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Duo Montes-Kircher

Classical Guitar December 2009


25 years of Duetting by Colin Cooper


I first interviewed you in Inverness, during Chris Kilvington’s first festival there. That was more than 20 years ago. Now you are celebrating your 25-year existence as a guitar duo. Looking back, what have been the highlights?

Irina: That is a tricky question, because there have been so many good things in those 25 years, like receiving all those fantastic pieces from composers all around the world. Alfonso’s compositions for the Duo are always great to discover and conquer together. People and places, concerts and friends… An everyday highlight is to have a great person, the love of your life next to you, share music, places and thoughts.


Alfonso:
Thinking how to answer this question makes me realise how fortunate I am. Being part of this duo, I have to say that there are two kinds of satisfactions. From a personal standpoint, the joy and satisfaction of making music with Irina, to my mind one of the greatest guitarist-musicians I have ever heard; on the other hand there are the public highlights, and I think the Caracas premiere of my Fantasia for two guitars and orchestra back in 1987, the public reaction, the press reviews, are real happy memories.


What have been the disappointments, the disasters, the pains?


Alfonso:
As you know, I was for many years a passionate diplomat for my country, but in 1999 I realized it would not be possible for us to live in or work officially for Venezuela any more because of the demands of the Chavez regime for me to do things that were illegal and/or corrupt. I just could not play that game. Guitarwise, absolutely not.


Irina:
In 2006 we were called for a teaching position in a German Musikhochschule. We were told that we’d got the position and should wait for the contract to sign it. Two weeks later came an email telling us, to this day without any explanation whatsoever, that the position had been given to someone else. In general I think it most disappointing if people- even worse if they are friends- are not able to tell you things face to face, but have to hide behind an email or SMS.


Will you say something about your new competition in Stuttgart?


Irina:
We have just celebrated the 1st Rago Competition for young guitarists here in Stuttgart. It is a project we got together on a long-time basis. We secured the sponsorship for years to come by getting a fixed sum to be deposited and to work with the gains that sum produces. What happens is that Alfonso’s experience as a diplomat, dealing for so many years with international culture promotion, exchanges etc. gives us a very complete background and the know-how to do these things. There is also a very specific pedagogic side to it, and the promotion of new composers is an important element.


Alfonso:
It is part of our activities in the guitar department of the Stuttgarter Musikschule, where Irina is the head. We have managed to inject some new energy into that guitar department, integrating with great success the Music School with the Primary Schools through our system GitarrenIntro, covering the fascinating subject of group guitar teaching, and introducing literally hundreds of children to the guitar at a very early age (5-6 years old). So far the City of Stuttgart government has had to create two new fulltime positions at the Stuttgarter Musikschule to partly cover the waiting list created by the popularity of this system.


Irina:
We have created a network of guitar ensembles with three different age groups, beginning with 6 years up to 18. The individuals who show talent and dedication are singled out to receive more teaching and are orientated to participate in competitions. In that field some of our students have achieved many prizes, national and international. What was missing was to do a big event where we invite guitarists outside Stuttgart to come and meet us. That is the Rago competition, a possibility to meet and share, also to win some substantial money and precious guitars, strings, etc. Last but not least, it is an opportunity to promote the guitar music of the Venezuelan composer Alexis Rago and 19 other younger composers, included in the Repertoire Book (ECH 4103, published by Chanterelle)which is part of the set pieces for the competition.


Are there any new compositions to celebrate your 25 years as a leading duo?


Alfonso:
Some years ago I met Sergio Assad in Paris, and we spent the night going to places where live music was performed. We talked about a lot of things, but one stood out in my mind, because it was like music to my ears. More or less, he said “There can not be a duo nowadays without building up a repertoire of their own”, and that is very true, not only for duos. That is exactly what we have been doing since the very beginning, and not only with our own compositions and arrangements. For our first concert Antonio Lauro wrote and dedicated his only two-guitar work for us, and that trend has not stopped. On the contrary, in these 25 years it has been getting better. Many composers have written and dedicated works for us that have been part of our programmes in more than a thousand concerts throughout these 25 years. Is that going to be considered a historic or durable contribution? Time will tell. For our 25th anniversary we are premiering the great Jubilee Suite by one of Germany’s most attractive and talented composers, Ulrich Uhland Warnecke.


Irina:
Uly comes from my home town, and I have known him for many years, because we studied together in Stuttgart. His Suite is full of surprises. It begins with bell like sounds and develops into tuneful sections with a dash of Metheny-like tunes and harmonies. The second movement is a tricky 7/8 with some hypnotic elements, almost minimalistic. The third is a slow and wonderful collage of late romantic harmonies mixed with fantastic mysterious Arab sonorities. The last is a funky display of great rhythms and most varied possibilities of colour in two guitars. We believe it is a real solid contribution to the two-guitar repertoire, and we are really enjoying learning it. We are hot to play it in public.


Alfonso:
It also fits very much into our own vision of playing music that surprises and moves the public. It is a balance between intellectuality at the service of provoking emotion. We know it is a wide open theme, but we do know what we like by now. We want to get to the end of our concerts and see those smiles, those tears, we want to be in touch with the souls of the people who listen to us. If we achieve that, we go happily.