An Interview with Johannes Tonio Kreusch by Lawrence Del Casale for the October 2013 issue of the Classical Guitar Magazine
I met Johannes about ten years ago in my home town of New York City. Till this day I cannot recall how or why we got together but what I do remember was someone telling me, “you have to meet this extraordinary German guitarist” who was in New York for a few days for a Carnegie Hall Performance. Glad I listened. After that initial meeting at Roccos restaurant on Thompson street, I came to know Johannes well. Most importantly I realized he is a champion of the guitar; not just a guitar player. His Hersbruck Guitar Festival held in Bavaria annually in late August has drawn an incredible stable of guitarists including Maestro Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Eliot Fisk, Leo Brouwer, Pepe Romero, David Russell and Pavel Steidel, literally just to name a few. Johannes’ touring schedule grows more extensive every year to the point that he has informed me that he can no longer has time to teach privately or at the University that much. Instead he would rather direct his Guitar Festival and continue to record and his recording output has been steady as a rock. It is at this juncture that I call upon his latest recording project; Johannes Tonio Kreusch, Hommage à Heitor Villa–Lobos on which Johannes records the Preludes and some Etudes by the Brazilian Master using original manuscripts and rarely if ever heard pieces by Villa-Lobos that I begin this interview with Germany’s greatest concert guitarist.
Lawrence Del Casale: Johannes, before we get into your latest recording let’s discuss your outstanding work as Artistic Director of the Hersbruck Guitar Festival. It is a festival that has clearly made its mark on the International guitar scene. It almost seems that all guitarists on the European Festival circuit want to make that last stop at Hersbruck before the Fall concert season begins. Discuss please the growth of this festival and where you plan to take it.
Johannes Tonio Kreusch: Eight years ago I was asked to undertake the artistic director of the International Guitar Festival in Hersbruck. Before that time I had already directed and founded other guitar festivals in Germany (f.ex. in Munich). The festival in Hersbruck started rather small with just a few artists and some workshops. When I agreed to run this festival I wanted to establish a special festival inviting some of the most exciting guitarists from a wide range of genres to present a week of „undiluted guitar“ with all possible colours and facets of tone and sound. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to invite appreciated guitar collegues and friends. When I put together the program I´m more interested to look for artists, who have a new and exciting approach than looking for the well-trodden paths. In the past years we had guitar stars like Tommy Emmanuel, Leo Brouwer, Pepe Romero, David Russell, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Alvaro Pierri, Eliot Fisk or Hopkinson Smith – to name just a few, but I´m always also presenting young exciting artists, which might be not so know to the general public. I have also composers in residence at my festival lecturing about composing and the festival commissions new works, which are premiered during the festival. Over the last years I was also proud to present artists, which had never played solo in Germany before like Bill Kanengiser or Carlos Barbosa-Lima. Also the astonishing Brazilian guitarist Yamandu Costa played one of his first concerts in Europe in Hersbruck and recieved a record contract after his Hersbruck performance.
Next to the concerts and guitar classes, all over the week there are exihibitions, lectures, sessions, master classes,
workshops and lessons at the festival center. I have extended the seminars. There is more of it, now under the name
„Hersbruck Music Academie“, containing lectures like "Right Practice", "Deseases of musicians avoid and heal", "Issues to
interpret early music", „Improvisation for Classical Musician“ etc...A great thing is also, that students are able to apply
for scholarships to get financial aid in order to be able to participate at the festival. There are also plenty of
possibilities for students to play in public during the festival week and they can also recieve an official review from the
LDC: The last time we spoke you commented on your teaching schedule and how you could no longer teach as there is such a demand on your time to perform, record and plan the Hersbruck Festival. How did that develop?
JTK: I do teach but not on a regular basis. I hold for example workshops and masterclasses. Within the last years
my touring schedule became much more demanding and I also need the time to prepare my publications. Next to my work as the
artistic director of the International Guitar Festival in Hersbruck, I also founded – together with my brother the Jazz
Pianist Cornelius Claudio Kreusch, the Munich based concert series „Ottobrunner Konzerte“ (see:
konzerte.com). This series is not a guitar series – although we had guitarists like Ralph Towner, LAGQ, Pepe Romero or
Badi Assad performing. We have great artists or ensembles from Jazz to Classical like The Hilliard Ensemble, Klaus Doldinger
or The Berklee Allstars performing. Also here the idea is to present contrast between different styles. We contrasted for
example a classical pianist playing Bachs „Goldberg Variationen“ in the first part with a great Jazz pianist improvising in
the second part. Next to the concert we also have Meet the Artists conferences as well as workshops and masterclasses. This
year f.ex. the Berklee College of Music visited our series and they also hold 3 days of auditions for European applicants at
LDC: When we meet I remember you telling me about the Villa-Lobos project and how you had access to the Maestro’s original manuscripts. Quite frankly I was thinking; “another Villa-Lobos recording?” After I listened to your CD I was blown away. Please explain the impetus and fruition of this project.
JTK: When I had for the first time the 1928 manuscript of the Etudes in my hand, it was like a revelation! I
realised, that the printed editions were not really realible and that I would need to investigate much more research in
order to get closer to what the composer intended. This manuscript from 1928 f.ex. proves impressively just how well
Villa-Lobos knew the guitar. He elaborated the fingering for the musician in great detail. Also the intended dynamics are
even more closely specified and he makes use of a lot of additional agogic indications, which later were left out. There
are three manuscripts of the Etudes, handwritten by the composer, which deviate widely from each other. The first manuscript
was presumably written between 1924 and 1928 and is part of a bequest from the family of Lucília Guimarães, the composer´s
first wife. Whereas the Etudes 2, 5, 10 and 12 are neatly drawn, the others seem to have been sketched out quickly. In 1928
Villa-Lobos wrote another manuscript of the Etudes ment for publication. This time, the manuscript of the Etudes was very
carefully executed. Villa-Lobos sent this manuscript to Max Eschig in Paris for publication. The contracts between the
publisher and the composer were concluded in October, 1928 and January, 1929, but the pieces remained unpublished for some
time. When Villa-Lobos returned to Brazil, supporting Vargas´s politics, the contact with Eschig was interrupted, possibly
for political reasons. In December 1939, the composer still asked him for author´s copies, not knowing that Eschig had never
published his work. After World War II, he resumed contact with Eschig. In 1940, Villa-Lobos had already made new copies of
individual Etudes, since he did not own the manuscripts anymore.Later, he left the copying to his second wife, Arminda. In
1947 and 1948, she copied the whole cycle.
LDC: On your recording, “Hommage à Villa-Lobos”, you recorded the “5 Preludes” by the contemporary Cuban composer Tulio Peramo Cabrera a composer who is not a guitarist and is a leading and recognized contemporary composer. Peramo Cabrera was a student of Maestro Brouwer, having said that, Peramo Cabrera has written and dedicated works to you including a guitar Concerto. Now in New York speak I would say; “Wazz up wit that!?” but for the professionalism of this periodical I ask; “How did your collaboration with composer Cabrera come about”?
JTK: In contrast to Heitor Villa-Lobos, the Cuban composer Tulio Peramo Cabrera never learned to play the guitar.
Nevertheless, he ranks among Cuba´s most important contemporary composers for guitar. Since we first met in 1994 at the
Havana Guitar Festival, Peramo Cabrera has written various guitar works for me, e.g. compositions for solo guitar, works
for guitar and chamber music and concertos for guitar and orchestra. My CD “Portraits of Cuba“, with guitar music by Tulio
Peramo Cabrera, released in 2000, has turned out to be a great success. Other guitarists, like Eliot Fisk. Antigoni Goni
or Richard Hand have also promoted his works on the international stage. The works dedicated to me include the guitar
concerto Tres Imágenes Cubanas, which I first performed at the guitar festival in Havana on the invitation of Leo Brouwer
in 1998, and the song cycle Aires de la Tierra, premiered with the mezzo-soprano Nan-Maro Babakhanian in 1999 in
New York´s Carnegie Recital Hall.
LDC: As a European based Artist how do you deal with the effects of the ever shrinking classical music market? Do you see a difference between the American classical market and the European classical markets?
JTK: At my festivals I don´t really experience this problem that much. It might be, because I always try to present artists or ensembles with uncommon programms including world premiers or unusual combinations of styles. But the main question concerning this issue in my opinion is how to attract also young people to classical concerts. I´m concerned, that the music as a subject is more and more neglected in school (at least here in Germany) and children decreasingly get the possibility to learn to play a musical instrument. So it is no wonder, that at the end the youth doesn´t apprechiate classical music that much, since they don´t have so much experiences with that. Just if they have the possibility to immerse into the world of classical music by the example of f.ex. their parents or by the experience, how fulfilling it can be to play together in an orchestra or chamber music group, they would go to classical concerts. During my tours I also sometimes do concerts for young people for example at schools. My program for those concerts is not strictly classical. I mix it with my own music and improvisations. I experience during these concerts, that young people are very much attracted to guitar and that they are excited to realise, that you can play also other music on it besides Rock or Pop. I think the guitar has really great possibilities and if you program your concert in an interesting way, you will always have your public. We have to withdraw Classical music from its elitistic image.
LDC: Following on the heels of the previous question; how has the Internet and iTunes changed your world as a recording artist? Where do you see the classical guitar markets moving? (I know I am asking you to look into a crystal ball)
JTK: Yes, the online market definitely changed a lot. I think, that there are both sides on this. On the one hand
it is amazing, how easy one can get a recording through downloading the music. I remember some years ago handling orders of
my Cds to countries like Japan or Latin America, where the shipping or bank costs were as high as the costs of the CD
itslef. Now you just go on Itunes and download the album in a minute. I still work with different record companys, who
distribute my Cds physically. Concerning the digital rights I work together with my brother Cornelius Claudio Kreusch, who
founded the company MUSICJUSTMUSIC®, which is a global online & mobile music & media aggregation, distribution & licensing
network & integrated royalty accounting platform for artists, labels & industry organizations worldwide (see:
LDC: Let’s talk and close with your immediate plans. What are you going to continue to do and what do you want to create in the near future?
JTK: I´m going to finish some new recordings. This year the cross-over record together which my brother Cornelius Claudio Kreusch will be finished. It will be a record featuring some really great artists and we just did an inspiring recording session with Badi Assad for that CD. Also my new duo recording with my wife the violinist Doris Kreusch-Orsan is on the map. For that we have some fine composers contributing new pieces for us. I´m also looking forward to one of Andy Yorks new Cds, since he invited me to perform some of his Duo music for that. We recorded together in Munich and it was really great fun. I´m composing at the moment new music and working on my second book of Etudes for guitar. There are some ideas for another festival, which I could run, but I have to see, whether it fits into my performance schedule and my responsibility to my work as the artistic director of the Hersbruck festival and the Ottobrunner Konzerte. In any case I´m always looking for something new and challenging to do!