Talent From Canada

Colin Cooper Talks To Dale Kavanagh

The Canadian guitarist Dale Kavanagh won a creditable first prize in the Scandinavian International Guitar Competition in 1988. It was a useful aid in establishing herself as a concert guitarist, and her recital there the following year as an invited guest showed that the award of the prize was not misplaced. Her assured confident and penetrating musicianship are going to make a lot of friends for her in the years that lie ahead. Before that, she had done a couple of other competitions, getting a third prize at Palma, Mallorca, a third prize in Gargnano, and a second prize in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

To the question, Who had been her influences? (always a tricky one), Dale replied that she got as much out of everybody’s playing as she could. ‘I can’t really say there’s any one player that I’ve followed. I was very influenced by Oscar Ghiglia, whose musical imagination is wonderful. But I was also influenced by many other players; my teachers, colleagues and performers of every kind. I tried to absorb everything that moved me.’

Most of her learning time was spent with Oscar Ghiglia. Before that, she had had piano lessons for ten years before taking up the guitar. Her first teachers were Carol van Feggelen and Eli Kassner. After completing her Bachelor of Music degree she went to spend two years at the Banff Center School of Fine Arts. She had special praise for this school, where-the level of teaching was very high.

‘I would never have gone to Europe if I hadn’t gone to Banff and met the people who helped and encouraged me to continue my studies. It gave me a lot of motivation. I was the only guitarist in the programme at the time, so I took masterclasses from many great musicians.’ They included members of the Emerson and Juilliard String Quartets, John Cage, Bela Siki, Gyorgy Sebok. Robert Aitken and many more. ‘It was a fantastic experience because these people had no patience with my technical problems. They said “Do it – or forget it! Play the line correctly – or stop trying to be a musician!” It was sometimes hard, but very positive.’ After that she was at the Akademie der Stadt Basel in Switzerland for three years with Oscar Ghiglia, finnishing her soloist’s diploma. That too was an essential part of her training.

Then came the heavy questioning that interviewers like to spring on young guitarists. What issues should guitarists be addressing? Was there anything wrong with the guitar? And if so, what? Is the guitar doing all right? What should we be striving for?

Dale, it turned out, was not at all defenseless. ‘I’m always between a back-and-forth feeling. Sometimes I feel that the guitar is developing and really going places places, maybe a little behind the other instruments, but there are some very good young players around. Then I hear some, maybe lots of concerts, and my mind changes. Lets say that the last few concerts I’ve heard, I really think that, of course, there’s some great technique happening, but I’m not always convinced in a musical way. It’s the same old story. It’s nothing new that I’m saying. Technique is improving by the second; people are mastering the instrument more and more, but profundity is as rare as it ever was.

‘The guitar is behind the other instruments. Why? Is it becuase of lack of integration with the rest of the music world? We tend to be too isolated. There are many guitar festivals just to keep the guitar going, but why can’t we appeal to a broader audience? What are we doing wrong? Maybe part of our problem is repertoire. We should play more chamber music – but how many string quartets want to play Boccherini quintets when they can play Beethoveen? How many flute players and violinists have said to me “But, Dale, we are not so crazy about the repertoire”. We have a problem. Thank goodness there are modern composers taking us into consideration when they write. There are now very good contemporary chamber pieces and solo works, but from other time periods there will always be a weakness.

As I have said, there are really fine players out there. I’ve heard them, but not enough. What I hear more often are mediocre concerts that will never draw a Iarger audience. Where are the good players? Are they home practicing hard, never to be seen again? How do guitarists even find concerts these days? Managers don’t want to help the guitarist of today: there is not enough money in it – a bad business deal! It’s a hard road. We must find new ideas for survival. We cannot be the solo guitar specialists of ten or twenty years ago. Now we must use our talents everywhere. That means of course chamber music: duos, trios, quartets, ensembles. We can play in music theater, for commercials, new age music or even on the street. The thing is, if we are musicians we must keep fighting, and then there will be a way to survive. But there must be some changes.’

Dale Kavanagh was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The last seven years have been spent in Europe-Switzerland and Germany.

‘Coming to Europe helped me to mature as an artist, as a person, and it also helped me to understand this world a little better. I don’t think that it is exactly where you travel that is as important as that you travel. Living in different countries with different languages and ways of life has had a strong and positive effect on me.’

She has performed in quite a few countries to date: Canada, the USA, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Belgium, Poland, Holland and Italy. This catalogue includes many guitar festivals such as Esztergom, Hungary, Tychy, Gdansk, Krakow (the last three in Poland), the Boston GuitarFest, the Toronto Festival, the Volos Festival in Greece, and more.

‘I have nothing to complain about’, Dale says. ‘I am always having more and more to do.’ She has just finished her first solo CD, with the Berkeley Sonatina, Rodrigo’s Invocation et Danse, Larry Cooperman’s Walking on Water, music by Zenamon, Shavers and Villa-Lobos. ‘This is a 20th century CD, with a mixture of standard repertoire and new unrecorded works. I’m excited to introduce Introduccion y Forreando Caprichoso by Jaime Zenamoln, Concert Music by Bruce Shavers, (note, this article was written before the CD was released. Concert Music is not included on the CD as released) and Walking on Water by Larry Cooperman. The Bolivian composer Jaime Zenamon is a well-known composer in the guitar world, and has written many very nice works for our instrument He gave me this piece in 1988 at the Scandinavian Guitar Festival, and I have been enjoying it ever since. Bruce Shavers is a Canadian composer very active in the new music scene in Canada. He has written for many different mediums. His 1981 composition Searching Out, for trumpet and percussion, won first prize in the Music Inter Alia Competition. He has also written for ensembles, string quartets, as well as quite a few guitar works.’

The CD is called ‘Walking on the Water’, (*webmaster’s note-when released, the CD was actually called ‘Virtuoso Guitar Works’, not ‘Walking on the Water’) the title of the piece by Larry Cooperman, who is a guitarist, teacher and composer living in Sacramento, California. It is, says Dale Kavanagh, ‘such a beautiful piece that I decided to make it the title of my CD. It is very melodic, flowing and extremely pleasant to my ears.’

That should recommend it to a great many people.