Interview with virtuoso guitarist Judicael Perroy
Originally Published with Guitar International Aug 2013
By: Brad Conroy
Judicael Perroy is easily one of the finest classical guitarists in the world today. Among his achievements are numerous recordings for the prestigious NAXOS label, he has given concerts in the finest halls all around the world, won first prize at the GFA competition, and plays with such a brilliant intensity that he has easily earned his spot amongst the best.
Receiving his Licence de Concert from Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris where he studied with the renowned Alberto Ponce. Perroy went on to win the prestigious first prize at the Guitar Foundation of America International Competition in 1997, which no doubt helped to open the door to his international success.
Perroy is not only an incredible performer, but he is also gifted teacher too. He has been sought after to give concerts and masterclasses at Universities and Festivals all over the world, and since 2004 he has been the Professor of guitar at the Ecole Nationale de Musique d'Aulnay-sous-Bois.
Guitar International found time to sit down with Judicael Perroy last summer at the International Guitar Festival in Brno, Czech Republic, where he gave us some insights into his career, practicing, recording and more.
Brad: How did you get started with the guitar?
Judicael: I started the guitar when I was six or seven, basically, because my dad was playing and listening to a lot of classical guitar, and one day he pushed me toward learning the guitar as opposed to beginning with piano or violin, and within a few months, I liked it.
Brad: What music were you listening to growing up?
Judicael: I would say from seven to thirteen, I was listening to just the classical guitar greats like John Williams. When I reached fourteen, this is when I began to listen to a lot of classical piano music, and now in my house I have around 2,000 piano CDs. I am really interested in the imagination and Interpretation, and this is such a big part of the piano repertoire. I can identify more pianists than I could guitarists just by listening because I am more familiar with those recordings.
Brad: Was there any guitarist who inspired your incredible Bach interpretations?
Judicael: I don’t really know enough of the players to say that I like this one or that one. It isn’t the one I like the most, but I was intrigued a bit by the way Paul Galbraith was playing Bach. When I listen to Bach I prefer to hear it on the keyboard, so I do not really know how all the guitarists are performing it these days.
Brad: Do you think it is necessary to study at a University in order to become a concert classical guitarist?
Judicael: I think having a diploma is very nice if you want to find a good teaching position, and perhaps in terms of having the knowledge that you gain from studying, but every person is the exception. In terms of being a good musician however, there are no rules. When Evgeny Kissin was twelve years old I am sure he didn’t know all that much, but he was already performing at a very virtuosic level already. I think that talent and hard work are more important.
Brad: Are you an improviser or composer?
Judicael: I don’t improvise and have never really studied it either. I was always more interested in interpretation. I wish I could compose, but I can’t say that I do. I think that one of the problems new music is facing is that there aren’t many truly great composer performers. There is a separation between the two, and not just for guitar, but with a lot of the instruments – you know, in piano, violin, and orchestra. I think that the last very famous composer, who was a player, I guess, was Rachmaninoff. There are a lot of players who compose, but it is usually obvious that they excel at one or the other. As for me, I hope that I have some talent to play, but I’m quite sure that I don’t have the talent to compose, so I don’t compose.
Brad: Why do you use two footstools?
Judicael: Ahhh, it’s just because in my house, I’m very used to playing on the sofa; I don’t need any footstool. So I use two to make it feel like I am on the couch not using any. I do this pretty often, except when the chair is very low.
Brad: How do you feel about the guitar support gadgets?
Judicael: I hear that they are good for the back, but I don’t use one of those. I think it is a personal thing, in a way to me you lose a connection to the instrument with one of those, but I never tell someone that they should do what I do. I have nothing against it, and if it helps you play better and feel better then you definitely should use one.
Brad: You play with extraordinarily long nails.
Judicael: Yeah, they are long; it’s not on purpose. I think it is because of the guitar I am using. I didn’t have this long of nails when I won the GFA, but after I started playing my current guitar they just kept getting longer. It isn’t really a conscious thing, but I am lucky that my nails are naturally strong too.
Brad: What is your favorite repertoire to play?
Judicael: Oh, there are many things, but I would say that I like the music of Ponce a lot right now, and will be something that I will be performing a lot of in next year. But of course, there is Dowland, Bach, and Takemitsu – I mean, those are the guys.
Brad: You appear at so many Guitar Festivals each year, what is something that you take away from them?
Judicael: I really like them because it is a great mixture of people, cultures, and there are a lot of good students that I meet who eventually come to Paris and study with me at the conservatory. I have met many of my students at festivals like this. Then of course there are all of the masterclasses, concerts, and seeing new places always makes these festivals a great experience.
Brad: What chamber music projects are you working on?
Judicael: Recently I have been playing with this very good cellist, and next year I will be recording a CD with Patrick Gallois, the great French flute player.
Brad: Favorite cities to perform in?
Judicael: I like big cities. I’m from Paris, so, of course, I like big cities, because there is much more to do. I like to go to the museum and take in cultural and historical sights. It is difficult to say where my favorite city is, but I like European cities the most. In the U.S. it is a little more difficult for me because I can’t drive there. New York is amazing, and I am very excited that I will be on holiday there next week. I play a lot in Mexico, and German cities I like a lot because they really appreciate classical music.
Brad: The rumor is that you don’t practice very much?
Judicael: My practice habits are very strange, and I don’t like to say too much. In fact, I don’t practice the guitar. With new pieces, I just learn the piece, but when I don’t do new pieces, I just don’t practice.
Brad: At all?
Judicael: No. I mean, in maybe two months I do 20 hours of guitar. Just before the concert tomorrow, with the new pieces, I just practice until I know the new piece, but when I know the piece, I just don’t practice.
There was a time back in ’93 where I practiced a lot, and another time in 2000 where for five months I was in the U.S. giving classes at Stetson University and I had a lot of free time, so I was practicing all day. Most of the time outside of those two brief periods, I just learn my pieces in 2-3 hours a day, but many days I practice much less than that. I don’t know; sometimes you feel guilty. Of course, when I learn new pieces, I need to practice.
Brad: How much did winning the GFA help your career?
Judicael: In many ways it helped tremendously. I have done a lot less competitions than most of my colleagues though. I think I have done about five competitions, so it is very hard to say just how much it has helped.
Brad: Do you think it is good, to turn music into a competition?
Judicael: Yeah, I mean, it’s OK. What other way is there to decide who is going to give the concerts? The winner of the competition is usually the one who was more beautiful, or the one who wanted it more. It is difficult, but it is like what we say in France about democracy, it is the worst system, but it is better than the opposite.
Brad: Any insights on how to record well, and handle being under the microscope?
Judicael: It can be very difficult to record well. Basically you just have to be ready to play and be able to forget about the microphone. Remember the energy you get from performing in front of an audience, and try to capture that in the studio. It is easy to become boring, especially after you have done a few takes of the piece. You have to fight against that and continue to deliver the interpretation with the energy that you want.
Brad: What have been a few highlights from your career?
Judicael: Difficult to say. I guess the first concert that I gave abroad, which was a long time ago, and I always like when I play a concert in Paris, because I rarely play in my own city. Winning the prestigious GFA definitely play’s in, and I have to say that I am very lucky to be performing in amazing halls in all the best cities like Moscow, Amsterdam, or Seattle to name a few, I really like this.
Brad: So few people can have a career as a concert guitarist. What is the secret?
Judicael: Many things. I won’t say that being good enough is the only key. There are some very good players that don’t make a career and many not-so-good players making a career. It’s not the only thing, but sometimes luck is also very important. It’s very strange. I think committing to it and putting it before many other things, if not everything is a big part too. I am sometimes away from home for a month or two at a time giving concerts and classes and going form one city to the next, and a lot of people don’t like that. So, I think sacrifice also plays a big part too.
Brad: What can we look forward to in the coming year?
Judicael: Next year I have a tour in Japan which I am excited about, and will also be giving concerts in the U.S.
Brad: Are you coming to Chicago?
Judicael: No, I don’t think so. I will be in the U.S. from the end of February to the middle of May. Other than that, and the CD that I will be working on there are too many things that will be keeping me busy.