Interview published in Violčo Pro magazine, n. 15, Sčo Paulo, 2007.
One of Brazil’s greatest guitarists, Daniel Wolff currently lives in Germany and has released a CD with famous works by Beethoven, Schubert & Chopin
An eclectic artist, Daniel Wolff is the prototype of the modern professional musician. A brilliant interpreter, with a solid instrumental technique and a venerable academic résumé – he is the first Brazilian to receive a doctorate in guitar performance, from New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music – Daniel is gaining prominence in diverse fields, be it as a performer, arranger, composer, researcher or educator. A winner of various awards, including a Grammy for his arrangements, Wolff performs regularly in South America, Europe and the United States. His latest CDs, Coisas da Vida and New Transcriptions for 2 Guitars, are the result of his collaborations with clarinetist Wilfried Berk and guitarist Daniel Göritz.
Born in Porto Alegre, Daniel Wolff began his guitar studies quite young. “I started when I was twelve, playing popular music. A year later I began studying classical. My influences were the celebrated guitarists of the time: Bream, Williams and Yepes. Later on, Russell, Barrueco and the Assad brothers”, remembers Wolff. Before moving to New York, where he studied with Manuel Barrueco, among other musicians, he lived in Uruguay, where he graduated from the Montevideo University. “I was seventeen years old and it was very important for my development, both as a musician and as a person. I moved there alone and had to mature a great deal in a short time. It was worth it”, says he, who studied with Uruguayan masters such as Abel Carlevaro, Guido Santórsola and Eduardo Fernandez.
Besides being a concert guitarist, Wolff is also a composer and one of the great arrangers from Brazil, with works recorded by such guitarists as Sharon Isbin, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Berta Rojas, Eduardo CastaĖera and Paulo Martelli. In the Brazilian academic sphere, Wolff plays an important role: he created the Master of Music in Guitar Performance Program at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), where he is a Professor. “Our post-graduate program is the highest ranked in Brasil, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Education’s evaluation. And, with my colleagues Flávia Domingues Alves and Paulo Inda, we are doing a beautiful job at the undergraduate level”, says him proudly. Daniel Wolff currently lives in Berlin, Germany, for a post-doctoral fellowship, as a Guest Professor at the Universität der Künste. He is profiting from his stay in Europe to give concerts and masterclasses in Germany and Italy. In this interview to Violčo Pro, he talks about his career, his current and future projects.
» Violčo PRO – You have just released a CD with transcriptions of famous works by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin, together with German guitarist Daniel Göritz. How did you come up with the idea for the repertoire and how did you adapt it for guitar?
Daniel Wolff – The idea came up when me and Daniel Görtiz where doctoral students in New York. I was often listening to the Beethoven piano sonatas at the time. One of my favorites is Op. 31 N. 2, the so-called Tempest sonata. I wrote the arrangement and we recorded it soon after. Later on, we thought about other 19th-century piano works to complete the repertoire. We chose Schubert’s Moments Musicaux and two waltzes by Chopin. By then, we were already living in different countries, me in Brazil and Göritz in Germany. We revised the arrangements by e-mail. He came to Brazil for the recording and the mastering took place in Germany.
» You are currently doing a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Germany. How did that come about?
My coming to Germany was made possible by a grant from Capes, for me to develop a research project on guitar arrangements at Berlin’s Universität der Künste, where I am teaching this semester. My activities here also include playing concerts and teaching guitar at the Hochschule für Musik Hans Eisler.
» In 2006, you released the praised CD Coisas da Vida, with a more popular repertoire and with Wilfried Berk on clarinet. How did the idea for this CD emerge? Do you plan to continue with this work?
The idea for the disc came up in 2004, when Wilfried and I played a concert together in Hamburg. He had heard my CDs and invited me to play with him. For the recording, we took the repertoire from our Hamburg concert and added other Brazilian works to it. I arranged two pieces by Gaudźncio Thiago de Mello and, as I had been working with Thiago for several years in other projects, we invited him to play organic percussion on the disc. During my stay in Germany, me and Wilfried will play concerts with the repertoire from the CD.
» You were the first Brazilian to receive a doctorate in guitar performance, from New York’s prestigious Manhattan School of Music. Tell us about your experience there.
The experience of living in such a cosmopolitan and effervescent city as New York is something quite special. The city offers a great number of cultural options. The Manhattan is an excellent school, with jazz and classical music departments, vocal and instrumental ensembles, big bands, orchestras, labs, in short, a very propitious structure for the musical development of the students. The guitar department was quite exceptional: Barrueco, Barbosa-Lima, Delpriora, Goluses, Starobin and Sharon Isbin taught there.
» One of the most important guitar events in Brazil, the Palestrina Guitar Seminars, took place in your city, Porto Alegre, in the 1970s and 1980s. Did you take part in it?
The first guitar concert I attended in my life was at a Palestrina Seminar. The Assad brothers played the Gnattali concerto and Odair Assad played the Aranjuez. Not bad for a first concert, isn’t it? But at the time of most of the seminars I was still a child, didn’t even play the guitar yet. So I took part in only two seminars, as a student. And I performed and taught at the 1994 seminar.
» You are a Professor at UFRGS, where you created the Master of Music in Guitar Performance Program. What can a student expect from Daniel Wolff as a teacher? How are your classes?
It varies a lot from one student to another. I try to learn from the student, how he wants to play and what are his goals. With that in mind, I decide how to guide him. Some aspects in which I am quite insistent are: musical and historical knowledge of the works performed, choice of fingering based on interpretation and the use of neuromotorial awareness to solve technical problems. But I try to do all that in a relaxed atmosphere, I joke a lot in my classes, because the musical experience should be fun.
» You are a reference among arrangers for guitar and are also a composer. When did you start to arrange and compose?
My first arrangements were made right after I started studying classical guitar. My father learned piano at the time and I, wanting to play the pieces that I heard him practice, began to adapt them for the guitar. Composing came later, when I had already studied orchestration, harmony, counterpoint, improvisation, etc.
» You sell several arrangements directly from your website. Do you think that this is the best way? Do you plan to publish them in the conventional manner? What do you think about the publishing market?
I don’t know the publishing market that well. Dean Kamei, owner of Guitar Solo Publications, told me that it hasn’t been so good lately. I am publishing in Germany the scores of my new CD with Göritz, by Editions Margaux. They shall be available in a few weeks. Thus, I will be able to get a better idea about the status of the publishing market. Regarding the scores sold through my website, I receive a good deal of requests for scores, and that was a simple way I found to distribute them, although dealing with copyright issues can be quite time-consuming.
» How do you manage to handle so many activities and still keep in shape as a player? Do you have a study routine?
It is not easy to handle it all. The solution is to be organized, to distribute the time wisely between the different activities. And I try to alternate a bit. For example: when possible, I avoid writing an orchestral arrangement and playing a concert with a new program in the same week. I also practice sports regularly, as one needs to be in shape in order to have sufficient energy for all these activities.
» What do you think of the present moment for the guitar in Brazil?
There are many good young guitarists and composers. It is getting more professional, there are more options for higher education, the level of teaching is higher. Musicians are learning to handle other aspects, such as writing and producing cultural projects. There are more funding possibilities by means of tax-exemption laws and, due to the latest technological advancements, we have a larger number of CDs being released and an unprecedented access to what is produced in the rest of the world. The level is quite high, fortunately. However, when it comes to performance opportunities, Brazil still has a long way to go. In Germany, for instance, many churches hold concert series, even in reasonably small towns. This increases performance possibilities considerably. We should try to implement that in Brazil.
» How far do you intend to go as a guitarist?
That is dangerous. If we have a goal which is too specific, when we reach it, there’s no where else to go. I want always to improve as a musician and as a human being. How far will I go, I will only know when I get there.
» Do you have a new recording project?
I have several, almost all involving the guitar, solo or in ensemble. But there is a different project, which is to record my popular songs with a band (keyboards, bass, drums, etc). I have songs with text from different authors, which have not been recorded yet.
» What are your plans for the future?
Besides continuing what I do already, I would like to expand the Music at the Hospital project, which I coordinate in Porto Alegre. It is a very beautiful project, with recitals and music workshops given by UFRGS’ students and teachers at the Hospital de Clínicas. I would like to bring the project to other hospitals in Brazil and am trying to implement it here in Germany as well. Furthermore, as soon as possible, I want to offer a Doctoral degree in guitar performance at UFRGS.