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Cem Duruoz, private lessons teacher, just released his third CD, “Desde El Alma – Tango Classics." The Turkey native performs internationally.  (Photo contributed by Steve Savage)
 
Posted 04.01.06

Guitarist Brings Musicians from around the World to Expose Wesleyan Students to New Styles, Cultures

Q: Cem, how long have you been a private lessons teacher of guitar for Wesleyan’s Music Department?

A: I started to teach at Wesleyan in September 2003 right after finishing my advanced studies at The Juilliard School.

Q: How many student guitarists do you teach at Wesleyan?

A: I have about 10-12 students each semester. I am trying to increase the number of students, especially by encouraging good players to come to Wesleyan to begin with. I am proud of my students; they are all talented. Some of my current students will perform on April 7 at the Chapel Concert Series at noon.

Q: In addition to private lessons, what opportunities are there for budding guitarists on campus?

A: The most important one is our student guitar organization called “WesGuitars", established last semester. We get together once every two weeks, play guitar and socialize. I encourage our guitarists to perform on various occasions such as the Chapel Series. Soon I will find venues in downtown Middletown are and other towns for concerts.

I am also working to bring guitarists from around the world to the campus so that all the guitarists at Wesleyan community could be exposed to their style and their cultures. Last year we had Carles Pons from Spain and Uros Dojcinovic from Serbia. This year so far we had a visit by Marcos Puña from Bolivia. The first guest invited by WesGuitars itself will be Spanish guitarist Juan Jose Saenz. He will give a concert of Spanish Music in Crowell Concert Hall on April 9.

Q: When did you first take an interest in classical guitar? At what age did you know you had a “knack” for the instrument?

A: I first heard the instrument at the age of 10. My cousin had already been playing it. Each time I would visit, he would let me try his guitar and show me techniques. I fell in love with the guitar the moment I touched it. I did not really have to hold and play; just touching the strings, making a sound and listening to it one by one was magical for me. Soon after, I started to take lessons. I remember asking my cousin to make copies of some difficult pieces and him saying “they are too difficult for you now.” During one of our family visits, I took the opportunity to hand copy them and surprised him few months later by playing them to him. Afterwards we did many concerts as a duo together.

Q: What is the ‘classical’ guitar?

A: Classical guitar refers to a nylon string acoustical guitar. In most cases this name seems to imply –wrongly- that it is used for classical music only. With this instrument one can play almost any type of music from anywhere in the world in addition to the Western Classical Music, which is the source of its name. However, in most places outside the U.S., when someone mentions the word “guitar” alone, they usually refer to the classical guitar. This is, after all, the original instrument just like violin and piano. I started directly with the classical guitar unlike many of my students and professional performers that I have met in the U.S. who first learned to play other types of guitar.

Q: Please elaborate on the guitar’s sound. Why does it appeal to you?

A: I think the main aspect of classical guitar sound is its warmth because of which the instrument lends itself to the performance of emotionally elaborate polyphonic music. The warmth comes from the nylon strings and the right hand fingernails. This combination provides the optimum sound and technique for bringing out the human emotions in almost any type of music in the world, as a soloist. Another peculiarity of the classical guitar is the way it is held. I think it is the only instrument that is “embraced” and held directly on ones heart. No wonder many classical guitarists are in love with their instruments!

Q: In 1990, you came to the United States from your native country, Turkey. What led you to the States?

A: The U.S. graduate education system is the best in the world. After staying in Turkey I wanted to get advanced degrees here and was able to get full scholarships in California. It is also important to get exposure to new repertoire, different approaches to music and participate in the classes of well-established musicians. All these opportunities widely exist in the U.S. At first I did not intend to stay, but after about six years, San Francisco started to feel like home as much as my home in Turkey.

Q: You recently released your third CD, “Desde El Alma – Tango Classics,” which is quite a style change from your first album, "Pièces de Viole", which consists of gamba music by French baroque composer Marin Marais; and your second CD "Contemporary Music for Guitar.” What inspired you to change your musical interest for the third CD, and what type of audience is attracted to your music?

A: When making CDs I concentrate on a project and spend most of my energy to do the necessary research to understand the music and the culture that created it. Having studied at a French school for seven years in Turkey and having learned the language at the age of 11, I had a natural interest in the French Baroque music. This background and the music of the famous movie “Tous Les Matins du Monde” led to the first CD. The second CD is a reflection of my interest in supporting the creation of new music by playing works of emerging composers.
My third CD “Tango Classics” is my most recent project. I got involved in tango through the music of well-known composer Astor Piazzolla. He called his compositions “Nuevo Tango” or new tango, which had been disliked by traditional tango dancers. I wanted to explore what “old tango” was and its relation to the dance. When I was living in San Francisco I tried some tango dance lessons and quickly became addicted to the dance itself. Later I realized that there is a great collection of authentic tango music created by well-educated Argentine musicians and tango orchestra leaders. My CD is a compilation of various tangos that I like dancing to. Now I am looking forward to working on a new project.

Q: You’re an international artist. Where have you performed recently?

A: I’ve recently performed at the Weill Recital Hall/Carnegie Hall in New York, and in countries such as Peru, Bolivia, France, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Serbia-Montenegro and the U.S. in various guitar festivals and concert series. I have also appeared as soloist with the Presidential Symphony Orchestra in Turkey, the equivalent of New York Philharmonic there. Last year I was invited to the Istanbul Festival in Turkey, one of the biggest and most prestigious in Europe. There I collaborated with gamba player John Dornenburg and harpsichordist Yuko Tanaka to play the music of the 14th Century French Court.

Q: You’ve received critical acclaim in international magazines such as American Record Guide, Fanfare, Classics Today, Classical Guitar and BBC Music. The students you teach must feel honored to work with a famous musician!

A: I sometimes do feel famous! Nowadays, due to globalization it is ever more difficult to be individually recognized; there are so many musicians, so many CDs. However I have been working very hard to increase my output, and contribute to the music world. My students appreciate it; it is always exciting and inspiring to work with someone who has international experience and is a role model. I have to say it feels really good all of a sudden to hear your own CD played on NPR when driving, and felt very strange first time, when someone recognizes you having read an article or when someone stops you on the street and says he was at your concert. I think this aspect of music is very rewarding.

Q: Where are your degrees from?

A: I have a master’s of arts in composition from Stanford University, and another master’s degree in guitar performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. I later completed my graduate guitar studies at The Juilliard School with Sharon Isbin, a Grammy award winner.

Q: Do you write your own music?

A: Although I have extensively studied composition, I enjoy performing much more. Therefore I don’t compose much at all nowadays. However my compositional skills come very handy for arranging music to the guitar. Prime examples are on my French Baroque CD and the Tango CD. I have various collaborations with other composers. Some of them send their music to me, and I try to feature a new composer in every recital I play. I also commission music particularly written for me. One of these is a guitar concerto called “In and Out of Blue” by Robert Strizich. With Angel Gil-Ordonez, his Ensemble of the Americas and I are planning to perform this in the fall.

Q: You have an upcoming recital in Hartford on April 15 in conjunction with the Connecticut Classical Guitar Society, and another performance in New York May 27. What will you perform at these concerts?

A: The Connecticut Classical Guitar Society is one of the biggest in the U.S. I will be playing in their concert series on April 15. This program will include selections from my tango and baroque CDs as well as music from Rodrigo, Tárrega, Bach and Giuliani, composers well known to guitar audiences.

The concert in Merkin Hall/New York is part of an annual Turkish Cultural Festival organized by the Moon and Stars Project. It is titled “A Mediterranean Journey” and will include music from Turkey, Greece, Israel and Spain as well as tangos and Broadway favorites. In this performance I will be collaborating with a wonderful Greek/American soprano Demetra George.

Q: What are your interests and hobbies aside from music?

A: My main hobby has been dancing tango for many years. After I did my first tango lesson in San Francisco I studied with most of the well-known Argentine Tango dancers. In San Francisco, I used to go dancing three nights a week. In Connecticut there are some venues for dancing tango, but many more are in New York and I go there every now and then to dance.

Q: For more information, where can people find you online?

A: My Web site is http://www.duruoz.com/

 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor.