouldn't be as amazing an experience. I enjoy it more because it isn't a solitary insular thing that is just for me. Music is about intereraction and sharing it with as many people as is possible, I love the fun and enjoyment music can bring so many different people.

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.

False. If you take a young child to a symphony orchestra concert they will be mesmerised by the sounds and visuals on display. You will probably find that they couldn't tell you the names of many of the instruments the are seeing and hearing but the experience will be vivid one. In concerts I like to explain the background to works that I am going to perform and I like people to have a narrative or idea that can help stimulate their imagination when listening to it but a person does not have to be educated about classical music to enjoy it. Unfortunately though many concerts are given with an absence of background information and I don't mean stuffy long winded programme notes, I mean the performer or concert leader addressing the audience and telling them something about the music and helping the audience relate to the music. The attitude that you are just supposed to know is dying out!

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
That is a hard question. I would have a concert featuring artists from the country in which the hall was located, so as to keep the public informed about home grown talent. I would try and invite some international performers to the venue to give solo recitals and also masterclasses during the day so as some information was actually passed on first hand to aspiring players.

I would try and get a lecture series from older greats to come and talk about their life in the music world. Perhaps performers who do not give concerts anymore but would be happy to come and give a lecture. Not sure what else, I need some time to think about that question. 

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

Recently I have been sifting through a few cd's that I have had for a while now but not sat down and listened to properly. Among them are Graham Anthony Devine's 'British Guitar Music', Sting's 'Songs form the Labyrinth', Andras Schiff's live recording of the 'Goldberg Variations' and ’Allan Neave’s ‘Guitarra Internacional’. 

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

I tried piano and lute. I wasn't anything to shout about on either! I still enjoy playing a little piano but unfortunately very seldom and I can only remember a handful of tunes. Lute was great fun but a life long dedication would be needed to really become accomplished at such a difficult instrument.

Merula (Natural Studio Records) 2004
Maelasta (Natural Studio Records) 2005
Recital (Natural Studio Records) 2006


Matthew McAllister

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