Guitar virtuoso Frank Bungarten closes Akbank Guitar Days
Considered one of the most important concert guitarists of his generation and praised for having one of the largest guitar repertoires in the world, Frank Bungarten will be taking to the stage tonight as the last guest of the series.
Nevertheless, his İstanbul visit is not going to be limited to just a concert. As a professor at the University of Hanover and at the Lucerne Academy of Music in Germany, Bungarten will also be holding a three-day workshop at the Akbank Art Center this week. Bungarten started his academic studies at the Academy of Music in Cologne at the age of 17. His international career started when he received the first prize in the guitar competition of Granada, conferred on him by Andrés Segovia. Bungarten’s numerous CD recordings, including the first recording of his transcription for guitar of all of J.S. Bach’s violin solos, are considered a landmark by critics.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman ahead of his concert and workshops, Bungarten said he is glad to play in İstanbul again after being invited by the Goethe Institute three years ago. “I loved the place and admired the strong confidence of Turkish culture that is to be seen everywhere. It is very impressive to see a place with such a history and identity,” he said, adding that today as a traveler one sometimes feels as if one were in that same ubiquitous American shopping mall and that it is a great relief that İstanbul and its people are different.
You also played saxophone when you were younger and established a band. What made you pursue the guitar rather than the saxophone?
On the saxophone I felt everything was already said. After years of playing, I still felt the overwhelming influence of the great masters, especially Coltrane, and didn’t find what I really had to create beyond that. The classical guitar was quite different: There was so much still to explore and discover. Although as a young player I admired some of the old masters, I was never really satisfied and an inner voice told me to go in another direction, to develop a sound, a repertoire and a way to play that was not yet there. I still have the impression the classical guitar is not fully developed in comparison to many other instruments. But back then, in the ’60s and ’70s, we didn’t even know much about the playing techniques, the repertoire, the real challenges and mysteries of the instrument. That made it so interesting.
What criteria do you use to include pieces in your repertoire?
For me, music must be genuine. I always prefer original, pure, honest music. I like tasteful music that does not pretend or claim to be anything other than what it just is. I don’t like when music aims for a simple effect or obviously tries to please the audience. A tiny waltz by 19th century guitarist Fernando Sor can still touch me more than many exaggerated transcriptions (of classical composers’ pieces for the guitar) or longwinded pseudo virtuoso pieces of today. Pure style can never be out of style.
Your international career started when you received first prize in a guitar competition in Granada. You were also awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik (German Record Critics’ Prize) in 1997, the Audio Reference prize in 1998 and the Instrumentalist of the Year award in the Echo Klassik awards in 2005. What is the source of this powerful musical life?
To express it very simply: Music is the source of music as love is the source of love and faith is the source of faith -- there is nothing behind it, no idea, no intention. Music is in the world, and from my childhood it spoke to me so strongly that I could not resist. In terms of career, I can’t say that I have always been successful with everything throughout my life; I don’t even think this is the goal. But I can say, when I remain faithful to my convictions and destiny in the long run, it works out OK.
What role does emotion play while performing your music and is your spiritual life reflected in your music?
In my experience, you need your whole being to make music. You cannot separate anything. You can’t even separate emotion and playing technique in any way. In the best moments the player is one with the music, and this means selflessness. You could call this the spiritual aspect. I was surprised when John McLaughlin once said his personal spiritual way didn’t influence his music because music itself is spiritual. The deeper you get, the more you understand this statement.
You have given master classes in various countries, and you are also going to conduct a workshop in İstanbul. What subjects are you going to emphasize during these three days?
Whether the students are amateurs or emerging professionals, we first have to emphasize a generally joyful way of practicing and playing. My teaching always focuses on improving the art of playing a musical instrument.
Especially when students become more serious, the main questions are: How faithful are you to the score and how honest are you with yourself while making music? In most cases, the students have to improve their artistic imagination and their ability to listen with awareness.
What kind of a program are you going to perform in your concert here?
I start with one of the major concert pieces by Fernando Sor, his great “Opus 54 bis: Fantaisie” I try to promote this guitar music as much as possible -- unfortunately it is still necessary (to do so). Turina’s “Sonata [for Guitar]” for me proves to be one of the lasting works of the repertoire with its unique musical language between impressionism and strong Spanish elements. I’ll play the original version from the manuscript -- erasing the changes by Segovia. “Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa” by Rodrigo finishes the first half. It’s one of his late works, with special rhythmical difficulties and many of those famous scales. I prefer pieces like that: pure and raw “Spanish” rather than neoclassical. In the second half I play “Partita No. 1 in B minor” by Bach, one of the six gigantic violin solo works I transcribed for the guitar. I observed it sometimes helps listeners play heavy Bach works just after the guitar music. In the second half people are really ready and their ears are open.