Julian Bream interview

An Interview with Julian Bream

By Thomas Koch

In 1982, I wrote a paper about Julian Bream, the famous English guitarist. To prepare my paper, I asked Mr. Bream after a concert in Bonn, Germany, if he would grant me an interview. He cordially agreed to meet with me two days later. At the time there was little information available about this eminent musician. Today, we have his autobiographical book A Life on the Road and various video productions available. It is nevertheless still interesting today, what Julian Bream had to say, and I wrote some of the most interesting passages of the conversation down for this web page. For those, who might be interested in reading the whole half hour interview: Address yourself to the library of the Hochschule für Musik Köln Abteilung Wuppertal in Germany. The interview took place at the Düsseldorf Savoy Hotel on Friday March 5, 1982.

Thomas Koch: What was your first relation to music ? Julian Bream: Well, my first relation to music was the piano, which I learned when I was ten years of age. And than my father was an amateur guitarist, who played jazz-guitar, plectrum guitar. He played in a little dance-band in the suburbs of London. This was in the war. I picked up the jazz guitar a little bit but was also at the same time studying the piano seriously with classical music. And than eventually, I was more interested in classical music than in jazz. I thought it would be more amusing, more interesting, to try and play classical music on the guitar. My father thought that would be a good idea and he than took up the classical guitar. And I took it up too, we were both students. That’s how I got interested in classical guitar.

Thomas Koch: Than you met Boris Perott, a Russian guitarist
Julian Bream: Yes, I had lessons with him after a little while, for a year. He was an interesting man. He was quiet old. He couldn’t play anymore. But he was once in his youth a quiet a good guitarist. But he played in the old Italian school, which is quiet contrary to what the modern Tarrega would be. And I found that the particular right hand technique wasn’t very useful for me. Particularly for playing more Spanish and modern pieces. So after a year, I discontinued and from then on, I was virtually learning on my own.

Thomas Koch: I read that Perott knew Segovia.
Julian Bream: That’s right, he introduced me to him. I had two lessons with him [Segovia] in 1947 and 1948. And that was the entire amount of tuition I had, really. Than I went back to the Royal College of Music as an older student. I studied piano again and composition but not the guitar, because there wasn’t anybody teaching it.

Thomas Koch: At the age of fourteen you gave your first recital in Cheltenham. Do still remember how you felt before the concert?
Julian Bream: I was very, very nervous. But once I started, I overcame my nerves and the audience were very enthusiastic. And I enjoyed it very much, giving that first concert. I played some very difficult pieces, I can remember. Including the Ponce Sonata Classica, which is a very difficult four movement sonata. And some pieces by Turina and little Bach, which I‘ve forgotten which, but that was the sort of program that I played.

Thomas Koch: How old were you when you went to the Royal College of Music?
Julian Bream: From fifteen until I was eighteen. Then from eighteen until twentyone I was in the army. And from twentyone until now I have been giving concerts.

Thomas Koch: How much guitar practicing did you do during your time at the Royal College?
Julian Bream: Two or three hours, sometimes none, sometimes six. It was very varied. My life in those days was very interesting for a young boy, and I found many stimulating things at the Royal College of Music in other sorts of music. I enjoyed going to hear the orchestra practicing and the string quartets and so for. And I practiced the piano quiet regularly an hour or two a day.

Thomas Koch: In which way do you prepare a new piece ? Do you make an analyze of the music?
Julian Bream: Not really, no. I look first at the technical difficulty of the piece and I play through it quiet a lot. And than I get the musical shape of it and than I will look at the music in a more analytical way and see how best I can bring out the form of the music. And than I work on the fingering, which is very important, because that gives you the phrasing and the tone colour. So after working on the analytical part, which is stage three, really. Stage four is trying to reveal the beauty of the music and the form of the music. And for this you need to carefully finger each note, so that is says what you wanted to say.

Thomas Koch: Do you still have problems with stage-fright and how was it in the beginning of your career?
Julian Bream: I still get the stage-fright, and I am still nervous. But sometimes it is more than others. A lot depends on if I am rested and not to worried. Not to nervous in myself. And that everything in the day has gone smoothly. That makes a difference in how I feel in the evening.

Thomas Koch: You played together with John Williams. How did this collaboration come about?
Julian Bream: John Williams and I, we play duets for fun. But serious fun, for enjoyment. It’s great fun. You learn to understand one another in a more intimate way. You learn that you can make music together that is very sympathetic and hopefully a very good ensemble. All chamber music is a question of finding out what the other person wants. And that person finding out what you want. And than to make a marriage of ideas.

Thomas Koch: A dialog.
Julian Bream: That’s right.

Thomas Koch: What do you think of the new generation of players such as Manuel Barrueco, Eliot Fisk or Costas Cotsiolis?
Julian Bream: I think technically, they have a very fine way of playing the instrument. And they sometimes do very adventurous things. And sometimes it’s a little conservative, too. It’s a funny mixture. But the standard of playing is very, very high in that generation. The actual technical play especially. Very good.

Thomas Koch: It’s a new kind of interpretation, too.
Julian Bream: Is it new ? I don’t notice that very much.

Thomas Koch: Less romantic. More masculine.
Julian Bream: Could be. Every generation has a......it’s dryer, I find. It’s beautiful made often but not so warm.

Thomas Koch: You worked with a great number of composers, that wrote music for the guitar. How does that work?
Julian Bream: Well, the guitar is a very special instrument to write for. And I found that in order to get the best possible results from these composers, it would be an advantage to work closely with them. So that it would help them to understand how best they can find their musical language on the guitar. Where it’s very complex. Very special technical facilities. And so, I found working closely with them was always much better than just commissioning a piece. Because so often you have to adapt music. Particularly composers, who sit at the piano and compose guitar music. So, that’s why I work so closely with the composer, to make sure that it is well written for the instrument.

Thomas Koch: How much do you like teaching guitar?
Julian Bream: Not very much.I’m a very bad teacher. That’s sort of sad. Sometime I give courses but..........I just..........sometimes I start of a lesson for enthusiasm. But sometimes I can get bored, I loose vitality. I don’t think that’s very good for a teacher, to be like that. I think when I get older I’ll probably do some more teaching. I did many years ago, I taught a lot but that was before you were born. I quite like taking a class of students. B ut taking students individually, I find it’s not so stimulating. If I got a very good player, well than it’s marvelous. Because you can do something, help create something. I much rather coach a string quartet in an interpretation of Haydn or Beethoven than to teach the guitar, unless the guitar player is very musical and good. But for an only player there are many better teachers than me. I mean, this is the point. If one was good at it than it would be different. There are better teachers than I am, particularly in technical things. Than it’s better that a student goes to that sort of teacher. But I am quite good on musical interpretation, I think so.

Thomas Koch: How important is your concertizing to you ?
Julian Bream: Very, very important. Because I like the contact with the audience. The flow, the electricity.

Thomas Koch: What is the most important experience you made during your many recitals?
Julian Bream: Well, I’m always trying to play the piece that I’m playing better than I played it before.

Thomas Koch: What are your fields of interest beside music ?
Julian Bream: Well, I have a nice garden at home and I work in that. I am rather found of museums and pictures. I am found of paintings. And I read quite a lot. Mostly books on philosophy or novels. And I like playing sport. Tennis.

Thomas Koch: What are your plans for the future ?
Julian Bream: Ah...I don’t know. Just giving concerts I think, and making records. Doing the old television program. I don’t have a very adventures life in the future. I mean, it is just a consolidation of what I was always trying to do. I can’t imagine a life without music but for a lot of people it probably doesn’t matter. For a lot of people football doesn’t matter and for many it does. Their whole life on the week-end is football. Or watching the television the whole day. Personally I get hardly any pleasure from a football match. Some people live for football. So that’s a nice thing. There is plenty of variety. We can all live for different things.

Thomas Koch: I think that art in general is an important factor in a persons sensibility and the way how a person lives his life.
Julian Bream: Yes, it is an education in itself. If you are serious.

Thomas Koch: Thank you very much.
©Copyright Thomas Koch 2000

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