BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Heard of Andrew Blanch? If you haven’t, you’ve been living under the proverbial rock. The young classical guitarist has spent the past few years sharing his mad skills with fans across Australian cities. And Paris, London, Washington DC…
This month, the Sydney-based artist is expected to wow audiences at his Guitar Brisbane event, followed by his Melbourne International Guitar Festival gig (and then another show at Classical Guitar Festival Sydney in November!). We chat with the 2016 Melbourne International Guitar Competition and Whitworth-Roach Classical Music Competition winner.
Andrew, it’s been a while since we last chatted with you. How have things been in the time since?
Very well, thank you! A fair bit has happened since: among other things, I lived in Paris for a short time, released Spanish Guitar Music, played concerts around the place, competitions, new chamber music projects and so on. It’s been a bit of an adventure!
So you’re living in Sydney now after starting your PhD at ANU. But you tell us that despite the move, studies are still underway. How’s this balancing for you?
One shouldn’t be under the illusion that upon graduation, it’s going to be smooth sailing. I think, for just about everyone I know at least, it’s been the exact opposite. It can be very turbulent, full of doubts and worries, and it really sucks when you’re not getting the work you’d like. I think it’s helpful to remember it is a privilege to indulge and fascinate oneself in the wonderful world of music, and not to make the mistake of thinking music owes you anything. I think entitlement can be really toxic for one’s mental wellbeing in this business. This is easier said than done, and I don’t want to give the impression I’m any more ‘enlightened’ than anyone else – I’m most certainly not!
What are the challenges of keeping the momentum going in your musical career, and how do you work to make performance opportunities for yourself?
Juggling all the different hats of a musician is one of the biggest challenges for me. Being able to switch gears multiple times a day, between practising, administration, teaching, research, rehearsing and then the general business of just living can really be overwhelming at times. Every week ends up looking quite different for me, too, so I’m having to learn how to really cope without much semblance of a routine.
That ‘momentum’ word I think is a good way to describe the creation of performance opportunities. So often, one opportunity leads on to another and then another. To get the ball rolling in the first place, and to keep it that way, however, does seem to require a constant investment of energy.
You’ll be performing Latin American music and beyond in your Guitar Brisbane event – tell us how you came to pick this program.
The first half is South American music, and the second half Bach, Edwards, Tarrega. I think the program as a whole runs the gamut of different emotional states but I think for the most part the music is uplifting and entertaining. Anyone who has the misfortune of spending a lot of time around me, knows I’m pretty OCD about programming, and I’m constantly questioning which pieces I want to include and in what order, I must have changed the program dozens of times since the beginning of the year. It’s been getting a positive response so far however, which makes it all seem kind of worth the effort.
Do you feel like you’ve found your ‘niche’ as a performer? How does the Latin American style music embody your interests as a musician?
A ‘niche’, hey. The jury’s out on that one. South America really has an enviable musical culture in every way, not to mention that the nylon-string guitar plays a genuine and significant role in that culture – that’s not necessarily a given for us guitarists! That’s not why it interests me so much, though; I guess I just think – as a music – it’s as good as anything out there. Don’t just take my word for it, though. Take Joao Gilberto’s Amoroso, from Brazil – I love this album! I’ll refrain from gushing about everything I love about it, but maybe just pour yourself a nice scotch one evening and listen through a good set of speakers – let Gilberto’s golden and syrupy flecked voice envelope and soothe you.
In contrast, you have that drivingly rhythmic and syncopated music in Venezuela – when it’s played with proper rhythm and stacks of energy, it’s positively electrifying. Alirio Diaz, one of the most important guitarists of the 20th Century and a Venezuelan himself, played a big part in bringing this music to an international stage.
What advice would you give other young guitarists looking to achieve your level of success in Australia and even globally?
I believe if you really want something bad enough, you will do what you have to do to get there. It might very well mean making some big and scary decisions. I would advise against doing anything half-arsed, and I think a bit of soul-searching finding out what you really want out of life goes a long way.
Thank you for initiating all these conversations with young Australian classical musicians! It can be a tough gig at times for everyone, and I think it’s really valuable having a forum where we can share our thoughts and perspectives and learn from one another. There’s nothing better for your peace of mind than hearing that a performer you admire suffers from the same problems that you do. We’re all in this together, let’s look after one another and have some fun!
See Andrew Blanch perform at the Guitar Brisbane event Latin America and Beyond this September 9, and at the Melbourne International Guitar Festival on September 22.
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