Getting young people in the seats for a Peter Fletcher concert has never been a real challenge for his management team. Though the New York Times recently commented on declining youth at what they described as the ‘gray-haired ‘ arts, Fletcher has always had a sizable audience on young people. And its growing.
And they are coming to luxuriate the ear to the strains of Bach, Grieg, Satie, Ravel, Mompou, and a host of composers that are sometime not associated with classical guitar. How does he do it? Well, if you have to ask that question, you probably have never been to a Fletcher concert.
Peter Fletcher through his passion and mastery of classical guitar knows how to entertain. He doesn’t use cheap tricks and gimmicks. Fletcher enchants ears and quickens heartbeats with his impeccable technique and his special way of emoting through his instrument.
On April 6, Fletcher will again quicken pulses and rapture spirits at New York City’s Weill Hall. With a program that includes Bach, a rarely heard piece by Frederico Mompou, and the world premiere of Jeremy Gill’s “Diary of a Camino,” Fletcher will demonstrate that great music has no cultural, ethnic or age boundaries.
Fashion Reverie: How did you get started in classical guitar?
Peter Fletcher: I started playing on a ukulele when I was a young child. I got first guitar as a pre-teen and my instructor John Sutherland told me that if I started with the classical style other styles would come easily to me. And as you can see I have stuck with classical guitar all this time.
FR: Who are some of your favorite composers?
Peter Fletcher: I love Johann Sebastian Bach, Wagner, and Beethoven for classical listening. And for the classical guitar I love Manuel Ponce, Frederico Mompou who I am playing at Weill Hall.
FR: Now, when I interviewed you about five years ago, you stated that the audience for classical guitar was growing to include some younger listeners, is that still true?
Peter Fletcher: As I am touring I am noticing a younger audience. I contribute my appeal to a younger audience to my publicist sending press releases to high school band directors and increasing music awareness that way. We also make sure there are affordable student tickets. We are competing with pop concerts that young people will spend a lot of money on. So, we have to bridge the gap between what will be spent on popular music by making the program classically diverse and making ticket prices more affordable.
FR: There was in article in the NY Times that spoke about the decline of young audiences for what they called ‘The gray-haired arts.’ How are you reaching out to younger audiences?
Peter Fletcher: Our main strategy is to formulate the idea that this is something that young people will enjoy; that it is not highbrow, but very entertaining. Our repertoire is chosen for its accessibility. Music is something that you feel. We don’t pander to our audiences. We try to present our musical point of view in a very sophisticated, dynamic, well-constructed, but always relevant way.
FR: Do you think classical music is something that people respond to naturally or can it be an acquired taste?
Peter Fletcher: I would say both. Music can be an acquired taste. Music that I found boring when I was younger over time I have come to love and appreciate. One of the pieces I always play by Bach is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It is a beautiful guitar transcription that allows the guitarist to play the entire melodic bass line. I play this piece because I know everyone will recognize the piece and I don’t think you need an acquired taste to love this particular work.
FR: Have you ever included pop pieces for the guitar in your repertoire?
Peter Fletcher: A long time ago I played some good arrangements of Beatle’s songs for the guitar. The Beatle’s “If I Fell” made a beautiful piece for the guitar. I do play the theme song from “Deerhunter” occasionally in my concerts. Most of what I play is categorized as classical music for the guitar. Second to that, I love good rock n’ roll and R&B—Pink Floyd, Motown, Jefferson Airship— and a well-constructed pop song.
FR: Let’s talk about your choice of selections for your concert at Weill Hall. Some of the movements in the Bach Partita and Michael Praetorius’ Terpsichore mirror Baroque court dances, the pavane, the courant, etc. Why is that?
Peter Fletcher: Most partitas and suites are generally comprised of dance movements because they are loosely derived from court dances. You usually start with a prelude, then an allemande, a courante, a sarabande, a bouree, and a gigue. That is how that genre of music was organized during the Baroque period.
The movement I am playing for my concert at Weill Hall is the chaconne from the Bach Partita in D Minor No. 2 for Solo Violin arranged for the guitar. I am only performing the chaconne because this Bach Partita is a rather long piece. The chaconne is a slow dance from Spain. Musically, the chaconne is a theme and variations type of music with four measures of harmony that repeats itself. George Bernard Shaw wrote that the Bach Chaconne is the greatest piece every written for a symphony orchestra.
Praetorius’ Terpsichore has a lot of court dances in it. Terpsichore is the Greek muse of dance and Praetorius had compiled over 300 dances collected throughout Europe. I have included three pieces in this concert, the courante, ballet, and the volta.
FR: Now, you have recorded the Mompou before, why did you go back to it?
Peter Fletcher: I recorded Mompou in 2002 for Centaur Records. That album enabled me to set up a concert career. First, I like the composer, also this year is the 120th anniversary of Mompou’s birth. There are some minor Mompou celebrations going on this year in different countries. There is a Mompou foundation in Barcelona that encouraged me to reach back and perform this rarely heard Mompou piece to celebrate the 120th anniversary. The piece that I am performing, “Suite Compostelana,” at Weill Hall was written for Andres Segovia, dedicated to the holy city of Santiago de Compostela.
FR: Let’s talk about your world premiere “Diary of a Camino” by Jeremy Gill.
Peter Fletcher: Jeremy Gill is a friend of mine from my graduate studies at Eastman School of Music. He wrote this piece for me last January and this work dovetails with Mompou. Jeremy did the El Camino pilgrimage in Spain that ends in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela and the Mompou piece I am performing is dedicated to that holy city.
”Diary of a Camino” describes musically Gill’s travels while he was doing the pilgrimage. There is bells, chanting, fog and thunder and clock ticks. He conjures up all these experiences in the piece.
FR: How many concerts do you perform a year?
Peter Fletcher: I perform about 150 concerts a year, mostly in the US, for about five months out of the year. But, I am living my dream, doing what I want to do.
FR: What is one of your oddest experiences on stage?
Peter Fletcher: There was a kind of morbid occurrence in 2005. I nicked my finger on a razor blade preparing for the concert, and as I was performing my finger started to bleed profusely on stage. I looked down and my shirt was covered with blood and there was blood on the guitar and the floor. I did have to end the concert. Oddly, the finger healed by the next morning. I realized that as I was playing, the guitar string had opened up the nick on the finger.
FR: You are always look sharp on stage. That said; who are your favorite designers on stage and off?
Peter Fletcher: I love Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and Armani. Onstage I like to wear a black suit and a white shirt and tie on stage. I don’t want to distract the audience from the music by dressing flashy. Sometimes, I do like to wear bowties onstage like Horowitz.
FR: What’s next for you?
Peter Fletcher: My Edvard Grieg album comes out in the fall of 2013. I will be performing an all Bach program at Carnegie Hall in 2015.
—William S. Gooch