I had the pleasure to hear you at the 2nd International Competition “Paola Ruminelli” in Domodossola/Italy for chamber ensembles with guitar, at which you took 2nd prize and the special prize to perform at the International Guitar Festival in Wertingen. Please tell us about your experiences with competitions.
Adam Woch: It was not the first competition in which we participated. Already at the beginning of our cooperation we won the 2nd prize at the competition in Gorizia (Italy), and a few months later we performed at a large competition for all music specialties, which was taking place in Sicily. After the competition, we were selected to the group of laureates, which lately resulted in concert invitations in various parts of the world. We can say that Italy has always brought us luck.
At the beginning of your career you had been also successful at solo guitar competitions. Did you stop working on your solo-careers, when you met for the duo? Or do you still work on your solo guitar and play like Julian Bream and John Williams did just occasionally as a duo?
AW: The duo is a very important element of our professional careers. I also try to develop as a soloist all the time: I work on new pieces, I keep in my fingers a fixed repertoire for performances, I’ve recorded a solo album. I need to work on a solo repertoire to feel fully in shape, which later translates into cooperation with Robert, though most of the active artistic life is about our duo.
Robert Guzik: Working on a duo repertoire and our need for further development as an ensemble takes a lot of my time. In addition, I devote a significant part of my life to pedagogical work. I’m trying to spend every little moment with my guitar and where possible refreshing my solo programme. Now, however I focus on Woch & Guzik Duo project.
How did you get together as a duo and when did you know that you want to become professional as a guitar duo?
AW: I have known Robert since childhood, meeting at various competitions and guitar festivals in Poland. When in 2010 I started studying at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw, where Robert had been studying for two years, we almost immediately tried playing together. At the beginning it was a cooperation that met the formal requirements of the university. However, encouraged by the praise of our colleagues and educators, we realized very quickly that we can build our artistic future on this cooperation.
Do you think the competitions had been important for your career and would you suggest young artists to take part in competitions?
RG: Competitions are an important part of young musicians’ life. Not because of the rewards (although it is a very nice side effect) but because of the effort we make to prepare ourselves for such an event. We want to impress the jury and the audience, and that’s why we’re doing our best to make the most of the time effective before the competition. In this way, we are able to grow. What’s more, playing as a competitor and playing as a performer are two different things. The competition is a less pleasant experience for me because we are compared with other participants and judged, which causes many stress symptoms.
On the other hand stress can bring positive effect because it prepares us better for performances at concerts. In addition, during the competitions we can meet a lot of interesting people and start building the so-called contact network for the future. I recommend it to all young musicians, but not as a goal itself, but rather as another stop on the road to a career and a chance to develop our skills.
There are world class Polish guitar performers like Marcin Dylla or Łukasz Kuropaczewski. Tell us please about the Polish guitar education and also your personal musical education in Poland.
AW: There is a huge number of great guitarists of the younger generation in Poland. Young guitarists encouraged by careers that Marcin and Łukasz have managed to build, are motivated to work hard. There are more and more guitar events in the country, where young musicians meet, have the opportunity to compare their skills with others, or learn from the best. Poland is not a wealthy country, but in the area of culture, we have some interesting national programs that allow young talented musicians, for example, to buy their first professional and expensive instrument. I bought my first high-end guitar – Gernot Wagner – a double top, thanks to a scholarship at the age of 16. Many of my younger colleagues in Poland got such an opportunity even earlier.
Adam, you also studied abroad. Robert, you stayed in Poland for your whole education. What was the motivation for you both to follow up the pedagogical path you did?
AW: Music is one of those areas where education based on the master-student relation has survived to this day. The main factor while choosing a place to learn is to find the right master. As we started the cooperation of the duo right at the beginning of my studies in Warsaw, we also discussed our decisions on possible, future turnouts, etc. Now we are thinking about summarizing our education with joint studies as a duo at one of the foreign cultural centres.
RG: I stayed in Poland for private reasons, but I do not regret this decision. At that time I cooperated with some great musicians, and each of them taught me something else. It’s really wonderful, how many of great teachers and artists we have in Poland.
Who had been your important teachers? Did you also study arranging or composing?
AW: During my education I had four formal teachers and each of them had a huge impact on my musical development. My first teacher Mr Zbigniew Dubiella draw me to passion for the guitar from an early age, prof. Ryszard Bałauszko is the person to whom I owe my musical taste and widening horizons to the whole world of music, not only the guitar. I do not have to introduce Carlo Marchione to anyone. I feel very lucky that I could draw from the huge treasury of knowledge about music that Carlo has. At the end of education in Poland, when I was looking for a mentor who would give me an additional kick to develop, I met Leszek Potasiński, under whose supervision I got a master’s degree. Each of us also had to do, more or less regularly, with Marcin Dylla and Łukasz Kuropaczewski – ambassadors of the Polish guitar.
RG: I am grateful to all the teachers who took care of me. My first teacher and also my second father (because he led me through 13 years of education) was Mr Jan Kowalczyk from The National Music School in Gdynia. During my studies I spent a fantastic time with prof. Marcin Zalewski – a specialist in early music and a person who taught me great humility to music. I also had the pleasure to learn from Marcin Dylla during postgraduate studies in Katowice. I do not even have to say how amazing it is to have someone like him close at hand. His technique and intellectual approach to music is really unique.
When it comes to arrangements and compositions, although we did not study it formally, we spend a lot of time analysing the recordings and scores, which translates into a better understanding of music and development of arranging skills.
Lately you performed at New York´s Carnegie Hall and you toured Asia including Bangkok, Thailand and Hanoi, Vietnam. The reviews had been raving about you. Tell us about your experiences during these tours and the way to become professional.
AW: The concert tour in the United States in 2014 was our first tour. We did play some concerts before, however, these were single events. In the US, we played almost every day for two weeks. We also happened to perform 3 times on the same day! If we add to this time spent on travels, acoustic tests, or additional events in our schedule, such as dinners with the sponsors of the tour or interviews, primarily we lacked time for practice. And the whole tour was crowned by a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, so you had to keep the best form to the very end.
During this tour we have gained a lot of valuable experience. Starting with some life hacks, how to wrap a suit around concert shoes, in order to take it on board, in the event of lost registered luggage (since a few hours after arrival we play a concert) ending with the ability to practice without touching the instrument. Each of our next tours was easier and less stressful for us.
In Wertingen you perform a seven-part One Week in Rio Suite dedicated to you by Sergio Assad. As I know Sergio Assad is a composer of heavy demand and very picky for whom he composes. How did this happen?
RG: First of all, I have to admit that I have an amazing younger brother. He came up with an idea to contact Sergio and ask him for a composition for our duo for the 20th anniversary of my guitar playing. We sent our recordings, which he liked very much. What an honour that was!
At the beginning it was supposed to be a short 4-5 min. piece, but Sergio was so fired up for the idea that at the end of the day he composed the seven-part suite One Week in Rio. The work is a reminiscence of important places for the composer and symbols of Rio de Janeiro. Each part is a different day and another characteristic place. We start our tour in a peaceful atmosphere of the Chácara do Céu Museum, and end with the rhythms of the Brazilian samba at the legendary Maracanã stadium.
You collaborated and performed together with the famous Assad Duo. How did this happen?
RG: When I first heard the Assad Brothers as a kid, I had a dream to get to know them one day. To this day, I can’t believe that something like that can happen. But how did it start? I had the pleasure of participating in masterclasses with Odair organized as part of the International Festival of Silesian Guitar Autumn in Tychy. After a very successful lesson, I managed to make contact with Odair and I was invited by him to the headquarters of GHA Records in Brussels. I spent there 2 fantastic days during which we talked about music and I could learn many things. Later, my brother came up with the idea I mentioned before. I decided that it was high time to fulfil my dreams, so as Sergio was creating the composition, I thought of organizing a premiere of that piece. However, I knew that inviting the most famous duo in the world for a concert in Poland could be a big risk and a very brave move. I introduced my crazy idea to the Assad Brothers and I succeeded! In this way, in March 2017 Woch & Guzik Duo and the Assad Brothers played two shared concerts in Warsaw and Wroclaw performing the world premiere of One Week in Rio.
When I first heard you perform, I was immediately reminded to the Assads because of your perfection and beauty in sound and interpretation. Are the Assads like ideals for you? How did you both feel being on stage with such artistic heavyweights?
AW: We are huge fans of the Assad Brothers. They are not only one of our favourite guitarists, but they are one of the best classical music ensembles in general. They go beyond the limits of the instrument with their technique and musical abilities. Performing on one stage was a great honour. We also gained a lot of valuable experience during these few days of joint acoustic testing, sharing dressing rooms or talking on a tour bus.
The Carnegie Hall reviewer compared you to the legendary Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine Duo. Being a classical duo, I feel that you are also very inspired by Brazilian and Jazz composers. Your transcriptions and interpretations of Gismonti´s Palhaço or 7 aneis or Marco Pereira’s Bate Coxa are fantastic. What made you choose that repertoire?
AW: We’ve always liked the style of Brazilian music and, generally speaking Latin American music. For sure one of the reasons was our fascination with the Assad Brothers, and how they performed the music. We’ve also noticed that giving concerts with such repertoire we are able to reach a wider audience. It is such a good balance for us – we get lot of satisfaction and joy from performing Latin American music, and the audience, even those from non-philharmonic events, like it very much. Thanks to this, we were able to expand our concert activities beyond guitar festivals. We also use every opportunity to learn something about this music and try not to play it in “European” style.
We spoke about the Assad Duo. There are also other great duos around and there had been fantastic duos like Ida Presti & Alexandre Lagoya. In Wertingen you performed, next to the beautiful Brazilian music also, works by Jean-Philippe Rameau and Manuel de Falla, which had been in the repertoire of the Ida Presti & Alexandre Lagoya Duo. How would you musically see your duo? And who had been your inspiration to form the duo?
AW: We value many guitar duos. From the old school, we love the Abreu brothers. However, the Assad brothers were a direct inspiration, especially at the beginning of the cooperation. We were able to learn pieces they play by ear on YouTube. Many notes were not published, and we were determined to play this or that piece from their repertoire. The more we were happy that after a few years we build such a good relations with Sergio and Odair, which resulted in the composition of One Week In Rio and joint concerts.
Do you see yourself as a crossover-duo, choosing music from different styles?
AW: Considering our education, we think of ourselves as a classical guitar duo. The guitar is associated with strong influence of folk and Latin music, or Brazilian rhythms. However, from the perspective of our technique, we derive from the classical music education and the fact that we will weave some improvisation into the piece, or let ourselves go mad in our interpretations does not make us jazz musicians.
Which kind of repertoire do you usually perform?
RG: In addition to the aforementioned Latin American music, we are constantly trying to diversify our repertoire. However, we come from Europe and, of course, we do not want to forget about the achievements of our fantastic composers. We often try to divide our concerts into a European and Latin part.
Woch & Guzik Duo stands out with great technique as well as harmony together with phenomenal understanding of the other person’s style which makes them sound as a one instrument and understand Latin music nicely.
Polish composer Frédéric Chopin is quoted to have said, that There is nothing more beautiful than the sound of one guitar but two guitars! Indeed I feel that the sound possibilities as well as the repertoire is even more complex and interesting for two guitars than for one guitar. Did you ever think on arranging for example piano or orchestral works, which are not known to be played on guitar for your duo?
AW: Recently, we think about such arrangements more and more often. We are particularly interested in the piano repertoire. I often listen to music looking at notes, admiring how the great masters of other instruments read the scores. I also try to repeat this or that phrase later according to their interpretation on the guitar. In this way, I encountered a lot of compositions that could sound beautifully in a guitar duet. We definitely want to develop our activities on this field. The only limitation here is 24 hours, of which day is made up.
Are you thinking to ask more contemporary composers as Sergio Assad to write for your duo? If so, who do you have in mind?
AW: We think about cooperation with young Polish composers. The guitar is still being underestimated in the music environment and one of the best ways to change it is to convince young, talented composers to our instrument.
We highly value Dušan Bogdanović as a guitar composer. His Sonata Fantasia is one of the most interesting pieces for a guitar duo.
What about Polish music? Is there anything – for example piano music of Chopin – which could be interesting for you?
RG: We already performed Chopin during our last tour in Asia, which was very well received. This music is very demanding and difficult to play in a guitar duet, due to the smaller dynamic range of our instrument and smaller scale. We have fantastic composers. Besides Chopin, we should mention Tansman and Szymanowski – arrangements of his Mazurkas are planned and our colleague-composer is already working on them.
Which kind of guitars do you play?
AW: At the moment I’m playing the guitar of the French luthier Jean-Noel Rohe. He is the heir of the excellent French luthier school represented by the famous Friedrich. Jean-Noel studied with Dominique Field. It’s a rather traditional guitar, with a solid wood spruce plate. I have two other traditional guitars. I also play – Masaki Sakurai, which I won at the competition in Brno and Arnoldo Garcia from Granada. I played all three guitars at our duet concerts and today Rohe seems to be the best complement to Robert’s guitar.
RG: I’ve been a happy owner of a guitar made by Daryl Perry for about two years. It is a beautiful, traditional instrument made of spruce wood, which surprises me more and more and I don’t want to change it for anything else.
What are your future plans? Where do you want to be in ten years?
AW: Our main artistic project in the near future is the recording of the first album of the duo. It took us a long time to this project. We did not want to record a typical guitar album in the form of a recital, where the most popular duet compositions known from many other interpretations will be recorded. We wanted the entire album to be led by one main theme, where the selected compositions are partially unique. Finally, the record will include the premiere of S. Assad’s One Week In Rio, the Tango History in its unreleased version for two guitars and a violin (with the other guitar part added by Sergio). The album will be complemented by other Latin American compositions from our repertoire, including the 7 Aneis and Palhaço by Gismonti, or Pereira’s Bate Coxa.
RG: It’s our dream to continuously develop further as artists. It is important that we have a regular contact with the audience. In 10 years I’d like to see our ensemble be presented as two actively performing, full of enthusiasm musicians who still want to improve their skills, learn music and show people interesting and new repertoire.
If you’re interested in organizing a concert – contact us!