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Guitar revolutionary

Smaro Gregoriadou is a Greek guitar virtuoso who has been reinventing the classical guitar and its long-neglected aspects through her music

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Smaro Gregoriadou will perform at the Hobart Baroque festival.

03 April 2014

For Smaro Gregoriadou, the love for music and guitar started so early that it is hard to recall. And the fact that her formal musical education started just before she turned 12 didn't impact at all on her virtuosity - it was always there.

The young Greek guitar virtuoso and composer has been praised internationally, equally for her virtuosity as for her ongoing crusade to explore the historical roots of her instrument and ancient performance practices, and apply her findings to modern guitar artistry.

At the very beginnings of her career, Smaro has been mainly influenced by her teachers - distinguished Greek pianist and conductor George Hadjinikos and her principal guitar teacher George Kertsopoulos. Later on, while studying at the Royal College of Music as a holder of a Senior Exhibitioner scholarship, Smaro admits she was lucky enough to study with outstanding classical guitar specialists of our time, the likes of Paul Galbraith, Jesus Castro-Balbi, Roberto Aussel, Carlos Bonnel and John Williams.

"Their presence in my musical life has always been inspiring and challenging," Smaro says.

What makes Smaro as inspiring and challenging for guitar aficionados is her extensive research that has revealed many long-lost instrument designs, string configurations and tuning schemes. With the collaboration of luthier and her teacher, distinguished Greek guitar soloist, composer and researcher Yiorgos Kertsopoulos, the research led to the crafting of modern replicas of very different sorts of instruments that have not been heard for centuries and that Smaro performs on.

Kertsopoulos is the inventor of Kertsopoulos Aesthetics, an internationally acclaimed platform of original inventions and pioneering achievements in guitar and string construction that aims to connect the contemporary guitarist with obsolete forms and stringing traditions of the guitar.

"George Kertsopoulos is a genius mind, a free artistic spirit. His contribution to the classical guitar world is unique in its originality and inventiveness."
Kertsopoulos' guitars, Smaro explains, follow the traditional constructional logic, instrumental design and overall proportions of the standard instrument, as established in the mid-19th century by the notable Spanish builder Antonio de Torres.

"But they are further equipped with various features, additions and components of the Kertsopoulos Aesthetics constructional platform, all of which considerably affect sound, technique and interpretation. These possibilities can charge in an unbelievable degree the emotional content of the various interpretations and expand tremendously the performer's horizons."

Recently released, Reinventing Guitar II by Smaro Gregoriadou is the second in a series of albums that demonstrate how Baroque-era music, by Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, sounds on such replicas. The album does not impose solutions, but reveals an abundance of new possibilities for the modern classical guitar and its advantages that cannot be undervalued.

More than an album title, Smaro tells Neos Kosmos, the name summarises her overall interpretive and pedagogic perspective, which is to project on an international scale the need for a re-definition of the classical guitar's sound and technique and a re-evaluation of guitar transcriptions.

"This is necessary in order to bridge the enormous distance that guitar retains from performance practices of early periods and achieve historically coherent, convincing and yet fresh interpretations of Renaissance and Baroque repertory, original or transcribed: this is the essence of the word 'reinventing' that constitutes the identity of my interpretive approach.

"My objective is not to make a modern guitar sound like a harpsichord or a baroque lute; it is to understand certain vital but long-neglected aspects of guitar's tradition and historical milieu, and to incorporate them into our current interpretive logic and mentality," she explains.

Delving into antiquity

Throughout her career, Smaro has researched historical roots of guitar and ancient performance practices. What she revealed was that a key point for her development is to struggle for "historical coherence or compatibility" rather than to search for authenticity.

"As Paul Henry Lang, the eminent Hungarian-American musicologist and music critic put it, 'we must temper what may be historically desirable by what is practically and aesthetically reasonable in order to realise the composer's aims and intentions, even those he could not always carry out with the means available to him. It is always our present we are interpreting, but we are doing so by looking into the past'.

"What is authenticity? Even if we had at our disposal a specific time machine that would allow us to produce in clinical exactness all instrumental and compositional practices of the past, how much sense would this make to the audience of today? We do not hear as in Frescobaldi or Purcell's time, since our sound sensations and perceptions have been enriched with such a wide sound experience, as romantic, impressionistic, dodecaphonic, electronic music, noise as artistic means. We have been accustomed to the huge concert halls of a modern metropolis, where the laconic proportions of a Bach or Handel masterwork do not fit very well anymore. But this is certainly a personal revelation and an individual way of perceiving things," Smaro says.

This year, Smaro Gregoriadou has been invited to perform at the Hobart Baroque Festival, which takes place from 28 March to 5 April. With Baroque pieces one of the favourites in her repertoire, at the Baroque inspired festival Smaro will perform music by Bach, Scarlatti and Handel. She will play on three guitars differing in type, number and material of strings, timbre and tunings, all built by Yiorgos Kertsopoulos and believed to be specifically good for playing Baroque music when compared to the standard classical guitar type.

"The efficiency of Kertsopoulos' instruments lies exactly on the fact that today, after so many years, classical guitarists have the opportunity to enjoy a faithful recreation of many long-abandoned areas of guitar's fascinating sonority without changing instruments or their techniques. Only when I practiced on a Kertsopoulos double-course guitar did I realise why music so beautifully written by Sanz or de Visée for the five-course guitar, by Fuenllana for vihuela, or by Bach, Dowland and da Milano for the lute, often sounds incoherent when performed on a modern classical guitar," Smaro tells Neos Kosmos.
This will be her first and only appearance in Australia - exclusive to Hobart Baroque.

"To my mind Baroque glorifies God but it does so through a recreation of the human mind and a re-evaluation of the human conscience. This philosophical approach attracts me especially.

"Mysticism, exuberance, complexity, allegory, gravitas and, moreover, a highly advanced compositional technique. Where the Renaissance period and later the Classic searched for order and clarity, the Baroque (and later the Romantic) stood for movement, disturbance, doubt. I feel very close to the Baroque musical ideal and especially Bach, Purcell, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. But I am equally inspired by more recent musical creation; particularly the music of Bela Bartok and his individual way of exploring folklore; Mussorgsky's melodic directness; the mathematical structures of Schönberg and Xenakis; the physical dynamism of Messiaen, Debussy and Crumb's musical scale; the micro polyphonic form of Ligeti, Stravinsky and Varèse; and Reich's minimalism. As for guitar music, I respect immensely composers who have ingeniously explored the folk element, like José, Ponce, Tansmann, Bogdanovic ... I shouldn't neglect to mention one of the most remarkable Australian composers that I am now discovering; Peter Sculthorpe. His genius blending of exoticism with advanced avant-garde techniques really fascinates me," Smaro tells.

Arts in Greece of today

Successful artist and virtuoso Smaro Gregoriadou is today based in Greece, where, since the time of the crisis, as she witnessed, nothing is the same anymore.

"I am based in Athens, that suffers most from the crisis, and day after day with my fellow citizens we experience the gradual disaster of every possible aspect of our cultural life, together with the state's indifference, slovenliness, impotence. The Ministry of Education and Culture unfortunately react as if they considered music and arts as superfluous or unnecessary! They shut down great historical state institutions with many decades of a highly acclaimed artistic presence, like The Orchestra of Colours, other famous music ensembles, the State Conservatory of Thessaloniki, and many others. To play on words, we are Creators Under Threat!"

Highly affected is the field of arts, she admits, where the lack of funding could seriously affect the artistic creation.

"Access to artistic creation should be a common privilege and right, not a luxury to a few people that could afford it individually, as is the case with Greece today. Greek people are crushed from the one hand by the unreasonable, cannibalistic demands of our lenders and from the other by the absolute servility and inadequacy of the Greek government. So generally speaking, it is really difficult to redesign our artistic future under these circumstances. Of course the crisis gave a sort of new meaning to our lives and the artistic creation was never so rich in quality as it is now in music, theatre, cinema. But the absolute lack of financial support for the arts makes things extremely complicated and exhausting."

Smaro Gregoriadou cordially thanked the Hobart team for their excellent organisation and cooperation, and expressed her best wishes for a bright future for the Hobart Baroque festival.

She will perform on Friday 4 April at 8.00 pm, at Hobart Town Hall. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.hobartbaroque.com.au/Smaro.php

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