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Sam Brown, Guitarist


1. What was the first piece(s) you learned? Was the guitar the natural instrument for you from the start?

I think of Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra is really responsible for my playing the guitar now. I was given the sheet music as a 13th birthday present; my school music teacher overheard me working through it and put me in touch with Alexander Levtov, who since became my friend and teacher. I’ve never played another instrument, so I couldn’t really answer... I love the tactile nature and warm heart of the guitar.

2. Is your family musical?

I’m the only musician in my side of the family. The closest is my great-aunt, who studied the cello, and my second cousin is an uproarious jazzer.

3. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

I think the most admirable musicians of recent history have been Andres Segovia, Pablo Casals, and Leonard Bernstein.

4. Can you tell us about your first guitar teacher, Alexander Levtov?

Sasha Levtov is a Russian émigré who founded the Regis School of Music some 15 years ago in Bognor Regis. He’s a truly remarkable man, a sensitive musician and committed personality who’s made a huge cultural and social difference to my hometown.... I couldn’t possibly have been more fortunate in my teacher!

5. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

Some memories are very precious to me... music, after all, has that powerful nature. I don’t think I can share them here. On a light note I do grin to remember when, having played a duo with Mr Levtov, one of the audience asked if I was his son!

6. You won a scholarship to the West Dean Guitar Festival in 2009. Can you say more about this?

I won a competition in the West Sussex Guitar Festival to attend the course, which is a week long, very prestigious and not a little shattering! Because I’d won the prize, I was invited to play for the cuban maestro Leo Brouwer, who was giving a series of public masterclasses. It was a fantastic experience, but I was certainly frightened at the time!

7. Who are your favourite musicians and what in particular impresses you about them?

I love the Gothenberg Combo – a guitar duo as explosive as brilliant. They take every possible liberty but you can completely forgive them for it. I’m very fond of Sean Shibe, probably the best guitarist of my generation, who is a formidable and fine musician. Barry Mills, a composer friend from Brighton, is a remarkably gentle soul who has written some very beautiful music. I loved the Arensky Chamber Orchestra, who have been out of earshot for some while now, but played some unforgettable concerts at Cadogan Hall some years back... oh, and Richard Smith, the fingerstyle guitarist who can turn his amazing ear and technique to just about all music.

8. In 2010, you were sponsored by the Bognor Lions Club to enter their annual competition and won second place. Can you tell us what pieces you played in this event?

The test piece for the competition was the Prelude and Presto from BWV 995 - Bach’s 3rd Lute suite (also the 5th Cello suite). Shockingly, the judge admitted that this was purely on the basis of its’ difficulty! (I don’t think that was musically astute, at all.) My chosen piece was Giuliani’s Gran Sonata Eroica, a fireworky and very bombastic tour de force. The two works certainly offset one another!

9. You won the West Sussex Youth Music Award in 2012. Can you tell us more about this?

The Award is a competition in two rounds: there are four finalists in the final round. Because the finals are held at the Regis School of Music, I felt like I was competing on home turf! Normally I don’t much like competitions - perhaps performing well should be its own reward - but it did feel special to win this. Extra special, because the judges told me they didn’t at all like classical guitar before.

10. In 2010 you had lessons with Charles Ramirez at the Junior Royal College of Music. What was this like?

I remember it was a big start to go from Bognor’s ‘bijou’ school of music, to the very imposing RCMJD. Charles is a brilliant musician and a peerless teacher, and it’s an honour to be still studying with him at the College.

11. If you had the chance to be accompanied on the guitar, who would your dream instrument and / or vocal companion be, dead or alive?

Difficult choice! I’d love to have heard Paganini, who was also a first rate guitarist and wrote some brilliant music for the instrument.. but who wouldn’t do anything to play a concerto with Carlos Kleiber, and the Vienna Philharmonic?

12. How often and for how long do you practice?

I do the same hour-long technical routine every day, as an important warm up and to keep the technique in condition; and then I work on whatever repertoire needs to be. I do find that quality of practice is more valuable than quantity – you can overtire and practice in badly.
I also work through aural training, harmony and composition work. I think that’s important.

13. Do you or would you like to teach music?

I would like to teach music – I don’t presently. It’s a careful, important skill that I haven’t acquired yet.

14. Do you have any projects for the future?

Continue to play! At the moment I’m enjoying performing with a brilliant soprano – Marie Jaermann – on the guitar and on the lute. I also play with the “Fretful Federation”, a Brighton-based Mandolin orchestra: great fun, and the timbre of the mandolin pairs beautifully with the guitar. But presently I have the one, lifetime task: to live with music.

updated January 2014

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