Marisa: Nathan, what motivated you to start Twisted Spruce?
Nathan: New music for the guitar and the idea of collaborating and of building a bigger world together. There are a lot of guitar festivals already with master classes, concerts and competitions. I don't know if there's a need for more of that, but maybe we need to create a new mold (that is different from) those traditional and legacy festivals. At Indiana University, I work closely with composer Aaron Travers, and he was on board with this idea. He loves the guitar. Then,we reached out to people that we thought would be fun to work with and began to build this out. Since then, it's been very exciting.
Luke: What is the benefit of collaborations between guitarists and composers?
N: We have this traditional repertoire that we love and play all the time. When you're solely focused on playing historical repertoire, you're missing out on the here and now. Segovia and Bream were famous because they collaborated (with composers of their time). It’s exciting to read the Segovia-Ponce letters and other guitar history to see how things were done. But having the opportunity to create your own history is even more exciting. What we're doing now is so different from what was done in the past. It's exciting to take concepts that are at the forefront of music today and to apply them to what a new generation wants to hear. Also, modern composers can add digital delay, electronic sounds and reverb to the guitar, which couldn’t be done in the past.
Nathan’s cat, Ketawa: [meow/chirp/growl]
N: I don’t know if you can hear, but my cat is very upset that I'm talking and it's interrupting her nap… Anyway, it’s about staying creative, innovative, new and fresh. It’s about working with living composers, forming friendships, collaborating and developing new repertoire.
M: Why should people get involved with Twisted Spruce?
N: It’s a good idea for both guitarists and composers. Composers get to meet guitarists who are interested in playing new music and taking it on the road. One of the participants from 2020, Jake Adams from England, told me that his guitar piece for Twisted Spruce has been played by several people in different concert series. He's coming back this year because (the piece was) a success. I think many composers shy away a little bit from the guitar because it is a complicated instrument. Having a guitarist to test things out and find out what works is useful for a composer. It’s important to know what's easy (to play) and what's not and what fits the hands of a particular guitarist and what doesn't. For example, if a guitarist plays tremolo really well, but their scales aren't the fastest thing in the world, it would be a good idea to have a conversation about that (during the collaboration process). We want to create an environment where that dialogue happens.
Guitarists should participate because they will have an opportunity to learn and play new music out of their comfort zone. They're going to have the opportunity to compete in a small group. We only take between 10 and 15 guitarists maximum. It’s a very cool opportunity for guitarists to get to know composers and to get to know this world of collaboration. Collaboration is about building a symbiotic relationship between two people. It benefits both parties, so everybody should get involved for that reason. Also, the networking is fantastic!
L: You make some excellent points! Our next question is a bit of a tricky one: if you could change one thing about the guitar as an instrument what would it be? Add another string? Take one away? Make the neck longer? What are your thoughts?
N: Well, I mean adding a string or taking one away is too easy because that is done all the time. How could the classical guitar be made into an instrument that appealing to multiple genres like the electric guitar? The electric guitar has PAF pickups and P90s. Fender has the Texas Special, while Gretsch has Filtertrons. It's about all of the different sounds associated with those guitars. So, I think I would make the classical guitar into an instrument that can continue to deliver the traditional and legacy repertoire, while also appealing this new Tik Tok generation that wants to hear innovative, new sounds. That’s tough, you know. Can we add pickups and still have the traditionalists hang in there with us?
I think that actually people should explore on their own like Aguado, Greg Smallman and Torres did (in their times). They should come up with new, innovative ways that they as individual artists can communicate with the world, while holding true and steadfast to the values they want to project into the world. If someone out there doesn't like it, then you're doing your job right. You’re probably on to something, and you should just keep doing it. We’re in an age of individuality. If a composer wants to write a guitar piece that requires electronics or a pickup, then the guitarist should be super flexible and adaptable to expand the spectrum of possibilities that they can deliver onstage.
One of my favorite composers is Nigel Westlake, an Australian. He has this piece called The Hinchinbrook Riffs for guitar and digital delay, which is about a sailboat. He really captures the essence of what sailing is in a minimalist way, and the digital delay with the classical guitar (helps with that). The piece requires a couple of studio mics and a mixing board, and you have to set the delay to a specific time value in order to deliver the music. Why aren't we doing more like that to engage with an audience who is used to listening to (electronic music)? So, I leave it to the individual to decide what is right, but I think that all avenues should be explored when it comes to innovating for the classical guitar for the future.
M: I couldn't agree more! I think that the guitar is such a versatile instrument. We can and should do so much with it. Why not use the guitar in these different ways? Our last question is: which three guitarists and three composers, living or past, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
N: Oh my gosh! Composers from the past? Definitely Barrios, right? I would love to invite Barrios, Robert Johnson and if I don't say Segovia, am I remiss? Ok, so those are all from the past. I’m going to have to give you three from the past and three from the future because there are too many. My three from the past would be Robert Johnson, Agustín Barrios and . . .
. . .
[Awkwardly long pause as Nathan considers]
. . .
N: Good thing that there's no time stamp on the transcript.
L: I was just about to say this is a time-sensitive question, so . . .
N: [Laughing] You can just include that blank in there, with crickets chirping.
M: [Laughing and gasping for air] That was the most uncomfortable pause.
N: [Still laughing] Now you know what I'm like in job interviews. . . Maybe it would be interesting to have Berlioz, Paganini or Schubert because they were all guitarists. We really need to have a conversation with those guys about why they didn't step up to the plate. For living guitarists, it would be great to invite Pepe Romero because he is super interesting and tells ridiculous stories. I want to hear all of his stories again and again. I guess Pat Metheny and Eddie Van Halen. So, it would be Eddie Van Halen, Barrios and Robert Johnson. The present would be Pat Metheny. I should write this list down… There are also many great ones like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Robert Johnson, Barrios and then maybe Segovia.
L: That’s actually the title of this article: ‘Maybe Segovia’.
N: [Laughing] Oh! My buddy Ousso, who is Egyptian. He's a go-to electric guitar player for Arabic musicians. He's amazing and super funny. Then, I would just pull all of the pals from around the world. Didn’t you say 3000 names? I'm going to rent a banquet hall, and we're just going to have a massive party. I can't do this with just three names, so all of the living guitarists and composers are all invited…they're all invited!