[The guitar is] an invader. It’s an instrument of the moors, in the forest of 1400s. The frontman of rock bands in the 1960s. The counterculture.
What made you choose this programme for your Barber Concert?
The programme order is somewhat chronological. Essentially, a juxtaposition of classical and more contemporary versions of the guitar. La Catedral is a piece that references Barrios’ journey around Montevideo and witnessing the performance of pieces by Bach on the organ in the cathedral in the city centre. The cycle of the 12 Études reference themselves. Things like Chopin’s first piano étude referencing to Pagini, Shostakovich to Rachmaninoff and so on… coming steadily close to Villa-Lobos’ own musical language, which references indigenous ideas. The second half is something that actually builds an entirely new musical language, moving from the combination of syllabuses to something closer to the present day with works that have been composed in the last 10 years.
How do you feel the newer pieces compare with the more traditional ones?
Thomas Adés doesn’t really approach the guitar in a way that composers like Barrios or Villa-Lobos did, a classical way. He approaches it as an instrument that is unsophisticated, dangerous and kind of primitive, plucked in caves, the back of the room. It’s something quite frightening. With the links that I have in my head I feel that as harking back to the guitar’s ancestry, the antithesis of the lute, which was the instrument of aristocratic communities. It’s an invader. It’s an instrument of the Moors, in the forest of 1400s. The frontman of rock bands in the 1960s. The counterculture.
Which piece are you most looking forward to playing?
I’m excited in different ways about all of them. Some of them I’ve played for quite a while, like the Barrios and Villa-Lobas, about 10 years or so on and off. I’m looking forward to exploring them in a different way and learning from the performance. I’m also excited about the Adés and Birthwhistle. It’s always interesting when there are works that one might think could alienate but I’ve found tend to engage. On a personal level, I think they haven’t received as many airings as they should, so I’m looking forward to getting them out there.
How does this concert compare to the ones you have done before?
What I’ve tended to explore in the last five years has been music that is slightly lesser known, not super economical in terms of what guitarists tend to play. I’ve avoided the latter in my early career but this concert actually does have a lot of that music, which I’ve really enjoyed exploring and coming back to after a long time. But saying that, there are pieces such as the Birtwhistle, which will end the concert, that are really the birth of something new. I would say it’s an accessible concert but not without a little bit of something fresh and rejuvenating. It will have something for the hyper modernist composer fans and something for the classical guitar fans as well, not that I think those really are two different audiences.
What do you like most about the classical and electric guitar each as instruments?
I think they present different opportunities to me. The bulk of my training was in classical guitar and the electric guitar has been something super liberating. I’ve been able to shake off the shackles of my education and engage in things that, I guess, may seem more iconoclastic than they are actually. It’s something that has changed the way I approach the classical guitar as well.
Are you looking forward to performing in Birmingham?
Yes, I am! It’s been a while but I always have a good time in Birmingham.
Sean Shibe will be performing at our upcoming evening Barber Concert on 26 October.