LADISLAV PAZDERA * Most important is the imagination (interview)




Ladislav PAZDERA (1989) is a rising star of classical guitar. He was born in Pardubice, but he moved to Dresden for his university music education, which became the starting point for his further application. Pazdera caught attention as a sovereign performer and at the same time the author of the majority of his repertoire, which is inspired by a diverse combination of genres and influences. In his compositions meet exotic elements of the music of the nations of Eastern Europe, the Arab world, Andalusia, and Brazil. The solo debut and artistic calling card of the young musician is the album "Chiaroscuro", which was released this year by the Swiss label Unit Records.


How did you study in Dresden - what was the difference from the Czech Republic? Just the focus of the school, or also the approach and the presence of unique teachers/guitarists?

I had a great time studying in Dresden, it was, I would say, one of the best periods in my life ever. I could develop musically in the direction that was closest to me and also about the people I had the opportunity to meet. It was a wonderful collective in which I felt extremely comfortable personally and at the same time hugely motivated guitar-wise.


You continue to live in Dresden after your graduation. What is the genius loci of this town near the Czech border? Is there an artistic or otherwise free spirit there?

I would say both. It's a very cultural city, it has a really nice club scene and also many artists are working here. I've not only made a lot of friends and contacts over the years, but now I have a family here as well and I can easily support myself here. And all of this together has sort of naturally led to me staying here after graduation. The fact that I perform mainly in Germany and Western Europe and Dresden is a good starting point also helps.


A school with a focus on world music must have had influence on your music. What did you pick up directly from the your teachers and what was your own enthusiasm for this genre.

That went hand in hand. That's what makes the school here so special - it allows you to develop what you want to develop, regardless of the genre. And I probably naturally gravitated towards world music, so my teachers helped me in that direction. 


What kind of music do you listen to that is a direct source of inspiration and musical progression for you?

Basically, I listen to any music that is good, absolutely regardless of genre. But I guess I really gravitate towards instrumental world music the most, mainly because it is the biggest source of inspiration for me. And of course I try to learn as much as possible from the people I listen to.


Has this music also influenced you because of some of the personalities that represent it? Who in particular do you consider to be your mentor(s), and how might their music be of interest to listeners who don't already know them?

That's a good question. I think I've been very fortunate in my life when it comes to mentors. Of course I gained a lot from my teachers in Dresden, but in the last few years my mentor has been mainly the guitarist and composer Carlo Domeniconi, whom I frequently come to visit in Berlin. To be able to learn from him is just incredible, his knowledge and the way he teaches me about music is second to none. This has had an absolutely profound effect on me. With regard to my album, I would like to mention people like Jeronimo Maya, Cenk Erdogan, Anouar Brahem and the like, who I love to listen to.



In your compositions you can feel that you don't put your knowledge of harmony and melodic lines above the musicality of the idea and interpretation. The theoretical background is rather only perceptible here. How do your compositions come about and what has pushed you the furthest in this direction so far?

To be honest, I don't consider myself a great composer by any means. However, I have a really strong need to create my own music. My compositions are mostly created from a fairly clear idea of the feeling I want to convey and the meaning the piece should have. And then I try to express both musically as authentically as I can. I believe it's really important not to kid yourself when composing, and to try to make the feeling or idea as consistent as possible with its musical expression. My consultations with Carlo, for example, have helped me tremendously in this regard.


Emotionality and technique - do you work on both separately or do they go hand in hand?

To tell you the truth, I think for me technique definitely prefers emotionality. Which is the better case. If it was the other way around, I would probably have a problem. For me, musical ideas have to have meaning and purpose, and that brings with it that emotionality more or less naturally. Technique comes second, it's just a tool. And it's terribly important not to look at technique as something isolated. It makes the most sense when it has a clear idea behind it and also when it has a clear goal.


Can we consider the Chiaroscuro album as a representative sample of your musical activity so far, or do you also deal with other, more radically different styles that are not heard here. If so, which ones are they?

Chiaroscuro is actually a musical self-portrait in many ways. I wanted it to represent me as an artist and guitarist, and it's definitely a true representation of what I've been working on over the last few years. At the same time it's also another starting point, I'm kind of curious myself in which direction it is going to push me.


You have other artists as guests performing with you on the album. Could you tell us a bit more about their role in your music, or in your artistic life?

Absolutely. They are both very important to me in their own way and that was one of the reasons why I wanted so much to have them collaborate with me on the album. Claire is one of the first people that I met when I came to Dresden almost 10 years ago. We studied together and became very good friends. She is a wonderful musician, we understand each other very well, both personally and professionally. We have played together in a duo for quite a while now which we keep very much alive despite the fact that Claire is now living back in France. The next album that I would like to make is actually our duo album. Similarly to Claire, I also met Reentko when I was at the university. He is an absolutely exceptional musician and I was very lucky that he became one of my teachers and later on, a good friend of mine as well. He has always had a huge and positive influence on me as an artist. In a way, he has remained my mentor up to this day, for which I am very grateful. Also, having him on the album is just wonderful.


You have obviously applied your former experience with violin and viola to mastering the fretless guitar. What led you to this instrument and how has it expanded your range of expression?

I was led to the fretless guitar by chance. When Karlijn Langendijk and I were working on our album Meraki, we were playing around with a number of ideas and one of them was to use the fretless guitar to play some of the melodies. Reentko had a fretless guitar at the time, he lent it to me and I couldn't give it up. It's an instrument that fascinates me in many ways. For example, I'm very attracted to the possibility of playing without the limitations of tempered tuning. Also, practicing on it is almost a meditative experience. As soon as one tries to play it by force and without thinking, it absolutely doesn't work, so whenever one practices on it, there is naturally this nice calmness and a certain inner serenity. In the case of the Chiaroscuro, it allowed me to broaden its sound spectrum, and it is just as much a diversion when playing live.


In one of your videos, you can see that you alternate between different instruments. How did you use the different characteristics of specific models on this album? (Could you characterise your favorite instruments, which ones are they and why? What manufacturers/brands...)

I have four guitars that I normally use - a concert guitar (Petr Matoušek, cedar, double top), a flamenco guitar (Friedemann Beck, spruce), a crossover guitar (Jost von Huene, spruce) and a fretless baglama guitar (Ekrem Özkarpat, cedar). Each is unique and different from the others both sonically and technically, certain songs are just easier to play on one guitar or the other. This also makes the album more varied, even if it remains pretty compact when it comes to the overall sound.


What do you think a classical guitar player should focus on to get the best sound out of his instrument?

They should focus on the idea of the sound they want to have. Nothing else matters as much as the idea. Once it's clear, it's easier to achieve a good or custom sound. Hands can often do this quite involuntarily and repeatedly. Technique is rather secondary in this respect. I myself am constantly working on these aspects as well. Inner hearing and the sensitivity with which we perceive tones also play a role. I would also concentrate on knowing the instrument, trying to understand how the guitar works, how to really tune it (very few guitarists know this), how aliquots play a role, how to think horizontally in relation to the melody and maybe also the fingerings, etc. But most important of all is the idea.


Cedar or spruce? Which do you prefer?

I have no preference.


Classical guitarists say that the strings have a big influence on the sound of the instrument. Do you have any favourites or do you use different ones for different purposes? Do you ever use gut or metal strings?


I don't use metal strings at all, only nylon. My experience is that it's a good idea to try multiple brands and multiple options on the same guitar. Don't look at price or brand, just feel how one or the other strings either help the guitar sound or choke it. It's a very individual thing. And maybe just a little tip - if one uses multiple tunings during gigs, it's not a bad idea to play thinner bass strings, they have less tendency to revert to the previous tuning.



Do you use tunings other than the classic ones? From the recordings, you can hear tones below the normal tuning of the guitar. Are they played on an under-tuned guitar or other instruments?

Reentko plays baritone guitar on one of the tracks. Otherwise, the guitars are indeed tuned in a different tuning than the classical one on almost all tracks.


The fast and complex rhythmic passages reveal a bravura mastery of various techniques, especially flamenco. What advice would you give to guitarists who want to progress, improve their speed, accuracy and sound as natural as you do even in difficult passages? Is it the privilege of a select few or can anyone who really wants to do it honestly work towards it?  

If it's the privilege of a select few, then I have a serious problem. Because I certainly don't excel technically (although I thank you for such a favourable review) and it would be depressing to think that I am at the limit of my abilities. No, I believe it's a matter of a certain amount of work, time, cleverness and (again) the ability to imagine what the hands are supposed to do and then let them play. Sure, there are guitarists who (to oversimplify) have been playing two hours of scales and technical exercises every day since they were six years old. Certainly this is one way to achieve technical mastery, but there are multiple paths to the same goal, and this is just one of them.


How were the tracks for the Chiaroscuro album recorded? In what conditions (do you count natural acoustics of the space or other environmental quality in the recording process)? Are you the director yourself, or is there someone else present during the recording process, a producer whose advice you take?

I had the opportunity to record the album in the Waldhaus studio in Germany, which is a very special and inspiring place. From start to finish I worked only with Mohi Buschendorf and I consulted with him. I respect his opinion very much and he is the one to whom I owe the final sound of the album.


Do you deal with these issues beforehand as well, or do you rely on the sound engineers at the studio you choose? Do you also make use of current home recording options? To what level?

I totally rely on the people I work with in the studio. I'm very picky about it, but it really pays off. I've learned quite a bit over the years so it's really a collaborative thing, I like to be involved in the technical side of recording as well, but primarily my job is to focus on the music, they take care of the rest. And because I choose them well, I feel confident that they'll be good to work with and that they'll take care of the end result in a way that I can totally rely on. It's a liberating feeling, I can't really imagine to work any other way.



Where does the classical guitarist's path to the world stage lead? What has helped you the most, besides having so much to offer, to gain opportunities for international touring?

This is a question that I myself am very interested in :)) I'm just at the beginning myself. But I feel that over the past years I have managed to build a position from which I have something to offer and I do it in a way that people take seriously, and that's why I'm starting to play gigs on the international scene, for example. Basically it takes three things - I have to really have something to offer, I have to enjoy playing gigs and I have to really enjoy booking gigs. The opportunity to learn from people who have been in the game longer than me and to add my own ideas to their knowledge is also hugely valuable. I think that's also the best (and healthiest) way to use those so-called contacts. You can't do without them, but for me, the main thing behind this slightly pejorative term is the opportunity to talk to friends, to colleagues, to people whose advice I value and who can teach me something that will take me further.


How does it technically work today? Do you have an agent who handles these opportunities for you or do you handle this agenda yourself? What is the ratio of offers that find you versus gigs that are taken care of from your end? How many gigs do you have per year/month on average?

I take care of arranging the gigs myself. For many reasons it is the most efficient, even though it costs a lot of time. However, it does mean that if I don't sit down at the computer and pick up the phone, I literally only get to play a few times a year. There are a great many good musicians who are competing for a relatively limited number of locations and dates, and concert promoters usually have absolutely no need to approach musicians themselves. So it's a lot of relatively unattractive computer and phone work. But I'm trying to see it as a game, and I'm enjoying playing it more and more. I've been pretty shaken up with gigging in recent years by the covid situation, but things are starting to get back to normal. 2024 will be even weaker, but I've already got about twenty gigs lined up for 2025 and of course it will continue to fill up.


You record promo videos, your album reviews are published by professional media around the world, but also by local newspapers, you are on social networks, on stream, etc. Which of all this (and unlisted) helps you or has helped you the most at a certain time? 

I'm pretty sure it's the interplay of all those points listed. It all goes hand in hand, one leads to the other and only together does it really make sense. It helps me a lot to know that I've done the best job possible with regard to my music in particular. It gives you a foundation to really build on.


Apart from playing, you also teach guitar. Is this only done in person in Dresden, or also remotely via computer? Can interested people approach you and what is the best way to learn from you? What are your universal priorities when teaching?

I really enjoy teaching, I have my own class in Dresden, about 20 students in total. Anyone can get in touch with me outside of that, then it's mostly online and also often it's not about guitar, but rather consulting on aspects of musical life such as just booking gigs. In terms of priorities, firstly I like to approach everyone individually and secondly I always try to make sure that my students understand the point of what they are doing. No matter what the subject.


How do you think about your artistic progression? Are you able to set goals that will move you forward and adjust others to that, or do you try to somehow achieve that alongside your other duties and commitments?

I try not to let myself get too bogged down by circumstances and rather plan according to my own sense of need. I've experienced many times what it's like to have to conform to outside pressure and I guess such situations can't always be avoided. But at least I try to do that and hopefully I am largely successful. At least at the moment I'm having a relatively happy time in that regard. 


Can you reveal some of these goals that might inspire others?

One goal for all of them - I have two or three new things that I'll be releasing in the near future, most likely as singles. But apart from that, I mainly want to study and learn more in the next few months. I don't have too many gigs or other commitments so there will be plenty of time for that. I'm really looking forward to it and I'm also curious what this period will bring.


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