Russian Classical Guitarist Dmitry Nilov Inspires with Magical Style
By: Rick Landers
The appeal of classical guitar is universal and it’s creative juices surface around the world, as reflected by Russian-born Dmitry Nilov.
Dmitry, who has been compared to Andre’ Segovia and John Williams, has developed his guitar technique to where it transcends process and lands in a place of intuitive style and emotional purity.
By the time he reached twenty years old, he was awarded a fourth place at the highly respected Printemps de la Guitare (Valkur, Belgium) and since that time he has been recognized as a major force in classical guitar music, winning awards and gaining popularity throughout Europe.
With the same persistence the musician keeps himself in the strict frames of the guitar academism but, delightedly, obtains from this calm chamber instrument a strikingly fine touch, precise accent and astonishingly rich images, both of Bach’s meditativeness and of Spanish expansiveness.”
(Ukrainian National Philharmonic, January 29, 2009)
Nilov has played over 450 concerts during the past decade in Russia, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.
In 2004, Liverecords released Dmitry’s debut CD, The Cathedral.
Dmitry has played in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world, where he performs traditional compositions by the masters of guitar, as well as his own music that defines his own style that is technically flawless and emotionally refined.
Rick Landers: You gravitated to the guitar at a young age and studied classical guitar. What or who influenced you toward classical music and did you feel something in the music that you didn’t find in Beat music?
Dmitry Nilov: Thank you for your question. In my opinion, it is almost impossible to answer it in brief, but I will try to do my best.
Let’s put it this way: I was influenced by the environment that brought me up. My parents [father is a musician, button accordion-player, mother is an interpreter of the French language] adore music, and it sounded permanently at our home. Those were either vinyl records or my Dad played himself and I watched him performing with a keen interest.
We also attended concerts very often. The point is that Smolensk, where I was born, is a native town of the great Russian composer, Mikhail Glinka, and in days of my childhood numerous outstanding musicians came to perform in Smolensk, in addition to the annual music festival which has been preserved to this present time.
My first concert that I attended was the performance of the pianist, Mikhail Pletnev.
Before I started to gravitate to the guitar I became familiar with easy pieces for piano. First with my father and then with a tutor. We had an instrument in our home and this provoked my curiosity, so my lessons began voluntarily.
We also had a guitar, but I became interested in it much later. I cannot say that someone took me by the hand and led to this instrument. It happened spontaneously and naturally. No persuasion, no making up decisions, no pushing.
My love of it came instantly. I studied with great enthusiasm new techniques of playing, new repertoire and the guitar’s timbre possibilities… I was completely bewitched by this instrument that had been unknown to me.
I had the best teacher in the world – Severian Soltan! He was one of the most erudite and one of the kindest people I ever knew, to whom I will be eternally grateful. I will remember him for all my life.
He was not only an excellent musician, but also a very good psychologist. Apropos, he was a button accordion-player, too, by training. Nevertheless, he was he was a great guitar teacher.
My parents and I almost worshiped him. My mother and father visited our classes occasionally, and my Dad and I studied the guitar’s specifics, technique, position of hands, way of seating etcetera, just to show the right way in my exercises at home. I cannot recall any moment, any day when I did not want to go to Soltan’s lessons. I must say that all his pupils played on a very high level.
What do I find in classical music comparing with Beat music? Besides the emotions that it gives me, of course, classical music makes me think, contemplate, look for answers to my questions, analyze. This is an ongoing process. It goes on in my head even if I am not touching the instrument for several days. It never stops.
Regarding the Beat music: there are no two Beat music pieces alike. Generally, I don’t have any need to listen to it. I prefer silence.
Rick: It’s been said the guitar is an easy guitar to learn to play, but a very challenging instrument to learn to play well. As you learned guitar, what challenges did you find the most difficult and how did you discipline yourself to overcome them?
Dmitry Nilov: You are quitе right. It is not very difficult to learn to play the guitar on elementary level, though I consider this instrument very sophisticated. It goes without saying, that it’s very hard to play well, but guitar is special in all respects. Please, note that I avoid saying “have learned” to play well. I have never heard a serious performer say: ” I have learned to play well”.
Now I have to overcome much more technical problems than when I started to play as a kid. It depends on many objective reasons: higher responsibility and the goals are ever changing.
A child does not notice, or does not realize these difficulties; he simply does not hear or understand many things. I never played scales or exercises when I was a child. If somebody had forced me to do it, I would have just dropped classes. Of course, they told me about it, but never forced me to do it. I recognized all the beauty and the usefulness of exercises much later.
Rick: Traditionally, the Russian guitar is a 7-string guitar tuned to an open G chord. Is that the style you studied and what technical and tonal differences do you find different between the two instruments?
Dmitry Nilov: I will be short here. I never learned playing a 7-string guitar, but I am sure that the technique is almost the same. Undoubtedly, “the flavor” differs a little bit. Many arrangements of Russian romance songs were written for the 7-string guitar. Of course, you can perform them with a 6-string guitar, and it would be more complicated than in the original. I believe that a 7-string guitar can and should exist. Today it needs composers and musicians of Andre’ Segovia’s rank.
Rick: It seems that you’ve played all of the great music houses in Russia, as well as played in the Ukraine, Paris and elsewhere. Have you set a course to expand your global reach to America and tour?
Dmitry Nilov: Like any other musician it is very important for me to appear on stage. It does not matter where I perform. It can be the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow or the Grand Hall of Moscow State Conservatory, the Chamber Hall of the Moscow International Performing Arts Center or philharmonic halls of other Russian cities – I appreciate it very much.
I am also fond of playing in cozy ancient churches and castles of France, Germany, Belgium and Spain. I wish there were as many as possible concert stages with the most comfortable conditions, like the acoustics, for guitarists and the audience.
I would be happy to find good business partners in the USA willing to organize a concert tour for me. You know, it is impossible to do it on your own without any support in а foreign country located at a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers away. Unfortunately, I do not have any connections with the USA, but I am open to interesting offers. I can be reached via my web site.
Rick: Russian made guitars are not well known in the United States, what guitars do you play and did you have any input into any of their designs?
Dmitry Nilov: It is true that Russian guitar makers are not so popular in Europe or the USA. I can understand it, because Spanish masters have always bore the palm. It is in their culture. However, there was an exception: great luthier Hermann Hauser was a German.
The situation in Russia started to change ten years ago, when more information, more literature, more possibilities and more instruments that are Spanish appeared in my country.
Now I play a guitar by Pavel Gavryushov who is working in the traditions of the Spanish school of the twentieth century.
In my opinion, he is very successful in this affair. He was a pupil of Timophey Tkach for several years. The latter became a teacher for several other Russian guitar makers and seriously influenced the development of the Russian luthier school in general. You can hear it in my recordings. I am sure the stereotypes about Russian masters will be broken with time.
I personally contributed to the design of several dozens of guitars. Under the supervision of Timophey Tkach in his workshop, I studied French polish and worked with this technique on about 50 instruments. I consider this knowledge and skill very useful for a musician, when he has an opportunity to watch and understand the process of guitar’s birth from the beginning.
I was happy to meet different musicians in that workshop – violinists, cellists, conductors, to whom I am very grateful. We gathered there, listened to a newly born instrument whether it was a violin, a viola, or a guitar and discussed it.
Today, I observe with great interest how new guitars appear, communicate with new luthiers; share my impressions and knowledge with them about the sound or exterior particularities of their guitars.
Rick: Tell us about the time you met Spanish master guitarist Pepe Romero and how he influenced your playing or your career?
Dmitry Nilov: I had a chance to meet the Great Master in 2003 when he performed in Moscow. It was a great honor for me to take part in his master class, to attend all his recitals with orchestra and, of course, to talk to him аbout guitars, music, flamenco technique and more.
By the way, he paid attention to my guitar and pointed out the high level of quality and the level of my performance. It was a great compliment for me. Undoubtedly, he greatly influenced both my playing and me on a personal level.
It was at that moment, when I decided to become a concert musician. However, the most important thing was that Maestro instilled confidence in me. You see, in those days I only started my concert career, I had only two solo commercial concerts “in my store” and I had some doubts in the result, because my style of performing, my sound already differed from others.
Pepe listened to my playing and encouraged me, and said that I should continue performing, indeed preserving, my personal style. His opinion was highly important to me; I have received the approval of the most experienced concert musician!
Speaking of a career, it is necessary to highlight key points. What is a career? Unfortunately, I have never had a producer or backing from any foundations or associations.
I was never under somebody’s patronage and no one ever recommended me to any manager. Moreover, I do not consider these a musician’s career. Actually, I think that destiny is more important. My profession is much more valuable for me than career. It is crucial to become a Master in your profession.
Meanwhile, I am going my way by choice. Nobody knows whether it is right of wrong. It has both negative and positive sides. Mine is not a career in the conventional understanding of the word.
Rick: Besides guitar, what other hobbies or interests do your pursue?
Dmitry Nilov: I love nature, silence… I become more and more selective and careful while communicating with new people. I prefer to be around the people whom I have known for a long time. By the way, most of them do not have anything to do with music at all.
Rick: While watching you play “La Maja de Goya” and “Torre Bermeja”, I was impressed with such stunning technique, but also your talent to draw such emotion from your guitar. Do you intuitively know when you’re technique has evolved to the point where the emotions surface and overcome the studied musicality? Does it feel magical to you or does it simply feel like you’ve reached some satisfactory musical goal?
Dmitry Nilov: First of all, thank you very much for your compliment! Of course, I know it somehow. However, it is only one stage of work with a piece of music, when you are in the process of searching and selecting diamonds from the ore.
Then you need to cut and polish them. This process includes the quest of necessary timbre, warm or cold, sound richness and something else that is difficult to explain by words. If your mind is actively involved in the preparatory stage, then during the performance intuitive and even instinctive components obtain great importance. It is impossible “to think” while you are playing a concert.
Usually it takes much effort and time.
In contrast to a cut diamond, your result cannot be the same as it was in your imagination. It is very hard to perform and it depends on everything: acoustics, temperature and humidity, soffits, strings, your condition and mood, temperature of your body etcetera. A guitar is a very naughty instrument; tune, dynamics and attack can change very quickly.
I think that a composer puts magic into music. My goal as an artist is to understand the author. It means to comprehend a piece thoroughly. I try bringing out to the audience only those compositions that were completely thought through and felt deeply by me at this moment, of course, not hoping that “aha factor” will come to me during a performance and something magical will immerge by itself.
You can see only a tip of an iceberg on stage. There is a tremendous job laying underneath. “Jazzy” approach to music is not close to me. Anyway, the audience will be judging.
Rick: Besides classical music do you ever haul out an amp and an electric and rock? If so, what kinds of music do you play?
Dmitry Nilov: My professional interests dwell in the realm of classical music. I know some classic instrumentalists who also perform on different classical and non-classical instruments, which is a very trendy thing nowadays. Some of them are rather interesting. However, I don’t see any reason why I would do something like this. For this, one needs a special kind of mood, drive, or desire, which I don’t find in myself.
Rick: Who are your major influences in various types of music – blues; classical; rock; jazz; etcetera and who are listening to now?
Dmitry Nilov: By most part, I am influenced by classical music, of course, and not only the guitar one. For pleasure, I listen to classical music, but not only. Among others are French chanson and original Catalan songs, or Soviet performers, but not very often. I am always interested in new rhythms, melodies and techniques.
Rick: Did you ever get caught up in Russian rock or Beat music?
Dmitry Nilov: I don’t have it in my plans yet, though I don’t exclude that it might be interesting for me, but only as arrangements of great talent. Russian rock and Beat music contain both personal and national features of musicians who live in multinational Russia and can be a very good base for composing classical music – for a guitar also – but the problem is in the “quality” of such pieces.
Rick: Given your grand level of success in Russia, do you have career dreams and goals that you still want to accomplish ?
Dmitry Nilov: I wish I would have an opportunity to perform as long as possible, expanding to new countries, improving myself and handing my experience down to young guitarists.
Rick: Is there a composition that you play that you wish would never end?
Dmitry Nilov: I can’t say there is such а composition, but there is a composer. It is Johann Sebastian Bach. I can never stop playing his music; it is the process of infinite discovery of new possibilities of articulation, phrasing, and guitar sounds in his masterpieces. This is a real magic!