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KRZYSZTOF PEŁECH Interviewed by GUY TRAVISS

Krzysztof Pełech with Joscho Stephan and his quintet.

GRADUATING FROM the Karol Lipi ski Academy of Music in Wrocław where he studied under the direction of Piotr Zaleski, Pełech then went on to study with Gordon Crosskey at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Today Pełech gives around sixty concerts a year (recitals, chamber-music performances, and as a soloist with orchestras). He performs in the ensembles Krzysztof Pełech & Robert Horna classical guitar duet; Duo Guitarinet (Jan Jakub Bokun - clarinet); and Mazurtango (Piotr Rangno - accordion). In addtion, Pełech regularly gives concerts with Jorge Morel who has also dedicated one of his compositions to him. He is the cofounder and artistic director of the International Guitar Festival Gitara+, held in Wrocław since 1998, as well as the creator and artistic manager of Krzyzowa Summer Guitar Festival. For several years on Radio Wrocław he broadcasted his own programme, Guitar Sculptors. At this time Pełech is completing a doctoral research programme in Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz. You invested a lot of time as a competitor in your early career. Why were competitions important to you and at what point did you decide to stop competing? I started the regular life of a competitor quite early, at the age of eleven. There were many competitions held in many countries (including very exotic ones) and all were of huge importance to Classical Guitar Magazine

me. I quickly realised, however, that such sportlike rivalry was difficult to assess reliably. For me, they were a ‘necessary evil’. Competitions will be the most efficient springboard for young musicians until someone comes up with something just as efficient, but also more friendly, eliciting less negative emotions and causing less disappointments. There have emerged the opportunities to take part in television programmes like Got Talent!, which, with a little bit of luck, may be very helpful and ensure broad media recognisability, or even a short-lived fame. Nowadays, there is little room for culture in the media, unless you pay for it, just like you pay for advertising a product. It seems to me that competitions organised today have slightly devalued themselves and do not have the potency they had some 20 years ago. Just how effective do you think competitions are at launching a career? In the past, after one returned from a competition with the first prize, the media showed keen interest in the success of a young guitarist. There were interviews in the press (and not only titles devoted to music), invitations to national television and radio recordings, concert proposals and so on. Victories at competitions gave me excellent new instruments (I have won two exquisite Manuel Contreras guitars) and cash from which I could buy a small car and an apartment! 11


What about the people you network with? I was lucky to have taken part in really diverse competitions, taking place in interesting places: Lome (Togo) and Pretoria (RPA), for example. Beside pure rivalry, I could often come to know many excellent musicians, teachers and composers who helped me in my later music career. They include Jorge Morel, Maurice Summerfield, Costas Cotsiolis, Edmund Jurkowski, Joseph Urshalmi, Colin Cooper…I gave up competitive rivalry because I simply didn’t need it. I started to give many concerts and record albums. And that is what matters most for a musician.

My next undertaking is the Summer Guitar Festival. With a history of more than 10 years, the event attracts around one hundred participants from all over the world to Krzyzowa (55 km from Wrocław). Within the Festival, there are workshops for classical guitar (conducted by the most excellent teachers and virtuosos from Poland and abroad), jazz, fingerstyle, flamenco guitar, as well as flamenco dance. The Festival is targeted at everyone: professionals and amateurs, beginners to the advanced, primary school pupils and university students. There is no age limit. www.gitara.krzyzowa.pl

You lead an active concert life, what perspective have you gained of your own work? My activity can be described as one with many strands. On the one hand, being loyal to the classical guitar, I enjoy performing recitals with diverse repertoire (Polish, Spanish and South American music). I also devote a lot of time to Bach, who is, in my opinion, the number one composer, the artist of all time. I have been lucky to perform with various orchestras on a regular basis. Of course, the immortal and timeless guitar hit, Concierto de Aranjuez, can be most often heard from the stage of Music Halls, but I also tend to convince directors of the institutions to include in concerts programmes Concierto Antico by Richard Harvey or Fantasie de la Danza by Jorge Morel. In addition, I greatly enjoy cooperation with such giants of non-classical guitar as Joscho Stephan (an absolutely amazing gipsy-swing guitarist, the successor of Django Reinhardt) or Tommy Emmanuel (the most fantastic fingerstyle guitarist). With Joscho Stephan and his quartet, we have given some 50 concerts across Poland and we are preparing concert tours for the coming years (I represent the artist in Poland). Moreover, I really appreciate giving chamber concerts. I form two duos: the Duo Guitarinet with clarinettist Jan Jakub Bokun and a guitar duo with Robert Horna.

Recording… As regards my recording achievements, an album containing Concierto de Aranjuez has been recently released by the DUX company, as well as an extremely interesting Concert for guitar and strings by Robert Kurdybacha (premiere recording). It would probably be nothing significant, if it wasn’t for the fact that the recording was made with the National Philharmonic Orchestra under Anotni Wit and the Amadeus Orchestra under Agnieszka Duczmal.

Like many performing artists who lead varied lives, you have your own festival. What’s the status of the event at this time? I have been the artistic director of the Wrocław Guitar Festival for 15 years. The event has become strongly rooted in the music landscape of Wrocław and it is the artistic showcase of the city. Within last year’s edition of the Festival, the King of Flamenco Guitar, Paco de Lucia, played for 6,000 people. www.gitara.wroclaw.pl

What do you feel is important with regard to treating audiences? The key element is the creation of a warm, intimate atmosphere. It is important to befriend the audience during the concert and to convince them that the classical guitar can be interesting. In my opinion, guitarists who perform these days often do not think about the audience’s preferences and likings, just playing the works they like, or want to be very ambitious, serious and choose repertoire

“My next undertaking is the Summer Guitar Festival. With a history of more than 10 years, the event attracts around one hundred participants from all over the world to Krzyzowa (55 km from Wrocław).”

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At 60 concerts per year you are a very active player. How have you managed to get yourself into this position? Nowadays, it is not enough to just work with the instrument, one has to be active in many areas. The 60 concerts per year you mention comprise performances in various configurations and chamber settings. I enjoy playing recitals, but I also like doing concerts with the excellent clarinettist Jan Jakub Bokun and the guitar duo (Robert Horna). I also perform with one of the Polish philharmonic orchestras at least once a month, and collaborate with recognised Polish composers and musicians from the jazz (Leszek Mozdzer, Krzesimir Debski) and popular world music worlds. This diversity lets me retain freshness and the joy of making music, since routine and boredom with what you do are the worst possible things.

Classical Guitar Magazine


that is heavy and difficult to absorb. This approach often results in almost empty concert halls or audiences leaving the halls after the interval. If we want to ensure high attendance at concerts, if we want to attract new listeners, we need to pay a lot of attention when selecting the repertoire for our recitals. Of course, one can play four serious, ambitious sonatas by contemporary artists, which will be appreciated by a small group of experts – music lovers and critics. Yet the vast majority of those who have decided to come to the concert will be overwhelmed by such repertoire. They will appreciate the virtuosity and hard work put into preparation of the repertoire, but they will probably never attend a concert like that again. I infer from my personal observations and experience that there are very few places and organisers who are capable of presenting the classical guitar in the appropriate conditions. Moreover, when you organise a guitar recital, it is very important to take care of several details such as: the room, acoustics, stage, appropriate lighting, sound system, setting, hosting the concert and establishing rapport with the audience. You identify South American music as a favourable style. Does this has something to do with the observations you have just made? Indeed, Latin music has stuck to me in a way and I like performing it very much. My friendship with Jorge Morel means a lot to me and I owe him a lot, but I also think that South American themes are extremely attractive and suitable for the classical guitar. I believe that the audience expects us to play just those kind of sounds. Therefore, I often and readily pick the works of composers like Astor Piazzolla, Jorge Cardoso and the aforementioned Jorge Morel. You have enjoyed a great career so far, what do you see as coming next? It must be admitted that the music market is currently very crowded and high competition is in place in the world of artists. On the other hand, it is difficult to meet an art management company which operates effectively and at the same time does not attempt to make quick money on the artist, use and deceive the artist and then abandon him or her. These are, at least, my observations, so I manage my affairs on my own. Over more than two decades, I have built a network of truly precious contacts that enable me to cooperate with guitarists and concert organisers worldwide. There is a certain trap hidden here. I do more and more frequently meet guitaristorganisers, who are at the same time the managers of 14

Krzysztof Pełech with Paco de Lucia.

various guitar festivals. In the majority of cases, the guitarists created their events only to make use of the opportunity of appearing at other festivals by way of exchange (so-called collaboration). They spend most of the time in front of the computer sending emails, while they devote tiny amounts of time to working with the instrument. This is how it is done: you arrange a meeting with a friendly mayor and present the idea of an excellent, unique guitar event. The friend mayor gives money to implement the task, and during a rather private event (there are usually several dozen people in the audience), quite mediocre concerts are performed. Such provincial mini-festivals are usually poorly publicised and posters are not even placed in the venues, artists stay in poor hotels and generally little happens. I would often experience such situations personally. It happened that we played (together with Jakub Bokun) a concert in a cave, where the conditions were extreme. Water was dripping on our heads, the temperature was 16 degrees and humidity exceeded 90%. We also performed open air concerts on a bush overgrown stage. We were bitten by mosquitoes and a pack of barking dogs lingered around. Now, I am telling this as an interesting anecdote, but we did not feel like laughing then. Meanwhile, the artists who reciprocated to us in such an interesting and original way had performed a professionally organised concert in a philharmonic hall with the accompaniment of the best orchestra in the city. I must admit that I let myself be tempted by the so-called collaboration more than once, which I sincerely regretted afterwards. Classical Guitar Magazine


The Wrocław Guitar Festival, of which I have been the director from the onset, is completely different. It is a huge event, of international standing. Together with Katarzyna Krzysztyniak (the managing director) we take care for our artists in a unique way. They stay at the best hotels, perform in good, prestigious halls, we also ensure presence in national media. Posters are displayed all around the city (the population of Wrocław exceeds 600,000), we also invest in billboards, tens of thousands of leaflets and brochures, advertisements are placed on the Internet, at airports, press and television interviews are held. Thanks to such marketing activities, we enjoy full audiences at all festival concerts and high interest from commercial media. What kind of teaching are you involved in at this time? I am very active as a teacher. I conduct the guitar class at the Music Academy in Bydgoszcz, where I supervise six students. Each year, I visit several dozen music schools and universities in Poland and abroad. I have prepared special packages, which cover: individual classes, my short recital performance, and a lecture entitled How to practice to acquire the skill? I share my almost 30-yearlong experience with young guitarists. I present new guitars and accessories, which have appeared on the market. I advise how to select the right instrument, how to care for the nails, how to properly hold the guitar, how to practice effectively etc. How do you advise young players on careers as guitarists? In my opinion, young guitarists who are seriously thinking about a career with the guitar should make the decision as teenagers: will I play for my own pleasure only? Will I become a guitar teacher? Will I embark on an international career performing solo or in a group? The earlier such a visualisation is made in one’s mind, the fewer disappointments that person will have after graduation. It is key to consider whether one plays for oneself, for the audience, or maybe just for the class? Each of the factors may be important, but their proportions are significant as well. The world is currently full of guitarists – craftsmen, playing mega-difficult programmes on carbon -sandwich guitars, which sound as if they have small loudspeakers built-in, at super quick (dizzy) tempos. Those guitar players very often forget about melody, a beautiful and noble sound, phrasing and vibrato. Their interpretations do not leave room for playing with timbre, and shading the dynamics and articulation. There are no emotions and and sense of building up the dradrammaturgy in a piece. Everything is played clearly, skilfully and loudly, and Bach sounds exactly like Piazzolla. I happen to attend such concerts more and more often, while real musician-guitarists can be met less and less frequently. Classical Guitar Magazine


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