Flamenco Guitarist In Concert
Concert Flamenco Guitarist
I will try to explain what I mean by a concert flamenco guitarist.
Right from the start it is vital to understand that for people who love flamenco the concert performer is no better than the player.
In fact, traditionally the player, in Spanish “tocaor” is considered the essential support for flamenco.
The player can accompany a wide range of flamenco singers and dancers, each with their own particular styles.
Furthermore, an accomplished player is an essential element for building the exciting vibrant passion that we witness in non concert environments.
Having said all of this, the concert flamenco guitarist is an absolutely valid contributor to flamenco.
The concert performer takes flamenco all over the world.
Indeed, the concert setting makes it possible for people to experience flamenco where they are not able to attend the flamenco clubs called “peñas flamencas” in Spanish.
Comparing the Concert Flamenco Guitarist and the Player
The concert flamenco guitarist prepares a selection of pieces in advance of the concert date.
These pieces are well rehearsed.
The guitarist thinks carefully about what they want each piece to sound like.
Additionally, the concert flamenco guitarist will carefully plan the order of the pieces.
Nonetheless it is not impossible for the flamenco guitarist in concert to improvise.
Likewise, there may be a last minute change to the running order of the pieces.
It is not unknown for the flamenco guitarist to even not play one or more of the planned pieces.
Spontaneously playing unplanned pieces is also not rare.
My personal opinion is that we make these changes for the following reason.
Yes, we are concert guitarists but we are also flamenco.
The key essence of flamenco in my opinion is that which you cannot plan and rehearse.
To me flamenco is all about the emotion.
As such, I need to feel free to express that emotion without constraints.
Because of this I do not much like printed programs.
Although I have an idea in my head of what I want to do I prefer that the audience should not be party to that idea.
I do not want to feel that kind of restraint and obligation.
The flamenco guitarist as a player
The flamenco player is essentially an acompaniest for flamenco dancers and singers.
The flamenco player works in a non concert environment.
In Spain, there are two main spaces.
The flamenco club and the flamenco festival.
In these situations, the player will never play solo compositions as such.
However, they will most certainly start each piece with a very accomplished introduction.
Additionally, they will provide brief melodies which we call “falsetas”.
Sometimes the player plays an inprovised solo accompanied by the flamenco rhythmical hand clapping which we call “palmas”
This typically will be a flamenco style such as bulerías or tangos.
The Ideal Concert Hall for Solo Flamenco Guitar
For me without a doubt the Wigmore Hall in London is an ideal venue for solo flamenco guitar.
I have seen Paco de Lucía there and Paco Peña multiple times.
The Wigmore holds just over 500 people.
Perhaps 550 or 600 with extra seating.
The acoustics are enviable with absolutely no need for amplification.
Wherever you are seated you will hear equally well.
Furthermore, you are never far from the guitarist on stage.
I always feel that the audience is made from people who really understand flamenco guitar and are there to appreciate it.
The feeling is intimate; you feel like you are sharing in a very special event.
Another favourite of mine is the Queen Elizabeth Hall, also in London.
I have seen Paco Peña play solo there and without any apparent amplification.
I think that the QEH holds over a 1000 people so you would expect some kind of microphone.
Flamenco guitarists do also play in some of the largest venues such as The Royal Albert Hall where I have seen Paco de Lucía with other guitarists.
In such cases microphones are absolutely essential.
These large halls are all about big.
I mean there are several thousand people and the amplification is loud.
Perhaps such concerts draw a different crowd.
There is more of a feeling of electric thrill.
Hall size, amplification and effect on the performance
For me, neither the size of the hall or the amplification should make any difference to how I play.
However, not everyone agrees with me.
I have seen people say that using the advanced microphones and amplifications systems that are available nowadays does indeed affect how they play the guitar.
As they have not explained exactly how I have to guess at what they mean.
It may be that using such a sensitive microphone that picks up absolutely everything provides them with the opportunity to work less at the guitar.
I have to be honest; I do not share that approach.
The all- important key for me is to play exactly the same wherever I play.
Microphones and loud speakers simply help me to take the sound evenly throughout the entire hall.
I would go as far as saying that it is essential to me to be honest in my way of playing flamenco guitar.
To be frank, in my perception all of the guitarists that I admire and that are so respected play exactly the same in all performance spaces.
Playing solo or together with other musicians
If we go back to the beginning of flamenco, we find that the guitarist was an accompanist for flamenco singing and dancing.
The other instrument that has always been present in flamenco is the human hands.
Flamenco performers can use their hands to clap intricate rhythms.
They work together to produce a complexity of counter rhythms.
It is therefore not strange that flamenco guitarists may like to enjoy the accompaniment of other musicians when playing in concert.
Equally, the flamenco guitarist may prefer to play some pieces or indeed the whole concert entirely alone.
However, I think that there is another consideration.
When playing is a small hall there is the possibility or even likelihood that your audience are there because they really want to listen to you.
Does the same thing happen when playing in a very large hall.
Yes and no.
I have attended concerts by Paco Peña and Paco de Lucía in very large halls and some audience members were absolutely knowledgeable about flamenco.
But not all.
Some people attend for a variety of reasons other than a devotion to flamenco.
Indeed, it can simply be that the guitarist is very famous.
If you want to please all members of the audience you may feel that having a fuller stage may help.
That is to say, not everyone will be prepared to listen to a full evening of only flamenco guitar solos.
Audience expectations can affect the performance
Actually, this is nothing new.
If we look at flamenco dance companies in the first half of the 20th century, we see this happening.
At that time flamenco companies toured Spain and abroad, notably the U.S.A.
In both situations the audiences have expectations.
To be commercially viable you need to select carefully from your repertoire
This because you hope to impress both the audience and the reviewers.
However, at that time I think that audiences were receptive to authentic Andalusian flamenco.
I mean to say that they wanted to experience this quintessentially Spanish Andalusian art form.
Therefore, the concert performances may not always have been very different to an intimate flamenco gathering.
That has now changed.
Nowadays people often have their own idea of what they think good flamenco is.
This is particularly true with regards to those who follow the flamenco guitar.
Non Flamenco Guitarists
This is where I will become quite unpopular.
Above I mention guitar followers attending concerts around the world.
These are by and large guitarists.
They may play flamenco but quite often they started playing other guitar styles.
In almost no cases did they spend their early years at flamenco fiestas and surrounded by flamenco singing and dance accompanied by a flamenco player.
I think it is fair to say that they have approached flamenco for the outside.
This may or may not make much difference.
It depends on the individual person; on how they want to become involved with flamenco.
They may be proud of their previous musical background and feel that it is legitimate to somehow refer to and include that music into their flamenco.
Conversely, they may be certain that they want to approach flamenco with a clean slate.
That is to say that they want to free themselves of their knowledge, experience and expression.
They want to embrace an entirely new expression.
Their decision will not only affect the way they approach their own study and performance.
It will also, I am sure, affect how they receive performances from professional flamenco guitarists.
Traditional Flamenco Guitarists in Concert
I am absolutely sure that there will always be traditional flamenco guitarists in concert.
This is because of two things.
Firstly, flamenco is hugely powerful.
Flamenco expresses human emotions that people feel all over the world.
We can see how exceptionally well flamenco has survived; indeed, it has grown.
And this without changing one atom of what it is.
My second reason is that fashions will come and go.
Sure, we can see how some people like to add textures and ideas to flamenco.
The simple truth is that they do this to make flamenco more palatable to them.
This is particularly the case of people who aspire to be solo flamenco guitar performers.
However, Andalusia is bursting with new young flamenco performers who produce a very authentic flamenco.
We see this especially in the case of flamenco singers.
They are a driving force and we can see very clearly how flamenco guitarists are committed to playing for them.
We are all on the same page.
And there is no doubt that our solo playing feeds from the flamenco singing.
Flamenco singing is our nutrition.
It is the key ingredient that we use in abundance when creating our solo works.