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Bernardel Hauser

Interview

Breda

The city where I was born in 1957 and where I had my first music lessons, at the music school, together with my little sister.  First on recorder, because that was the most inexpensive instrument, but I had little affinity with wind instruments.  Friends with guitars taught me my first chords, which were great fun to play along with records.  But I didn’t fancy playing with a band, and electric guitar isn’t a solo instrument.  Then I heard Julian Bream on the radio: that sound, that polyphony, and I wanted a classic Spanish guitar.  I bought my first one when I was twelve, and at the music school I had my first lessons, from a Mr. Van Hoek.  After that came private lessons with Christine Pennings, and she was the one who encouraged me to go to music conservatory.  I did my entrance exams when I was seventeen. It was also in Breda that I gave my first concert, as soloist in a Vivaldi concerto with Estrellita, a guitar and mandolin orchestra led by Benny Ludemann.  And for my final exams in the conservatorium I performed in a public concert in the Begijnhof Church.

Rotterdam Conservatory

I studied there from 1975 to 1982 with Dick Hoogeveen.  They had a large guitar department there, with as many as fifty or sixty students, but few of them went on to become concert guitarists.  From Hoogeveen I absorbed a great deal of technique, mostly from the classic methods of Pujol, Carlevaro, Sor’s studies, Giuliani, and Villa-Lobos.  Of course, I also broadened my knowledge of classical music in general.  I loved (and still love) violin music in particular, but I was advised against taking up the violin as a secondary instrument.  For my final exam I played Walton’s Bagatelles, which I knew from Julian Bream, Giuliani’s Rossiniana, Barrios’s La Catedral, and together with my fellow student Chris Erwich the theme and variations from Brahms’s string quartet.  Shortly afterwards, I played a concert of Villa-Lobos material with the Rotterdam Conservatory Orchestra under the baton of Otto Ketting.

Toyohiko Satoh

After the conservatory, I had lessons from Toyohiko Satoh, a lutenist, for five years.  I knew about Toyohiko from records and radio broadcasts, and it seemed to me like he was the right person to continue with.  The origins of classical music are in “early music,” and if you immerse yourself in it, then you can comprehend more about the structure, phrasing, construction, the articulation of later classical music.  I also learned from Toyohiko a lot about performance practice and how to build a repertoire, from baroque to romantic and modern pieces.  In addition, in my last year at conservatory I bought a manche theorbe, an experimental invention of the Frenchman Roger Generaux (d. 1980), a modern version of an old idea: to extend the guitar with drone strings from a baroque lute, so that it’s possible to play Bach’s lute suites in the original tuning on guitar.  Toyohiko eventually stopped giving lessons as a teacher at the conservatory and now he lives in his homeland, Japan.  There he’s active as a board member of the LGS (Lute and Early Guitar Society).  His research into original lute performance practices and strings in the service of the “vocal” sound is an example for all musicians who strive for authenticity.

My instruments

In recent years I’ve played a 1927 guitar made by the renowned German guitarmaker Hermann Hauser I, which has a gorgeous, characteristically colorful sound that inspires the very highest level of musicianship. Hermann Hauser III and his daughter Kathrin have made sure that the guitar has been brought back into its optimal condition. Once I became used to this guitar, I got the feeling that the classical traditions have not been carried over properly to modern guitar makers (see also Guitars).

For the last twenty years I have concertized and recorded on a 1992 guitar by Antonio Marin Montero. I’m quite attached to its beautiful tone and will continue to use it in the future, in addition to the 2008 instrument that I commissioned from Antonio (see also Guitars).

A romantic-era guitar from around 1846, built by the French violin maker Auguste Sébastien Bernardel offers me the possibility to make music written in the early nineteenth century by composers such as Giuliani and Sor with the proper intonation--it is an instrument with a great deal of class (see also Guitars).

I find it interesting to stay in contact with the guitar builders with whom I have worked. In Spain one learns the craft by working in the guitar builder’s studio. In our country we lack any real tradition of guitar building, though the number of Dutch and Belgium guitar makers is slowly increasing. I have two guitars made by Gust den Aantrekker, a guitar maker who works in Antwerp. For the most part he is self-taught, although he did study with José Romanillos and now works as a teacher at ILSA (The International School for Lutenists in Antwerp). He works on a small scale, but with much love and passion. The first instrument he built for me has a top made of forty-year-old hazel spruce which he could cut extremely thin. The sound is uniquely pure and direct, with a nostalgic quality that suggests a pre-war instrument. The other guitar that Gust made for me fully represents the concept of the modern concert classical guitar, the body from very heavy Rio Negra rosewood and the top of spruce, which produces a big sound.
Finally, I have a 1988 guitar built by Jan Verweij, from Zaandam. Jan’s specialty is the audibility of acoustic guitars in a concert hall setting, and among other things he builds some of the most highly valued amplifier systems for classical guitars available. The sound of his guitar is open and uncolored on the first playing, but it allows itself the possibility of adapting itself to to the sound of the guitarist, and in the concert hall the tone can easily carry quite far.


Le son perdu

French expression, meaning more or less “The lost sound”. That’s what a fellow guitarist said about my sound after a concert in Paris, a compliment I was very happy with.  For me it’s really all about the poetry in music, a sound that resembles a voice.  Once the technical possibilities of the instrument begin to dominate, the sound suffers.  In the beginning of the Renaissance ,instrumental music was bound to song; the Italian baroque there was something called canzoni da sonare, instrumental songs,and in the Romantic era that began more an individual matter, with the player engaging in a kind of storytelling.  In Paganini’s music this is called suonare parlante, and you really hear the questions and answers in the music.  One well-known anecdote about Paganini has him once beginning a concert by “saying” buona sera on his violin, and the audience together wished him good evening in return out-loud.  This tradition of that vocal tone goes from classical guitarists like Sor and Giuliani through to Tárrega, Llobet, and Segovia, where the tradition seems to have reached its end.

Favorite composers

My favorite composers are the ones who add something to their time, something unique and personal.  That manifests itself in the diversity of the body of work, the avoidance of cliche.  For me that’s Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Paganini, Granados, Albeniz, and of the moderns Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, and Prokoviev.  The grand violin concertos, the string quartets, and duets for violin and piano, that’s what I listen.

Favorite musicians

The Amadeus Quartet  playing Beethoven and Brahms--that impetuosity, that excitement.  And the Prazak Quartet.  I’m a big fan of Kyung Wha Chung since she won the Elisabeth Competition in 1982.  Other, more intellectual violinists I’m a fan of are Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer, and Dmitry Sitkovetsky.  Often my favorites are somewhat older, or even dead: Menuhin, Oistrakh, and Heifetz.
Among pianists, of course Alfred Brendel, Richter when it comes to the Russian repertoire, and the Russians Horowitz, Youri Egorov and Bella Davidovich.  I love what the Dutch call “the foreign temperament.”  Jordi Savall is extraordinary with his old viola da gamba, as is Giuliano Carmignola on the baroque violin.  Dutch and Flemish musicians are good when it comes to early music, with Gustav Leonhardt and the Kuijken brothers serving as good examples.
Guitarists?  Julian Bream, especially the way he used to play.  His expression was particularly inspirational to me when I was at the conservatory.  He sounded like a whole ensemble.  Somewhat later I began to appreciate the sensitivity of Segovia.  Now I have all of his recordings.  His vision and his personality on the guitar are unmatched.  He is the last true romantic guitarist in the Spanish tradition, in the extending of the tradition of Tárrega and Llobet.  John Williams has a phenomenal technique and is an excellent ensemble player.  He fits in easily with other musicians.  I find it a shame that he has positioned himself so emphatically against the the Spanish inheritance of Segovia. The lutenist Toyohiko Satoh is special for me because he really works with ideas, which fascinates and touches me, becoming something to build on oneself.  My own concert programs always seem to have something in common, a storyline (see also Repertoire and Programs).

Baltazar Benitez about Frans

I listened to your cd and it is sublime. I’m impressed by your Hauser and you play very good, congratulations.
Baltazar Benitez

Locations

It’s not the architectural setup of the hall but the acoustical properties.  The instrument has to be properly placed, without a microphone, otherwise it just won’t be right.  I prefer to play in historical locations with lots of atmosphere. Old buildings are more suitable due to the class and warmth that they exhibit.  Special places for me mean special performances. Small, charming churches, for example the Waalse Church in Breda, are especially suitable for the guitar.  I’ve played in many beautiful spaces, for example, the Anna Paulowna Hall in the Hotel des Indes in The Hague, the Louis the Sixteenth Hall in the Pulchri Studio in The Hague, salon concerts in Slot Zuylen, the Kurhaus and the Amstel Hotel, the Museum Van Loon and the Geelvinck Hinlopen Museum in Amsterdam, and in Paris the Salon Bouvier of the Carnavalet Museum. The Walter Maas House in Bilthoven is also rightly known as a special small concert space, with its gorgeous Amsterdam School style.  And I played in Vredenburg in Utrecht, in the Oosterpoort in Groningen and in the historic Elzenveld in Antwerp, the first Dutch person to do so. It was also a great honor as a Dutchman to play at the Cervantes Institute for Spanish Culture. The Cadens Concert Hall in Haarlem is for me an ideal place to come into contact with the spirit of chamber music.  In addition, I have played for years with much pleasure in Amsterdam’s “hofjesconcerten,” which take place in old courtyards under open skies, where the atmosphere in informal and the contact with the audience very direct.

Lessons

I put that off for a long time, because you can teach better if you have more experience, if you play a broad repertoire, and if you perform regularly.  Making good music is something that rises above the material, like all art.  Students, no matter what their level, must have some point of contact with the material, they must be able to be themselves in the music and thereby convince others.  It’s about the contact with music that you share with others, and you notice that if you play for other people, whether that’s for your neighbor or for a hall full of people.  Every year I organize a student concert, where they play for each other--it’s really nice, and very educational for everyone involved.
You must teach from the perspective of a particular tradition.  In order to learn to play the classic Spanish guitar properly, Tárrega is the first and most important, the founding father of classical guitar technique.  He composed and made outstanding transcriptions of classical pieces, such as those by Bach and Schumann, and that’s my starting point for teaching (see also Guitar lessons).

Pax Vobis

This is the name of the house in the old center of Amsterdam where I live with my wife, Joosje Noordhoek.  It means “peace be unto you,” and that is the way it is in our house.  I can work there uninterrupted, and also without disturbing others, which is for many musicians a problem.  The space downstairs, which was formerly a shop, has a ceiling that is almost five meters high, which makes for wonderful acoustics.  With the mezzanine in back of this space one can see it as a kind of tiny concert hall.  And on the roof we have a lovely terrace, where we can find peace and quiet in the middle of the city--it’s ideal!