Madhavan Somanathan was on a tour of India. He was a featured artiste at the Bangalore International Classical Guitar Festival & Competition, and from there he went on to Pune, invited by the Pune Guitar Society to perform a concert at the IISER auditorium. More about that concert, and its programme here. After it all got over, Veda Aggarwal did a short interview with him.
This is the first year we’ve had you as a featured artiste for a classical guitar festival in India. What was that experience like?
In one word, I would say my experience was very motivating. I spend a lot time thinking about and studying music individually. I do get a chance to share my ideas and musicianship with my close friends and colleagues in bits and pieces, but it’s a different feeling to go out and play an hour of music of my choice for an audience of predominantly young guitarists each of whom must have a different relationship to guitar and music than myself. I really got the feeling that people in the audience had come to watch and experience something novel and I hope I was able to offer them something new. It was truly a pleasure for me to meet all the students, teachers and the other artists from different parts of Asia. The most motivating part for me, was to interact with many of the students at the festival who showed both strong commitment and a keen interest in learning the guitar irrespective of their level or background in music.
What were your highlights from this tour – both at the Bangalore International Classical Guitar Festival and the concert later in Pune?
In Bangalore, the highlights were getting an opportunity to meet and teach the students, spending some valuable time speaking with the other artists, especially Masao Tanibe and Thu Le! and then getting a day to see a little of bit of Bangalore after the festival — clearly a city with a lot of great people and ideas.
In Pune, the highlights were my audience for the concert — they were really great — and getting to spend some time outdoors exploring with Kuldeep and Veda before I went home.
Tell us a bit about the music in your programme. We would like to know more about the Rozsa Sonata in particular.
I wanted to play a programme with music from different time periods and since I played only one or two pieces from each period, I chose to play mostly pieces that challenged me by their musical depth. I started working on the Rozsa Sonata about a year and a half ago, and have come to really love this piece. It’s different from the rest of the programme because as opposed to being tonal (where the harmonic or chordal progression revolves around a central key or tonality), it is modal music where the harmonic progression is freer and relative to that which has come before. In a way I think it’s even more accessible to people who are less familiar with western music. Miklos Rozsa, the composer, was a Hungarian musician who immigrated to the U.S. during the Second World War and once there he wrote a lot of music for films. It took me a lot of time before I began to really put together the composer’s intention in the first movement of the Sonata. The second movement is beautifully melodic albeit with many interesting harmonies, and I think it showcases potential of the classical guitar to sing, whereas the third movement is fast, exciting and percussive. The Sonata was composed in 1986, towards the end of Rozsa’s life and is certainly one of the nicest 20th century sonatas I’ve heard.
What advice do you have for younger musicians from India who play the classical guitar?
Be disciplined but also thoughtful and efficient in your practice. You have to set the standards for yourself! Ultimately no one else can do that for you. Finally, listen to music of all kinds and from all time periods – learn as much as you can and not just about music! It’s important not to forget the variety and depth of knowledge that is out there, a limitless source from which we can grow and be inspired.
What do you have planned for 2016?
I plan to record of a CD of romantic guitar music in duo with my Korean guitarist friend, Jihyung Park, and also plan to finish a website who purpose will be to connect classical guitarists around the world (more details later!).