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Daniel Cueto on Composing for Guitar

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

Luke: Why do you think it's important for guitarists and composers to collaborate on writing new music?

Daniel: I think the guitar is famous for being an instrument that is hard to write for unless you really understand it. A lot of composers have not wanted to write for guitar because they didn't understand it well enough. It's really different in the way it works than a piano, which is the instrument that most composers use to figure out chords and harmonies. The guitar has such a different logic to it, you know? It has the six strings, so you really need to think about what can be reached by the hand and what can't. I think that's probably the reason why classical guitar repertoire is mostly written by guitarist composers. We see a lot of guitarist composers like Giuliani, Villalobos and Paganini.

If we as non-guitarist composers want to write an efficient, effective piece for guitar, we have to sit down with a guitarist to figure out how the instrument works. The way I did it when I participated last year at Twisted Spruce. I went back and forth many times with the guitarist because I had all kinds of these ideas that didn't work technically on the guitar. But I was able to write with much more confidence because I knew there was somebody that was looking over the work. I think guitarists and composers working together can be a relief for the composer. You can just let your imagination free because you know that there's a specialist who can help you actually make it sound good.

L: What makes the guitar unique and exciting to write for compared to the other instruments?

D: The guitar is a really versatile instrument. You can play single lines that have a beautiful sound. Even a melody with no accompaniment can sound so magical. It's an instrument that can play very softly and has an intimate quality, which can make just a single line sound so wonderful. You can also have full chords, even loud chords with a strummed effect. There are all kinds of extended techniques, such as percussive sounds on the wood that give different sonorities. So, it has a lot of possibilities. Counterpoint is also something that's not often exploited. That's what I tried to do with the piece that I wrote last year.

I think another exciting part of the guitar is how portable it is, especially given how it can stand on its own as a soloist during a concert. Obviously, it's much more portable than a piano, harp or marimba or any other solo instruments you can think of. If you write a piece for guitar solo, that piece can be played in places other works can't be. You can reach other audiences. You can reach an audience that maybe doesn’t usually go to a classical concert. You can play in hospitals or other public space that don't usually have live music. Thus, a piece written for the guitar can reach all these different people, which I find really exciting.

L: You make a wonderful point about how portable the guitar is. For composers, that is great because we want to reach as many people as possible.

D: I think our broader goal as classical musicians is to try to reach new audiences. Often we only cater to people who already know enough about music to come to the concert hall. Winning over new audiences is possible especially with the guitar, which is an instrument that is familiar to many people. It’s just a great way to reach new people and get new people into classical music.

L: Yes, you’re absolutely right! How do you believe Twisted Spruce can further the careers of the young guitarists and composers that get involved?

D: For me, I always wanted to write a guitar piece, but I never got around to it. The great thing about Twisted Spruce is that you have this structure and a timeline. You have something to deliver, a mission and a focus. You have to just get into it. It doesn't have to be your best piece or the last piece you ever write, but you have to get started. Also, at Twisted Spruce, I think it's a really great balance of having a clear timeline but also plenty of space and room for the team to do its own thing. It was a great way to start!

L: That's great! Since you did Twisted Spruce last year, what are you most excited about this year?

D: I think that networking is going to be more exciting this year because we have more people on board from more diverse places. Also, I think slowly we will start to see a culture and vibe develop at Twisted Spruce since it's a recurring event now. Now it's coming into its second year online, and it looks like next year it'll be able to probably happen in person. So, it looks like Twisted Spruce is going into a great direction.

L: Awesome! Thank you so much for your time!

Find out more about Daniel here.

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