ZSÓFIA BOROS wants to breathe and feel stories. The fact that the guitarist shares her experiences with us can be considered a stroke of luck. She spoke with Markus Deisenberger about the different objects on her current album “Local Objects”, intimate moods and music somewhere between finger acrobatics and energy transport.
You just got back from concerts in Seoul. What were your impressions?
Zsófia Boros: It was fantastic. I played at the Arts Center in front of about 700 people and played a showcase in a famous CD shop in front of about eighty people. The people were very receptive.
More receptive than here?
Zsófia Boros: I wouldn’t say that, but it was exotic for both sides. For the audience as well as for me.
I experienced you at Jazz & The City Salzburg in the wine archive of the Arthotel Blaue Gans, a very small and intimate setting. Now the music you play is undoubtedly one that requires attention and that benefits from a certain intimate mood. Is it more difficult to create a successful interaction with seven hundred people?
Zsófia Boros: It’s completely different. But there was already a lot done with the light in Seoul. The whole audience area was darkened and only I was illuminated. To be honest, I don’t see people at all. That means there’s not much change for me. And it is always depends on the audience itself: Whether one or many listen is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is attention. It can also get very restless in a small room. But it’s hard to compare. The intimate atmosphere makes the music. If people accept it, it will remain tender, no matter how many people are present in the end.
Explain the title of your current album “Local Objects”?
Zsófia Boros: This comes from the poem that is printed in the booklet. The poem is by Wallace Stevens, an American poet. It’s about different local things that you take home and that create a beautiful symbiosis there.
In other words, the title stands metaphorically for the different pieces that you brought home?
Zsófia Boros: Exactly.
With a few small exceptions – “Garoto” for instance – there are many contemporary pieces on the album. Was that intentional?
Zsófia Boros: No, not at all, it just happened.
Does it make a difference whether you approach a contemporary piece or a classical one?
Zsófia Boros: Because I know some of the composers – such as Duplessy and Pinter – personally or through contact via various social networks, I have the opportunity to hear people play themselves. I can get an idea of how they interpret their own compositions. But I think you can also hear that I don’t necessarily always deal with their interpretations.
“WHAT FASCINATES ME ABOUT MUSIC, BUT ALSO ABOUT SPEECH, IS THAT NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE PRONOUNCED OR PLAYED OUT[…]”
Where exactly is the boundary between an interpretation that is as faithful to the work as possible and an appropriation of the piece, i. e. an adaptation that develops the material and makes it something of its own in a certain sense? How do you get rid of interpretations that often go in the same direction with a piece like “Milonga”? How does the appropriation proceed, how do you turn the foreign piece into your own authentic version?
Zsófia Boros: That I play something different is not a conscious decision. I practice a lot with a recording device. I record myself and listen to it carefully. I believe that a piece always wants to express something specific. I try to interpret it simply in such a way that the content I have anticipated is expressed.
In the “Milonga”, for example, which you mentioned, the small pizzicatos at the beginning remind me of a filmic work in which the scene does not begin in the house where they are set, but in which one approaches the house from the outside at the beginning. As an introduction to the future. This gives me a rhythmic and colorful foretaste of what comes later.
What fascinates me about music, but also about language, is that not everything always has to be uttered or played out, that sometimes the listener himself has the possibility to finish the story, to finish it or to continue it in his imagination.
That’s why I like this little foreplay on “Milonga”. You can guess in which direction it will go, but it will not be declared. In the piece there is then an aha-effect, when that premonition is confirmed. This experience is so beautiful for me that I would like to share it.
Can this be compared to a short story, which is usually perceived as particularly successful if it does not tell and explain everything, but also leaves things open that are developed in the reader’s imagination?
Zsófia Boros: Exactly, the reader completes the story on their own. It is a particularly nice feeling to become part of the interpretation as a reader or listener. When you tell it all literally, it’s always a little laborious for me. There’s not much more left than to say thank you. In this case, your own imagination falls by the wayside.
But you don’t get in touch with the living composers?
Zsófia Boros: It is the case that I want to have as much distance as possible while looking for my approach. That may sound strange, but that’s the only way I can find my own interpretation. Otherwise I feel compelled to play what is written in the notes. I want to experience my version and then show what I have experienced. Most of the time it becomes something completely different. At least it was often the case that something quite different came out than expected. But those composers with whom I had contact were satisfied or at least they expressed it in this way.
Can you describe the process of development in more detail?
Zsófia Boros: It starts with a story that I discover or that is told to me. I want to read them like a book, feel the roles and then feel them as human beings. Everyone experiences a certain story differently. If I consumed a story, I want to tell it again. Just in my own words. Quasi in the form of a retelling.
Is it more of a hindrance to know many interpretations of one and the same piece?
Zsófia Boros: No, that’s interesting. Sometimes it makes you understand certain situations better, sometimes you turn away completely because you realize that it means something completely different to yourself. It’s the same as life: One listens, has different backgrounds, views, and the same things sometimes mean completely different things in the same words.
With someone like Pinter, it’s easy. One asks him how he meant that, how he came to the story behind the piece. In this case it is the loss of love; a relationship that ends. How does it work in other cases? How long does it take to find a clue?
Zsófia Boros:[laughs] Maybe for a long time. I asked Pinter extra questions. Gothenburg is a city where I was just last week to play. It is very interesting to find out what prompted the composer to write the piece, in what a sad mood he was.
Does this story then create a link to a personal experience?
Zsófia Boros: I have not experienced the same story as him, but each of us has been injured before. That’s why I can understand that, and I find it nice to translate this feeling into music.
“I FIND THIS GENRE-THINKING THAT’S VERY COMMON TODAY BAD”
Your “Local Objects” are very different. Is it still possible to deduce certain preferences that you have when it comes to the choice of material?
Zsófia Boros: You can compare this with books or furniture. I don’t know how it is with you, but I don’t like the fact that it looks like one piece at home. I don’t like it when something is monocultural. I like the variety, the multicultural. The worst is when you move into a new apartment and have everything done from start to finish. I find it much more exciting to furnish it piece by piece, here something more oriental, there a little bit more high-tech. That’s the way I want it: Different objects telling different stories.
I find this genre thinking, which is very common today, very bad. The subscriptions, where everything has to fit in and be uniform. We’re not so uniformed. Sometimes we like one thing, sometimes another. I find this genre thinking a pity, because it limits musicians. But many people are forced to think in this system – to fit into a subscription, so that they can play an album in an arc and play concerts in a certain country. There’s something we lose for ourselves.
Can you say that with your album you are the arc?
Zsófia Boros: So to speak, yes. But I believe that many are like me. But because the world works as it does, many try to adapt.
Is it getting better or worse?
Zsófia Boros: I hope better. If everyone stays true to themselves, it will be better.
Let’s stick to clichés and uniforms. It is also a cliché that flamenco music is played by men…
Zsófia Boros: Absolutely. There are no women.
Is that broken up by women like you?
Zsófia Boros: No, I don’t think so. It’s a tradition. The women dance and sing, the men play the guitar. I haven’t seen a female Flamenco guitarist.
Isn’t that an enormous temptation to revolt a little?
Zsófia Boros: No. I didn’t really have the intention to prove that a woman can play flamenco on my first album. I just like to play songs like Al Di Meola’s “Vertigo Shadow” on classical guitar. But I’m not trying to portray myself as an emancipated white knight. Not at all, no. I don’t really know much about flamenco either. It just depends on whether a piece appeals to me. If it does, I’ll just have to play it.
How do you find music?
Zsófia Boros: Different. I listen to a lot, go to concerts a lot, search a lot on the internet and listen to my gut feeling. As soon as you think,”This could be very nice…”, it’s over. Because it is at this very moment that the brain is already switching to it. If I like listening to something from beginning to end, then that’s what it is. It takes a while to find a piece like that. But it is exciting to observe how fast the brain wants to play along. This “Oh, if you’re doing this, it might fit…”
It’s like clothes: You try something and are not sure if it is the right thing to do. On the one hand you have doubts, but on the other you think:”That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for so long.” That’s the brain. You have to listen to the gut feeling – that’s the real thing.
“[…]MUSIC IS IN MY OPINION NOT TO BE JUDGED BY FINGER ACROBATICS”
So there are the pieces that sound like a second skin from the very beginning, like a piece of clothing that really suits you. Are there also those you like very much, but then for a certain reason you don’t choose?
Zsófia Boros: Sure, there is. Especially those you want to go to, but know that it’s going to be an incredible challenge. At university, you’re too trapped in a small circle. There are norms that are customary to play. You play compulsory programs in competitions. Everyone plays basically the same thing at guitar festivals.
When you’re done with the university, you fall into a hole. You ask yourself, “What now?” Suddenly there are no more templates. Through a kind of self-awareness, I began to observe myself in this phase. I didn’t start playing the guitar to play the standard repertoire. I want to play something because I like it, not because it is difficult and technically demanding.
For many musicians, something is always good when it is technically demanding. If it is readable from the sheet, it is not that interesting. But in my opinion, music is not to be judged on finger acrobatics. Music is a transport for energy. Changing my thnking didn’t work so fast because you are influenced by the outside world. One asks oneself: “Isn’t it too easy?” or: “Is this virtuoso enough?” It took a while to get rid of this scepticism and just do what I wanted. Eventually, once all this has passed, it’ll be fine. Then you don’t think about it and are happy about it.
To what extent is Manfred Eicher from ECM someone who helps you with these decisions?
Zsófia Boros: He is not guided by virtuosity. Eicher is just looking for the musical flow. It should just flow….
What is it like to work with such an expert?
Zsófia Boros: For me it is fascinating how he gets an overview of the structure, meaning, and interpretation of a piece after hearing it only once. How he can understand everything. This enables him to help artists with ideas that will help them focus on what they want to say. His personal tastes take a backseat.
He gives little instructions that can be very helpful. Often you are too cautious and too tense because of the challenge. And in these moments, Manfred Eicher encourages you to just let go and relax. He takes great care to ensure that the whole story remains authentic, which, I believe, is what you hear in every single ECM production. They’re all very individual.
Both albums were recorded in Lugano. Why there?
Zsófia Boros: Because it is so special. The recordings took place at the radio station in Lugano. And not in an ordinary studio room, but in a concert hall with a very nice sound. If the sound in a hall is really beautiful, then you are motivated to tell more. It makes you feel good. We also thought about the light there, so that I could feel comfortable and free to tell all the stories I wanted to. All these small details fit together very well, the many little things that created a good working atmosphere.
Recording an album of this class in two days sounds heavy.
Zsófia Boros: It’s not heavy, you have to be well prepared in advance. And at some point the pieces have to be born.
“I want to develop a relationship with every single note,” you said once. That sounds complicated given the abundance of notes played. Is it? Is it about accuracy or more about instinct?
Zsófia Boros: Its is like a play in which extras often appear in the background. You can feel this multi-dimensionality. The extras are important, they are the people, but they do not have to be perceived individually with their respective expressions and faces. Nevertheless, when I think of myself as a director, I have a relationship with each of these extras, I know them or him because they are the people with whom I work out the stage design and the play. The same goes for the notes: Some are in the foreground, some remain in the background, but they are all important for the overall musical picture.
Are there things about this approach that you are afraid of and don’t know whether they will work in the end?
Zsófia Boros: Yes, with very long pieces. When it’s long and technically demanding, you think about how to keep the concentration from minute one to eight so high that you really pay the same attention to the piece at every moment. Eight minutes can be quite a long time if you’re so focused. The best thing, however, is not to think too much and not to be afraid at all, but simply to be in the here and now.
At your concert at Jazz & The City, you announced a piece towards the end of your performance that you hadn’t played for a long time. You said you didn’t know if you could do it. And then it comes across perfectly from the audience’s point of view. How can you perform it so perfectly after such a long time? Or was it only perfect in the ears of the listeners?
Zsófia Boros:[laughs] Only in the ears of the listeners. But it’s hard to judge this yourself because you’re so concentrated. Current pieces, which I often play, I can experience because they sort of flow out of my hand. I can also be a little more of a listener. In a piece like the one you mentioned, I’m just a performer. I am so busy making sure that my fingers are in the right place, that I don’t have time for self-observation. Like a tour guide who hasn’t seen the city he shows in a while. He knows the city, but has to remember certain things first. It’s exciting because he doesn’t know if the corner café still exists.
Are there any moments of surprise? Journalists, for example, frequently discovering an interesting second level when they listen to recorded interviews later. They notices that some of the conversational situations on site were perceived differently from the way they present themselves through attentive listening.
Zsófia Boros: Of course. These moments of surprise occur again and again. But at the same time you also have to understand that you experience things differently the first time around than the second time. The first time you have no expectations, its is a conversation. If you experience things a second time, your expectations are already there, you have already assessed them in terms of content. And that’s exactly the same with music. If you listen to a piece again, you are no longer unbiased, you have formed an opinion which you hope to reaffirm. And of course, it can happen that the first impression deceived you and when you listen to a song again, you don’t really like it.
So it can be dissapointing?
Zsófia Boros: Yes, and vice versa. When you think it wasn’t good. You have to believe what you felt first and stick to it. There’s nothing objective anyway.
Your last album was recorded in November 2015. That was a long time ago. Are there any plans for a new album?
Zsófia Boros: Yes, I am working on a new program. Wolfgang Muthspiel has written seven small pieces for me which I would like to record. I have already played them in Seoul and will play them at my concerts in January.
How long are they?
Zsófia Boros: Short. Very short. Fifteen minutes in total.
That almost sounds punk.
Zsófia Boros: [laughs] No, it’s anything but punk. But it still is certain when we will start recording. We still don’t have a concrete date.