Master Class Report: Manuel Barrueco – February 4, 2013

The Wilmington Classical Guitar Society recently had the pleasure of being invited to audit a master class with Manuel Barrueco at the Curtis Institute of Music on February 4. The program featured the first four guitar students of Curtis’s new guitar program, Jordan Dodson and Jiyeon Kim, who entered Curtis in 2011, and Louis Xavier Barrette and Gideon Whitehead, who entered in 2012. All are students of Jason Vieaux and David Starobin, who began the program in 2011.

What a great experience this was for the thirty or so fortunate enough to attend the class. As would be expected, the students all demonstrated remarkable musical and technical skill, while each retained their own unique style and interpretation. While I thoroughly enjoyed the performances, I was especially impressed by each student’s ability to take Mr. Barrueco’s suggestions and immediately incorporate them into their performance. The result was an immediate and striking transformation that truly exhibited the talents of each musician and further realized the beauty inherent in the music they had chosen to play. Also, as one might expect, Manuel’s knowledge of the repertoire was extensive, his comments insightful, and the excerpts he chose to play as examples, played mostly from memory, captivating.

I was a little surprised that the bio included for Manuel Barrueco in the program (as well as Mr. Barrueco’s own bio) focused solely on his prodigious performing career, while not mentioning his importance as a pedagogue. While his recording and performance career should not be overlooked, Mr. Barrueco is one of a rare few who in my mind are equally, if not more, capable teaching as they are performing. Manuel has been teaching most recently at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, where he draws students from around the world, all notable teachers and/or performers in their own right.

Following are some observations that I found of particular interest, paraphrased in my own words:

Jordan Dodson
Prelude and Fugue from Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

  • There are five elements to music: dynamics, time, articulation, color, vibrato. Each element carries with it stylistic considerations that must remain true to the time period. Concentration on just one of these elements throughout the piece will increase the pieces depth and musicality and immediately improve the performance overall. [Concentrate on each in turn.]
  • The character of each element must complement the piece and time period. The quality of the vibrato, for example, cannot be too wide or it will seem out of character. It also should not be applied ad hoc, but be guided by an underlying conceptualization.
  • Structure the interpretation, and then bring it to life. Pay attention to the line and form.
  • Concentrate on the melodic line. Sing each note of the line and retain this phrasing as you play. Be careful to separate lines, especially when they are very close. Utilize dynamics to push and pull the lines into position and separate them; not everything can be up front. Don’t think in chords, think in lines. The continuity of the line must be carried over the bar line.
  • Re: entrances of the subject in the fugue, sometimes it makes sense to bring out a new entrance to inform the audience, but not always. What are you going to do with the subject the second, third or fourth time it enters to create musical interest? It is art, and about the beauty of the music, and it is not necessarily important to hear each entrance.
  • When shifting, be careful not to accent the note or chord before the shift. An accent often comes out involuntarily in the preparation for a shift.
  • In Baroque music, repeated notes are often utilized. I [MB] feel the repeated note should be articulated. Also, lean on the dissonance and back off on the resolution.
  • Music can be art and it can be entertainment. Don’t confuse the one for the other.

Louis Xavier Barrette
Passacaglia from Piezas (3) españolas by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-99)

  • Always listen to the sound you are making. For example, a stretch from one note to another, while enabling one to play more legato, often results in one pulling the first note out of tune. At some time you have to let go. Silence can be utilized. A sung melody will often have periods of silence.
  • There are two options with right hand arpeggiation, an arpeggiation played with all thumb, or an arpeggiation where the thumb plays the first few bass notes and the fingers play the remainder. I [MB] prefer the latter method, as utilizing the fingers gives one more control over the color and balance of the individual notes. With thumb only the guitarist has little control over individual notes, although this technique is nice to use when one wants a lot of sound.
  • Vibrato can give shape to an interpretation if used in the same place on subsequent similar ideas. One has more control over vibrato with finger 3 rather than 4. The hand is more expressive when it is able to move more freely. To achieve vibrato on the open low E string, apply vibrato to the E at VII of the A string while playing the open E.
  • Keep your attention on the line. Achieve a singing quality in your playing by imitating your singing. Sing the line first so you have a concept of the phrasing. Carry that concept onto the guitar, and through the entire line (don’t start and stop abruptly singing).
  • The sound should always be beautiful, not nasal or harsh. The tone should have body. Even during quick passages where it is difficult the notes still have to beautiful. Keep rasgueado crisp and rhythmic.
  • Sometimes ideas just don’t work, and we need to change our concept of the piece.
  • In fast passages where individually articulating each note for phrasing can be very difficult, consider utilizing slurs to help phrase in the right places, particularly on appoggiaturas.
  • Do what sounds best!

Jiyeon Kim
Theme, Variations, and Finale by Manuel M. Ponce (1882-1948)

  • Practice slow – extremely slow – in a variety of ways, but always musically. Utilize a metronome. Even when playing with a metronome there can be rhythmic flexibility. Work each musical element separately and the quality of the musicality will increase. Always be aware of time. Time is the canvas of music. It doesn’t have to be strict, but there always needs to be a sense of time. Music has a pace, and it must shape time.
  • Arpeggiation of chords must be intentional, not involuntary. A consistent pattern of arpeggiation will be more compelling.
  • Re: the marking ‘appassionata,’ notes that are too staccato do not seem passionate. Take the line through the measures. Follow the line even as it jumps octaves.
  • Re: slurs, the slower the passage, the less they work. When playing fast without slurs, you must shape the notes.

Gideon Whitehead
La Catedral by Agustin Barrios Mangore (1885-1944)
Preludio saudade
Andante religioso
Allegro solemne

  • Record yourself in order to listen to yourself more objectively and see if your ideas are coming out as you intended. It is painful, but necessary.
  • Take care of the different aspects of your playing: rhythmic control, color control, interpretation, etc. Sometimes we get emotional, and emotions go to the hands.
  • Play with a metronome. With increased rhythmic control your interpretation can be even more detailed. Control of rhythm, dynamics, phrasing, etc. will all be increased. My [MB] goal is to control each note – color, articulation, etc.
  • Don’t boil phrasing down to just one important note. Accenting the right note may work and seem OK, but it is best to control each note.
  • Try to have different types and intensities of vibrato. A vibrato that is too wide distorts the pitch of the note.
  • Use a rest stroke for color. The rest stroke should sound wider. Be kind to it – gentle. Don’t play it too hard or it will sound rough or harsh. Use rest stroke purposefully. Rest stroke on everything is not an artistic approach.
  • Finding the musical idea first and then the fingering is always better than trying to fit a musical idea over your fingering.

Special thanks to the Curtis Institute of Music for inviting our group to join them. I think we had eight members attend, and all have remarked to me how much they enjoyed the class.

Don’t forget to buy tickets for Manuel Barrueco’s upcoming concert in Baltimore at Towson University.