Rui Namora is a Portuguese guitarist whose virtuosity and sensitivity seem equally balanced. I came across his playing while we were both members of the Delcamp classical-guitar forum, and I am particularly pleased that our Sarenko & Co website has gently pushed Rui to explore further his interest in the Russian guitar, and even more pleased that his videos are very beautiful and stimulating. I thought an interview would be of interest, by way of setting the scene for his videos which you can see below.
1. Rui, welcome to Sarenko & Co! Can you give us some information on your guitar-playing history, and how you came to play Russian 7-string?
Hello, Rob. It’s quite surprising for me that, less than a year playing the Russian Guitar, I’m answering the questions of a musician whose work I follow and admire.
I began studying the guitar when I was 12 years old, with an influential Portuguese teacher in Lisbon, Duarte Costa, who was a classical guitar pioneer in my country and a former student of Emilio Pujol. A few years later, I was accepted in the Conservatory, and at the same time I studied Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Coimbra. Coimbra is an ancient university city with an important musical and cultural tradition – the Fado de Coimbra. During those years I was deeply engaged with this musical style, teaching and performing with several Fado groups. Nevertheless, the classical guitar classes at the conservatory were my first priority. After completing the university course, I decided to pursue college studies in Music, and I moved to Porto where I graduated in Guitar at ESMAE (College of Music and Performance Arts), with Professor José Pina. During the course and the following years I performed often in solo and chamber recitals, with orchestra, and eventually I started working as a guitar teacher.
Back in 2012, my attention shifted towards the classical and romantic repertoire. As a student, 19th century music wasn’t among my favourites. I preferred the baroque, Spanish and South-American repertoire. Released from the academic obligations, I realized that, finally I had the time (and the temperament) to discover and explore hidden gems of the guitar repertoire, trying to find beauty encapsulated in smaller forms. Or maybe it’s just me getting older…
I dedicated myself to the 19th century repertoire, reading all I could about the composers, the period guitars and its luthiers (Lacote, Stauffer, Panormo, etc), and – to my wife’s despair – I started to acquire antique guitars. Eventually, while reading through the Boije collection, I found the Sarenko études. So, my first contact with the Russian repertoire was his B minor étude, which I adapted and played on a 8-string Stauffer replica, with some minor adjustments. My curiosity (and Google algorithm) led me to Oleg Timofeyev and John Schneiderman’s recordings. But I recall one event in particular – a video of Mårten Falk playing Andrei Sychra’s First Étude (or Exercise). I was astonished with the sophistication of that music, its surprising harmonies, the blend of both baroque (it reminds me Weiss) and romantic elements, its avant-la-lettre technique, and its overwhelming dimension. I remember thinking to myself “what the hell??” – and I had the feeling of discovering something rare, of which most classical guitarists were, unfortunately, still unaware. Immediately I bought Matanya Ophée’s adapted edition of the “Four Concert Études” and began studying it, almost obsessively. The task was technically very challenging, to say the least, but despite the effort it lacked the most important aspects – the resonance and the tone colour of the Russian 7-String Guitar (R7SG) tuning. The notes were all present, but it was impossible to emulate the harp-like legato and campanellas of the original, and most importantly, the instrument’s character. This music was composed on a different instrument, so it sounded amputated (not Matanya’s fault, though…). All things said, I put Sychra on hold.
Meanwhile, I completed a Master course on Music Teaching, with a dissertation based on my interest in the 19th century repertoire. My predilection for forgotten composers directed me to Leonard Schulz – a Viennese wunderkind and virtuoso – and his set of études “L’Indispensable op.40”. Fast forward to December 2018, a certain Scotsman decides to put online a website called SarenkoandCo.com, inviting everyone to join him to learn the R7SG. I had a 7-string guitar so I thought “why not?”. I tuned it to G major, and here I am.
Although I had been listening to the Russian repertoire occasionally – Oleg Timofeyev, John Schneiderman and Mårten Falk’s recordings – it never crossed my mind to learn the instrument. The nudge was definitely SarenkoandCo, and your videos with Morkov’s method, Rob, were the first steps. At the beginning it was a bit confusing to read the scores, but it was a matter of some practice. I was (and still am) surprised by the positive feedback my home videos had, and specially from those who are a reference in the field – Oleg and Mårten – whose support and advice were very useful. Among my Portuguese colleagues and friends, it has been sparking some curiosity, too. It’s a guitar, but it’s a guitar with a different and exotic flavour.
2. How are your Russian 7-string studies developing?
Quite freely, and not very systematically, I must say. I’ve been listening, sight-reading, and those pieces that fit my taste are added to my small, but growing, repertoire. Until now, I’ve been studying études and romances by Sarenko, Morkov, Alexandrov, Visotsky, etc. My intermediate goal is to learn the pieces that originated all of this – the Four Sychra Exercises, of course.
Plunging directly into repertoire has some side effects, though. My knowledge of the instrument is, at least for the moment, not very intuitive, so I’m still a bit dependent on the score. I am trying to mitigate this flaw by transcribing some pieces, helping me to create a more aural and close relation with the instrument. Recently, I adapted some Portuguese Guitar pieces and it sounds quite natural and straightforward on the R7SG. Curiously, there is a far connection between the two instruments, due the chordal tuning of the English Guittar (c-e-g-c-e-g), that is the origin of both instruments. The Portuguese guitar tuning, after several changes, evolved eventually to c-g-a-d-g-a (or a step higher in the Lisbon version).
3. Do you have a favourite composer for the 7-string?
Not yet. I still have a lot of music to listen to, to read, to play. I feel that I’ve been in contact with a fraction of the repertoire and history of the instrument. I like the composers that I mentioned before, but I don’t have, for now, a favourite. Vetrov’s music pleases me, maybe due to Mårten Falk’s recording. I asked Mårten for Vetrov’s Canzona score which I adapted to the 8-string, but now it will be hard to play it on the R7SG. To do so, I’ll have to unlearn it first…
4. Have you performed this repertoire in concerts yet? If not, do you plan to?
Not yet, but definitely yes. I am preparing some recitals with my early romantic guitars, and I will certainly include the Russian repertoire, along with Western composers. I like to talk in my recitals, so the connections and differences between the Russian and Western guitars provide a good theme for conversation. I just have to check on my brain and fingers’ behaviour while changing instruments and tunings in the same recital!
5. Tell us about your guitar.
As I said before, I started to use a modern 7-string guitar, Brazilian-style, made in Portugal that I commissioned some years ago. Soon after, I started to look for a period instrument and eventually managed to acquire an antique Russian guitar, late 19th century, probably from Zimmerman in St. Petersburg. It came from a seller in Kiev. After some adjustments to the neck, it was good enough to start playing. Nevertheless, it has to undergo a more detailed restoration.
It was a pleasure to answer your questions, Rob, and I feel deeply honoured by your interest and support. Please, we’re all hoping for more of your R7SG videos. Sarenko is waiting for you!
Porto, September 17th 2019