Antigoni Goni. Impressions on the guitar.
Under the pale light of one the first autumnal afternoons in Brussels, the great Greek guitarist Antigoni Goni, wrapped in a red scarf, écharpe rouge alla Toulouse Lautrec, shared in this interview with Mundo Clásico her future career plans and her passion for the guitar.
And her future career plans are really big and good news for the guitar, the guitar world and for all the guitar lovers: Antigoni Goni will be back in the spring of 2015 on the stages of the United States and Canada.
The red color of the scarf set the tone of the interview: passion and emotions coming to her lips, many times along the conversation, and thoughts on the border of infinity, forever.
Antigoni Goni is a true Master of Colors. In the course of her outstanding career she was able to tap like no others into the color palette of the classical guitar, giving to her music an unmatched chromatic richness and expressive fullness.
She had the honor and the pleasure to study with many exceptional guitarists such as Sharon Isbin or Oscar Ghiglia who inspired and helped her to develop her unique approach to guitar playing.
However, the roots of her inspiration run deep into her early teens when her idols were Ida Presti, Segovia and, in particular the extraordinary British guitarist Julian Bream whose, to use her own expression, she was a fan “even more than of the Beatles”.
She is currently preparing a new repertoire for her next concert season: pieces by the Bulgarian composer Atanas Ourkouzounov (1970), the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) and the Spanish composers Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) and Francisco Tárrega (1852-1902).
The interview started with a passionate solo by the Greek guitarist, a declaration of love to the guitar by
Antigoni Goni: Since I was a young kid, I fell in love with the voice of the guitar, its very sound. I love the guitar exactly for being so idiomatic and full of limitations. These are the characteristics which make our instrument so human and endearing. I see the limitations of the guitar as a challenge: they trigger my imagination and demand that I stay constantly alert, present and flexible in order to overcome them.
Berta del Olivo: Indeed, you have overcome always extremely well with your technique the limitations of the guitar. One example is your work with the legato.
Antigoni Goni: A good technique is important. Without it you cannot be free to express yourself and do justice to the music you are interpreting. I very often think that guitarists are wizards! A sort of illusionists: when we work with color, sustain and legato, we are called to constantly create what is not really there. The guitar is also extremely versatile. Its important role as a traditional instrument in many different cultures is enriching and liberating at the same time. I think that my choice of repertoire at the moment represents both the guitar’s folk and lyrical/singing nature. Next to the music of the Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth and the Bulgarian Atanas Ourkouzounov I am re discovering the beauty of Francisco Tárrega’s miniature pieces and Federico Moreno Torroba’s gorgeous Spanish Castles. I feel I am looking back to the Golden Spanish era of our instrument and Andrés Segovia’s repertoire.
Antigoni Goni with Italian guitarist Oscar Ghiglia in Athens
At this point, after Antigoni Goni had mentioned some of the main guitarists that influenced her style, namely Julian Bream, (with whom she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London); Andrés Segovia, (whose recordings had a great impact on her musical upbringing) as well as Oscar Ghiglia and Sharon Isbin (her teachers in Siena and NY’s Juilliard school), I asked Antigoni Goni for her favorite guitarists of the younger generation.
And indeed, she took sides and she pronounced four names, Gaëlle Solal, Irina Kulikova, Petrit Çeku and the Spanish Paola Requena Toulouse: a true and deep recognition from Antigoni Goni since she mentioned their names very slowly, as if she could feel back all the impressions that their interpretations had left on her.
Antigoni Goni: Whenever I listen to a guitarist who only cares to demonstrate technical brilliance, I am left unmoved and I think to myself: what a waste of one’s energy and time! Technique should only and always be a humble servant of the music. Endless acrobatic technical demonstrations can be impressive but when they are deprived of emotion are doomed to die fast leaving nothing behind. Impressions have to be reinforced by our senses in order for them to be kept alive in our memory. I believe that Art can change the world. The impact of an artistic experience that touches your heart and leaves you speechless is both powerful and enriching.
Light, color, impressions! These are the threads that bond Antigoni Goni with the Impressionists She is one of the latest Impressionists. Her unique and distinctive interpretations are based on careful analysis of the tone, color and light in the compositions.
Berta del Olivo: La Havana in1988 was a turning point in your career and your life.
Antigoni Goni: Indeed it was! Before 1988, I was a young girl with big dreams. Winning the prize for best interpretation of Latin American music in the International Guitar Competition in La Havana, with Leo Brouwer being its Artistic Director, gave me the chance to get a taste of who was who in the international guitar scene. There I had the chance to meet some of the biggest names in the guitar world at the time: Robert Vidal (Radio France), Maria Luisa Anido, Eli Kassner, Gareth Walters (BBC), Colin Cooper (Classical Guitar Magazine), Rose Augustine (Augustine strings) just to mention a few. These very people would be among my first professional contacts and eventually become friends and sponsors in my future projects and artistic endeavors. What an incredible experience for a 19 years old girl, who never travelled outside Greece, nor participated in any other international guitar event before!
Berta del Olivo: It was an extremely positive experience. I wonder whether you were close to tears after all the pressure of the rounds, and the emotion of obtaining the prize. Was there some definitive moment, maybe a conversation with your father on your way back to Athens when you made explicit your determination to build a career?
Antigoni Goni: Well, there were endless conversations with my father. I may have also cried, I do not remember now. It did not really matter. What mattered was that Leo Brouwer took a personal interest in me. Before the end of the festival and over a cup of coffee Leo asked me what my future plans, were and with whom would I like to study. ‘Julian Bream’, I replied quickly thinking that I was dreaming. Leo offered to write a letter of recommendation for the Royal Academy of Music of London, the only place where Bream taught regularly in master classes. That was it! A wish came true!
Antigoni Goni plays Leo Brouwer, Concerto Elegiaco
Berta del Olivo: And then, the rise to the top.
Antigoni Goni: Well, not exactly! Not that fast! That was the beginning of a long period of hard work, complete focus and dedication. From 20 to 26 years old I kept the same intense level of study, competitions, summer courses. Thankfully those years’ hard work paid-off and after a long line of prizes came the 1st prize at the GFA international competition which together with the Naxos prize officially marked the start point of my international career. It also marked an even longer period of long practicing sessions, strive for excellence and career pressure. There is more at stake once you create a name. Capitalizing and building on prizes is much harder than winning them.
Here comes success for a girl with big dreams and great expectations. Already at the beginning of the 90s, while in London, Antigoni Goni became a lady of the British society: she was the winner of the Julian Bream Prize and received her award from the hands of Lady Di; while her performance of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez at Covent Garden was introduced by the actress Lady Judy Dench; and she was chosen by conductor André Previn to be the teacher of his son.
Like in the novel by Dickens, an anonymous benefactor, whose identity this person never wanted to reveal publicly, played a very important role in funding her two years of study with Sharon Isbin at the Juilliard School in New York. Previously, Antigoni Goni had also received scholarships by the British Council and by the Onassis Foundation.
Antigoni Goni during a workshop with children in San Francisco
What followed in the interview was another brilliant solo of reflections by Antigoni Goni: Since I was young I was fortunate to meet inspiring, generous individuals who cared to share their experience and wisdom with me as well as extended a helping hand when needed. It was them who made the real difference. The number of prizes won, the tens of hundreds of concerts played or the thousand of CD’s sold was never in the center of my attention. Music performance is about the desire to share and communicate with people in your audience. A heartfelt comment from an audience member counts even more than that of a famous critic. People matter. Without personal involvement we get lost and eventually forgotten. The Volterra Project partially derived from my wish to give back the blessings I received. In Volterra we care about the next generation of guitarists and we wish to give them the reassurance that they are not alone and that we, the older generation, care about their struggle and wish to partake in their artistic and personal growth.
Antigoni Goni together with her husband Michele Rosa-Clot, Managing Director of the course, created The Volterra Project summer guitar institute: an innovative experiment in classical guitar training, offering a 360 degree formative course with highest level guitar master classes; music physiology training; and music business management seminars taught by experienced, internationally renowned professionals.
This year’s edition, under the title Women in Music, took place from 9th to 17th July and was covered by Mundo Clásico.com (you can read the article 21 personas excepcionales, 8 días excepcionales)
Berta del Olivo: Do you have any kind of ritual to tame the nerves before a concert?
Antigoni Goni: My ritual to tame nerves starts a long time before the concert with the thorough preparation of the repertoire. The better I am prepared the better I control my nerves. What always helps me a great deal is to visit the concert hall the day before the concert. This way I can process the environment internally and prepare mentally every step of the performance.
Berta del Olivo: Regarding your pedagogical career (Antigoni Goni is the Head of the Guitar Department at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels), do you think that your brilliant career as a concertist, with so many prizes achieved, could have a kind of intimidating effect on the students that want to follow your steps?
Antigoni Goni: Well, no. At least, I do not think so. It is of course natural that it takes about a year to build a well-structured, honest and trustworthy relationship, which allows an open and direct communication. Being a teacher is a complete different game: it is sacred and full of responsibility.
Berta del Olivo: In which occasions have you intervened with the parents of your students?
Antigoni Goni: I only intervene when I see parents that treat their children like racehorses. I do not consider life and music a race. I believe that before being a musician students must be well rounded human-beings: feel good inside their own skin, build friendships, fall in love, travel, have fun, learn by life itself. Talent always finds its way and every individual has its own personal journey to go through.
Berta del Olivo: Please, Antigoni, tell us the main strengths and main weaknesses of your Spanish students at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.
Antigoni Goni: I had several Spanish students among the ones I had the pleasure to teach in my studio. Besides the many different personal qualities, they all shared a strong musical personality, strong instinct, and great temperament. Certainly, it would be simplistic to infer that the Spanish cultural background, which encased classical guitar music into its very sinews and bones, constitutes an instinctive musical backbone. It is true, however, that it creates a very fertile humus for the development of musical sensitivity and instinct. And this can also backfire: channeling all that comes natural and instinctive into a more rigorous and in-depth musical study is, sometimes, a very challenging and difficult task.
Antigoni Goni plays and talks about José Luis Merlin's Evocación (Suite del Recuerdo)
A great solo by the Greek master Antigoni Goni closed the interview. It was a solo of even greater intensity than the declaration of love to the guitar, with which she opened the interview. The final words were dedicated to her family and they were words of admiration, recognition, and above all, love.