The Winner of 2002 International Web Concert Hall
Michal, tell us about your musical background.
My initial music
training started in a a general music class. We sang, and did lots of other fun stuff kids
like. Such training in conjunction with instrumental lessons develops one's ear
fabulously! My parents do tell me that as a little boy I was calmest and happiest when
listening to classical music on the radio. Apparently Chopin was my favorite. But I did
not begin guitar lessons until later, when I was formally enrolled in the preparatory
department of the University of Cape Town, College of Music. I have no I idea why it was
the guitar in particular that I wanted to play, but I do remember finding myself in front
of a music store window as a child staring at a guitar once.
Pierre Boulez (one of my musical heroes),
and I, after his concert...
Michal, in your own words, how does music training
differ from the Cleveland Institute in US and the Wits School of Music you attended in
Well, first of all CIM is a conservatory (with an obvious
emphasis on performance), while the Wits School of Music is a small music department, and
part of a university of high academic standards, where more rounded musical education was
required and considered the 'norm'. I learned different things in two places, each
wonderful institutions in their own right. Believe it or not, coming from a small music
school on the other side of the world like Wits, I was never short on knowledge or ability
when I started my Masters at CIM. My BM at Wits prepared me well. Moreover, my knowledge
in the area of music history was of a much higher standard than what I have come across at
many USA institutions.
Who are your teachers? And when you recall some of
your teachers what are the first and best qualities you remember? How did your teachers
influence you as a musician?
I have had several, each contributing differently to my
development, beginning with Ganiefa van der Schyff at the University of Cape Town. After I
moved to Johannesburg I began studying with David Hewitt, probably the most famous South
African guitarist, teacher and guitar composer. He still guides me even though he died
tragically at the end of 2001 at the age of 54 from Alzheimer's. He taught me, above all
to make music from the heart and embrace what I do with love. He was indeed a rare friend
and fabulous natural musician. While at the University of the Witwatersrand completing my
Bachelor's, I also studied under the 'father' of South African classical guitar, and a
disciple of Narciso Yepes, Fritz Buss, who instilled in me a respect for tradition. In
1997 I moved to the USA to study under John Holmquist at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
It has been a wonderful experience for me. CIM is a fantastic school, and John a true
master teacher who has taught me things I never dreamed of before. I should also mention
my former piano teach in Johannesburg, Malcolm Nay. Clearly the strength of his teaching
is reflected in the fact that I have used what he tried teaching me on the piano in my
studies of the guitar. His approach was in that way universal.
You just said, "John a true master teacher
taught me things I never dreamed of before"... what did he teach you that so
Yes, a master indeed! Every lesson I had the feeling that he
knew exactly what I needed as a student in my development. He had a great ability of
drawing things out of you instead of just telling them to you. Apart from all the
wonderful technical advice I received, he taught me how to listen and ask, "What do I
want this to sound like?"
David Hewitt and I, after a concert...
How did your parents, family etc. influence you as a
I have been really lucky in that regard having been blessed
with parents who have always supported what I have done. I will go as far as saying that
if it was not for them, I would not have done half the things I have. I am the only
musician in the family, even extended, and so this makes my parents even more remarkable
in this regard. My sister and brother have also always been there to hear me play and show
their support. For that I am grateful. My wife is also an artist (a wonderful modern
dancer), who inspires me tremendously with her artistic endeavors. We have performed
together, with her choreographing to guitar pieces.
Do you have a practicing method you follow everyday?
I like discipline that I impose on myself for best results.
At the beginning of every week I make myself a practicing schedule filling in what needs
to be worked on hour by hour. And I stick with it.
How much do you practice daily before a performance?
That depends on what I will be playing and how long I have
lived with the pieces I am about to play. Anywhere from 2 to 5 hours a day. I also feel
strongly about working on one's music away from the instrument.
What do you do when you don't feel like practicing
for a week or even a month? How do you cope with it?
Cope with it! I enjoy time off fully! As a matter of fact, I
feel like I make good progress away from the guitar and feel refreshed when I return to
it. I think that it is vital to take time off, not only to let your hands and brain rest,
but to reflect on what you are doing exactly.
You are becoming known for choosing 'exotic'
classical guitar repertoire. Talk about what has influenced these choices.
I am fully committed to the performance of 'new' music, and
working with living composers on the creation of repertoire. The guitar is a strange
instrument in many ways, especially as far as repertoire is concerned. The best music
composed for the instrument comes from the 20th century, and now the 21st, with very
little worth while before that, I think, transcriptions not withstanding.
I have given numerous premieres of music by South African and
American composers. In fact my performance for the Web Concert Hall competition includes
exclusively South African music, including works by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph, Darius Brubeck,
Carl van Wyk, and David Hewitt. It is playing music like this that excites me most. I have
recently established a relationship with a young Australian composer, Paul Copeland, who
has dedicated his "Three Concert Etudes" to me. I will be premiering these
exciting new works in 2003. Copeland has a great feel for the guitar and how to compose
for it, which can be tricky.
I also perform a lot of my own compositions, which usually
contain more than a hint of the African aesthetic I grew up hearing.
Fritz Buss, David Hewitt, my dad and I,
after yet another concert I played...
You said, "I also perform a lot of my own
compositions, which usually contain more than a hint of the African aesthetic I grew up
hearing...." tell us more about your own compositions and what style you use in
composing your music...
As I mentioned, African rhythms are in my heart, which
influence my composition. I seldom use a process to compose, but rather start either with
an idea formed in my head, or by picking up the guitar. I have also experimented with
imitating certain African styles like the mbira music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. I
have used interlocking techniques prevalent in African music, as well as motoric and
repetitive rhythmic patterns.
In your opinion, what is your strength in your
I have been told that I have a natural energy when I perform.
The trick is using it positively.
Tell us about your instrument.
I perform and record on a wonderful instrument made by Bob
and Orville Milburn of Milburn Guitars in Oregon, excellent color palette, and dynamic
range. I have had it since 1998, so it is still rather new but nevertheless unique.
Do you like any other forms of art? such as painting?
Tell us about it.
Yes, Picasso! I made a pilgrimage to The Museum of Modern Art
in NYC last summer to see Les Demoiselles D'Avignon up close.
What do you like to read?
I like to read 3 or 4 books at once! I am somewhat obsessed
with literature and read all kinds of things, from biographies of people I admire, novels,
to nonfiction and sci-fi. It all depends on what I am in the mood for. I also read lots of
poetry. Right now I am exploring 20th century Polish poets: Wislawa Szymborska, Czeslaw
A favorite writer?
Wow, there are so many! Here are a couple of firm favorites:
Jose Saramago, Vikram Seth, J.M. Coetzee and let's not forget the Bach of sci-fi:
What are some of your recent readings?
This summer I read the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Stephen
Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," a few novels and a fascinating prospective
on African music entitled "African Rhythm and African Sensibility" by John
What do you do for a hobby, if any?
I love to play tennis and generally keep fit in my spare
time. It has become a side career for me actually over the years. I teach daily group
exercise classes at health clubs: Spinning, Step, Pilates, etc.
Fritz Buss and I....
What do you hope to accomplish as a musician? What do
you hope to achieve ten years from now in your music career?
Aside from continuing to promote my concert career, I hope to
return to South Africa and establish a teaching program in the poor townships around
Johannesburg. There is a great void to be filled in arts education in the country and I
feel that I must contribute. I am making plans to get this project off the ground right
now. I also want to continue to promote young composers and perform new repertoire.
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a
Communication! Isn't that what it is all about?
How do you judge a good performance?
I enjoy performers who really have something to say,
musically of course. The ones, who with their very first note, say 'listen, this is how it
Do you believe a performer must attend conservatory?
What is your opinion on this?
No, but it can be a fantastic experience to be surrounded by
other talent. Personally I found that formal music study can have some negative outcomes
such as the 'dimming' of one's natural vitality and fire as a performer. One is given so
many things to think about that it is easy to loose sight of one's natural love for the
art. I found this to be the case and it has taken me a while to incorporate all the
wonderful things I did learn in school with my urge to just play my heart out.
MOL: I think we need to wrap up at this point.
So on be half of MusicalOnline, we would like to thank you for your time and we wish all
MusicalOnline on October, 2002