THE CONTINUING RISE OF A CLASSICAL GUITARIST
Interview with Peter Fletcher
by William Gooch
published March 26, 2009
Peter Fletcher will be performing
at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall
on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 8pm.
When considering classical guitar, the names of Albeniz, Falla, and Rodrigo immediately come to mind. Aficionados of classical
guitar are probably familiar with the works of Corelli, Besard, Hayden, Gottschalk or Villas Lobos, but at closer examination there is a
wealth of composers—Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Lizst, Guonod, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov, just to name a few—who have created work for
one of the oldest musical instruments that’s still consistently played on concert stages.
In the tradition of Andre Segovia, Peter Fletcher is expanding the repertoire of classical guitar beyond Baroque and
19th century Spanish-influenced compositions. By making this musical genre more accessible to contemporary audiences, Fletcher
is growing this niche audience beyond graduate music students and culturally attuned baby boomers. Not content to just display his technical dexterity and the cerebral complexity of the classical guitar
repertoire, Fletcher is also on a mission to unearth relatively unknown composers and educate audiences about the limitless possibilities
of his chosen instrument.
Before his March 27 concert at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Peter Fletcher took a little time out of his whirlwind schedule
to talk to me about his upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall and his great love of classical guitar.
How did you become interested
in classical guitar?
Peter Fletcher: In the third grade I got a full-sized classical guitar, and my
teacher, John Sutherland, who was the head of guitar studies at
University of Georgia, said that if I started with the classical repertoire, other types of music would become easier. In the fourth grade I
heard some recordings by Christopher Parkening and I was immediately hooked.
Who are some of your major
Peter Fletcher: Definitely, Andre Segovia, Christopher Parkening, John
Williams, Julian Greene and also a number of pianists, cellists, and conductors.
Why do you think that most
people associate classical guitar only with Spanish music or Spanish composers such as Albeniz, Rodrigo and Falla?
Peter Fletcher: The classical guitar became very popular in the early part of the 19th century with such composers and
guitarists as Fernando Sor, Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, and Mauro Guiliani, and then it went out of fashion. Andre Segovia is almost solely
responsible for bringing classical guitar back into vogue in the 20th century by commissioning work for the guitar. Most people
don’t know much about classical guitar, period. Outside of the niche audience that comes to my concerts, I am trying to expand people’s
knowledge of this music genre and increase audiences.
Do you feel that audiences are
growing in the United States?
Peter Fletcher: I do believe audiences are growing. I started touring full time in 2003 and I have seen my audience increase. The
target audience for classical guitar is kind of musically incestuous in that most audiences are accustomed to hearing music primarily from
the standard classical guitar repertoire. However, at my concerts audiences will hear not only music from the standard classical
repertoire, but also music that I have transcribed for classical guitar, and new music that I have found that no one else is currently
playing. So in that way I am expanding what people are used to hearing, as well as increasing the accessibility of the genre.
Who is your core
Peter Fletcher: When I am on tour my core audience is of the empty nest variety. By that I mean, college students, recent
graduates, classical guitar aficionados, and folks over 50. However, my core audience is expanding beyond the empty nest variety and
changes from city to city.
In 2002 why did you record an entire CD of Federico Mompou?
Peter Fletcher: When I got the record deal with Centaur Records they insisted that I record a CD of one composer’s work. I ended
up choosing Mompou’s “Suite Compostelana “and “Canciones y danzas” because they worked well for the guitar and it met the stipulations of
the record label. On a recent trip to Barcelona I met Federico Mompou’s widow, Carmen Bravo, and was honored to play some of Mompou’s work
from my CD for her.
Have you found that some
record labels give classical artists more flexibility in choosing music than other labels?
Peter Fletcher: I also record with Towerhill Recordings and they are more flexible than some other labels. I am only working with
Centaur Records and Towerhill Recordings at the present time. I have a third Centaur Records CD coming out in the Fall and it will be a
complete set of Edvard Grieg’s lyric pieces. I am very excited about the Grieg and I will play some of those Grieg pieces at upcoming
Carnegie Hall concert.
The music of Erik Satie is an unusual choice to record for classical guitar. Why that choice?
Peter Fletcher: When I recorded my CD of Satie (2005) it was the first classical recording of Satie on guitar. Satie wrote modern
French music that was very influential for twentieth-century composers like Ravel, Debussy, and even Stravinsky. Most French composers of
Satie’s era were trying to write music that was very Wagnerian in scope. In his time, Erik Satie was not thought of as a very serious
composer. His music was thought of as being too whimsical. I thought that some of Satie’s music would transcribe well for the guitar. I
also knew that no classical guitarist had ever transcribed and recorded Satie. My CD of Satie was also a good follow-up to my Federico
Mompou CD (2002).
Will you perform Satie at
Peter Fletcher: Yes, I will be performing three Satie compositions. Audiences will know “Gnossienne” from the movie Chocolat, and I’m also performing “Reverie du pauvre” and “Jack-in-the-box.” All three pieces can be
found on my Satie CD.
Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 3,”
which appears on your CD Peter Fletcher Plays Baroque Music for Guitar (2007) has been recorded by
many classical guitarists. Why did you choose to include this well-known piece on your most recent CD?
Peter Fletcher: Though “Cello Suite No. 3” has been performed by many classical guitarists, especially Andre Segovia, I felt I
could bring something different to the work.
You also have two unfamiliar Baroque composers, Esias Reusner and Silviano Leopold Weiss, on your most recent CD. Were you the
first to record Reusner and Weiss, and why did you include them on your CD?
Peter Fletcher: I was not the first to record Reusner and Weiss. I did hear a 1966 recording of both composers, but not many
people have played or recorded either composer since then. Reusner’s “Paduana (from Suite No. 4)” and Weiss’ “Passacaille” were originally
composed for the lute, so I had to transcribe those two pieces to the guitar from lute tablature. (Lute tablature’s numbered musical notation corresponds to the fretboard of the lute.) I had to take this
lute tablature and find a key that would work for the guitar.
Do you feel you have the same
brilliance and technical acuity playing Baroque as you have with Spanish classical guitar, and what is the difference in
Peter Fletcher: The technique is the same for both genres, but Baroque
music can be more cerebral than music from the Spanish repertoire. Baroque music is more challenging because often you will have two or three
melodies going at the same time. All of the music I play and record is challenging, but I do have to practice the Baroque music more because
it is structurally more complex.
What will you be performing at
Peter Fletcher: I will be performing works by Erik Satie, Jean-Phillipe Rameau, Edvard Grieg, Bach, Jean-Baptiste Besard, Esias
Reusner, Silviano Weiss, a wonderful piece by Nikita Koshkin inspired by Poe’s The House of
Usher, and a giant powerful piece by Carlo Domeniconi.
Do you ever play with other
artists or chamber orchestras?
Peter Fletcher: Right now it is mostly solo. I am represented by Phillip Truckenbord
Concert Artists as a solo artist. That said, I am currently looking for a good singer to do some recordings for voice and guitar. As time
goes on, I will be doing more concertos.
What is next for Peter
Peter Fletcher: After Carnegie Hall I am doing a six-week tour of the West Coast. I will finish up the Grieg CD and then I will
start work on a Bach CD, which will probably come out in 2011.
Peter Fletcher will be
performing at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on March 27, 2009 at 8pm. For more information, go to carnegiehall.org.
williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com
Read William Gooch's review of Peter Fletcher's Carnegie Hall concert