There have been many instances where musicianship runs in the family. One such example would be German classical guitarist Heike Matthiesen. Given that she’s been described by some of the media in her country as a charismatic guitarist who delivers “stupendous technical virtuosity,” Heike transcends those notions of growing up amongst musicians in her family.
Heike originally took up piano at the age of 4, but as sure as she was transitioning to adulthood, so, too, was Heike transitioning from playing classical piano to playing classical guitar, first through conservatory lessons in Frankfurt, followed by master classes that helped shape her into a talented guitarist who has traveled the world, and has performed both by herself and with chamber music ensembles.
I recently asked Heike about her piano-to-guitar transition, as well the instruction she got to help her in that transition, plus other topics like what inspired her to record a French guitarist’s works, and how she compares competitions with concerts, and playing solo versus playing with ensembles.
Steve: Heike, let me begin by asking how you transitioned from piano to guitar, particularly as you took up that instrument once you turned 18?
Heike: I was always fascinated by the sexiness of the sound of the guitar and loved especially Spanish music- and it was a spontaneous decision without remembering the trigger! Yes, I dreamt about [Isaac] Albeniz on the guitar, whom I could have played on the piano…It was an easy shift, both hands were trained and the movements of the hands are more similar than you’d expect. And, luckily, the guitar world is not so dominated by child prodigies, and there are more good players than one might guess who did not start, let’s say, at age 4!
Steve: One of your earliest guitar instructors was a Frankfurt professor named Heinz Teuchert [I hope I got his name right]. Was much of his teaching more about the classical style than about basic playing?
Heike: He was one of the great professors in German guitar history, as well as a writer of many guitar teaching books. It was big, big luck that he became my first teacher. He confessed later that it was like a present to him to have me as one of his last students before retiring, like he said “an already-ready musician, but not-at-all a guitarist’” so he was mostly working on the technique, special to have a beginner who already played Chopin scherzos on the piano and knew all kind of classical music and biggest part of theory. I am from a family of musicians, so I grew up with listening to classical music all my life. And he said directly in the beginning, that he was planning my future to be a professional.
Steve: You were also taught for several years by one of Spain’s most honored classical guitarists, Pepe Romero. How has his approach been such a formative influence in your work?
Heike: Pepe was teaching me all the so-called mental things–what to think and what not to while playing, how to practice, how to prepare, how to organize yourself in the world of a traveling artist’s rollercoaster. So he was doing more than teaching his incredible technique, it was really how to be a musician. And Pepe is very humble to music and respectful for the audience, so I learned that being a musician is not for your ego, but to be “a tool” for music to sound and “a medium” to give unforgettable time to your audience.
Steve: Your recordings and live performances over the years have been both solo and with chamber music ensembles. Does playing with an ensemble enhance your guitar work just as much as you playing solo?
Heike: It is essential to play especially with other instruments to learn to overcome the limitations of the instrument you have. A non-guitar player does not accept an interrupted phrase because of a difficult position change – and asks you for a powerful sound! It is nice to play tons of nuances- if nobody hears them sitting further than row 3 in the audience. I think of a guitar as a powerful instrument, even visualizing impossible things like a crescendo in one note- how can you develop this without getting the ideas from other instruments who might be able to do it easily? Think three-dimensional like a piano, phrase like a violin, have resonances like a cello, and have projection like a soprano.
Steve: One of the albums you recorded was “Tristemusette” back in 2002, in which you did compositions by French classical guitarist Roland Dyens. Roland is known for his improvisational knack, but was that what led you to do this album?
Heike: A combination of chance and, let’s call it destiny. I had to play something by him in a competition and did not want to make a “normal” choice, so I tested a lot of his pieces and I fell in love with his music. Then I realized that, until then, nobody had done a CD of Dyens’ works other than Roland Dyens himself. It is dangerous if you play a living composer, not just to try to copy him, so I tried to look at his music with my opera-pianist-Romero school-view and it is maybe the biggest compliment to a composer if there can be many different views, possible and logical.
Steve: Besides concerts, you’ve also participated in competitions. Are those competitions any more “pressure-packed” for you than a concert would be?
Heike: Of course, an audience usually comes to a concert to like it, to have a great evening- and in competitions, the judges wait for mistakes to catch. Sometimes perfection gets to be more important than playing musically. If you think about a magic player like Julian Bream, he was a fascinating, heaven-and-hell, full-risk rollercoaster. That is my idol’s way, you must take risk, show emotions, a concert should not be competing with CD-perfection and a competition might not ask if you are an interesting concert player. So I have mixed emotions about competitions, yet with so many competitions around the world, they can be very important as base for a long-lasting career. It was an experience I would never want to miss. I met wonderful colleagues, heard new pieces (everywhere there are fashions!), styles of players, and learned to stand the incredible pressure. Also it showed clearly how much the guitar pro world is a man’s world; the percentage of girls is still very low, but it is great that more and more great female players win!!
Steve: Finally, Heike, what do you have in the way of future recordings, tours or projects?
Heike: I just recorded a CD with lots of Mozart-related music, all 19th-century. It will be released this spring. Also, I started work on a contemporary classical program. I waited very long with that recording, but programs for the next 4 CDs are already done in my head and big parts in my fingers already, so a lot to come! Concerts are planned mostly in Europe right now, including some with chamber musicians and with orchestra. I will do some tutorials for YouTube, continue to be present in social media, and, right now, enjoying 4 weeks of holidays at home!! Happy New Year!!
And a Happy New Year back at you, Heike. You can check out video of some of her past performances, as well as her forthcoming tutorials, at www.youtube.com/guitarrina. Heike’s website is multilingual, with pages in English, German, French and Spanish, at www.heikematthiesen.com.
Photo credits: (Cover Photo) Stock-Müller