Home : Concerts: Advice Centre: Player Profiles: Links:

An interview with...Gerard Cousins

Gerard Cousins PhotoGerard Cousins is a young guitarist whose name will already be familiar to many Classical Guitar magazine readers and UK guitar society members. A multi-international prize winner, Gerard studied music at the University of Leeds under the tutelage of Segovia expert, Graham Wade. He recently made his debut performance at the Purcell Room on London's South Bank, leading the musical journal, Musical Opinion to commend him on his "beautiful playing and subtle phrasing."

We were really pleased to secure a recent interview with him, in which we asked questions about all aspects of his guitar playing life. We also managed to get some useful pointers and tips along the way to help with technique and the approach to playing the classical guitar. No wonder then, that we've included a full transcript of the interview for you to read right here!

We also recently reviewed two of Gerard's recent guitar releases "Una Leyenda" and a "Gift" and you can read the reviews on the website, by following the links which immediately follow our interview with Gerard.

What age were you when you started to play and what do you remember of your early playing days?

Well I started playing the piano as soon as I could reach the keys. My parents both played, and I started formal lessons I think when I was 5, but by the age of 8 or 9 I really hated practising and my mum had to sit over me forcing me to practise!

I then tried out the clarinet, but desperately wanted to be a drummer. I had a snare drum and some ornamental African drums that I used to arrange into a mock drum kitand play along to records. However, my guitar playing started when I was about 9, just learning a few chords and playing songs in school assembly. I remember finding it really difficult, which, looking back, was a direct result of trying to play a steel strung guitar I simply didn't have the strength!

It wasn't until I tried a nylon strung guitar a few years later that my playing really took off, that combined with a new teacher, Jeremy Herbert who was an inspiration to me. I remember loving my grade 1 pieces, which I used to play all the time in front of the TV, much to the annoyance of my sister!

As a teenager, it was my older brother who inspired me, he was to be in a band - that was when I played the electric guitar a lot, trying to emulate the virtuoso rock guitarists like Steve Vai and Van Halen etc.

When did you first think that you could devote your life to playing guitar?

I've always had difficulty in deciding what I wanted to do. I really enjoyed the sciences as much as the arts, for A level I did the strange combination of Biology, Physics and Music. I suppose it was very late on when I actually consciously said to myself - it's time to choose – but when I did it was 8 hours a day practise. I needed to do a bit of catching up.

I do remember though wanting to go to California when I was about 15 to study electric guitar, but I'm glad I stuck to the classical guitar, I just love the sound!

Who have been the greatest influences on your playing career to date and why?

In terms of my career structure - I've done it myself. I’ve never had an agent or manager, which has allowed me to take my own paths and develop at my own pace and in my own individual way. But, this has undoubtedly slowed down my ‘public’ career development. I now feel that it’s time for this to change, I feel more mature as a musician and the time is right for me to play more concerts, and communicate my>> experiences through music to a wider audience.

Who are your favourite composers?

I'll try to stick to guitar composers that I play, as the list is too long otherwise and it changes with the seasons! However if I were to pick one it would have to be Leo Brouwer, His oeuvre is so big that there is a piece for all tastes from ‘A day in November’ to his Sonata or concertos.

He really knows how to exploit the guitar in such an imaginative way, from violent noise to delicate, repeated single notes. His studies are fantastic, great for students and performers alike. I really love the physical feeling of playing>> his pieces, the finger movements are so idiomatic, they’re a real joy.

Which players do you admire the most?

From the Classical guitar world, Julian Bream and John Williams are all I need, with a little bit of Segovia thrown in, because he could produce such a marvellous vibrato. I’ve always admired Julian Bream, his approach to recording – his daring and innovative programming. In his last Wigmore Hall concert, which I was lucky enough to see, his programme was incredible - Bach, Brouwer, Cyril Scott – until the last he was pushing himself and his audience to the limits!

I also love to listen to the pianist Martha Argerich for her power and saxophonist John Coltrane for his beautiful phrasing. I have spent an awful lot of time listening to recordings of most guitarists and have a huge collection of records/tapes and CD’s. When I was younger I used to devour guitar recordings and listen to them in headphones as I fellasleep.

Do you have any future ambitions or projects you want to fulfil?

Well my dream concerts would be a solo performance at the Alhambra palace in Granada, just like Segovia did in the Christopher Nupen film and of course playing the ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ with one of the great Orchestras, with one of the great conductors in one of the great concert halls!

At the moment, I’m focused on my new CD "Hiraeth" which I’ve just about finished recording. I’ve been exploring contemporary music by Welsh composers and transcribing and arranging traditional folksongs and Harp pieces. I’ve been so overwhelmed with the quality and quantity that I think this will be the first of many ‘Welsh’ CDs.

I also play in a really interesting duo with acoustic guitarist Yusuf B’Layachi. We mostly play our own compositions and are hoping to release an albumsoon. We've done a few preliminary recordings and the combination of nylon and steel strung guitars gives a really unique sound – something like a supercharged harpsichord!

How do you approach learning and playing a new piece?

Like most things in my life – I don’t have a fixed methodology. Every piece means something different to me and therefore needs a unique approach. Sometimes I find a new piece, or I finish a new arrangement and I’ll be obsessed with it and practice it all day, every day for a week or more. With others it’s a slow burn, where it slowly filters in, gradually being assimilated.

Quite often, I’ll seek out other performances of the work, or other pieces by the composer. If it’s an arrangement, I’ll search for the original text. The research is now so easy because of the internet – It’s amazing what you can find.

Music or memory? Which do you prefer when performing?

Well, I think performing from memory is the best, not only from the performer’s point of view but also from the audiences. Having said that I often perform from a score, but I only really use it as an aide-memoire - I’m not reading the notes as such, just seeing the shapes.

Using scores allows me to vary my programmes more often and include pieces sooner rather than later. I really enjoy this flexibility as it keeps things fresh. I always immaculately prepare my scores as well, so there are no page turns to interrupt the flow and keep the music stand very low so the audiences view is unhindered. It’s important to show the visual aspect of playing when performing, there is so much more to giving a concert than simply playing the notes!

To finish off, do you have a tip for playing, practising or anything classical guitar related?

I’ll try to give a tip that I’ve not read in any books, and it’s this. It’s sometimes important to bring out one note in a chord, especially if it has some melodic function (normally the highest note). The idea is that before you play a chord (eg using i, m & a ), push the a finger further inwards, towards the soundboard before you release the fingers. This should give the string more power and make the note stand out more. You can, of course do this with any finger.

With a bit of practice you can bring out inner notes with ease. It’s a subtle but useful alternative to arpeggiation, which is the usual alternative to bring out a particular note.

Ed-Many thanks Gerard, for giving this interview and we wish you all the very best with your forthcoming release and future projects!

Where do you want to go to next?

Read our reviews of Gerard's current CD releases
Find out more about Gerard Cousins and purchase his recordings
Visit our regularly updated Concert Listings to see if his playing near me soon
Take me back to the Player Profiles homepage

 

Back to Top

 

I want to...

See if he's playing near me:

Visit our frequently updated and comprehensive concerts listings page now.

Watch videos of Gerard Cousins: