Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No misspent youth

Guitar hero started at 17, moved straight to head of the class

Express Staff Writer

What defines a true artist from the masses? Though Mattias Jacobsson's leap from toying around with an instrument to a major up-and-comer in the classical music scene in a few years is prodigy-like, Jacobsson didn't have a Tiger Mother behind him pushing the drills, or a Disney agent waiting to exploit his talents.

It was a matter of trying it and liking it, and, as he says, que será, será.

Born in Sweden, Jacobsson made his recital debut at the Stockholm International Guitar Festival at 17, which propelled him into a tour of Estonia and his first recorded album, containing music by Bach, Poulenc, Mertz, Laura, Albéniz, Sor and Tárrega.

He was the chosen guitarist for Televisión Española's centennial celebration of Francisco Tárrega. He performed with former Julliard teacher and guitarist Sharon Isbin at the Aspen Music Festival, where they performed music by Howard Shore from Martin Scorsese's movie "The Departed," which was later broadcast on NPR's Performance Today to an audience of 1.1 million. In June 2008, Jacobsson was featured in the BBC documentary series "Imagine" about Oliver Sacks.

Jacobsson brings his classical guitar playing to Ketchum this week in a concert Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum. He answered a few questions about his career recently.

Q) Where did your passion strike first, from the ear? Or, was it when you got a guitar in your hand? What I want to know is how someone so young knows the direction to take. What separates someone who merely enjoys something from someone who takes it to another level?

A) My first memories of a guitar were just playing with it like a toy. Later, when I started having lessons and reached a few classical pieces in my first "Learn to play guitar" book, I was immediately caught by the tonality and harmonies of classical music. At that time, I certainly did not know where that would take me many years later, and fortunately no one around me was pushing me in any direction. Gradually, it just became more and more clear that this is what I was supposed to do. I think it's very hard to say among children or youths who will have a life in music and who will not—what separates the two is probably to which degree they love music and their instrument, and to which degree the remain in love with that.

Q) Your ideal place to perform is?

A) I love communicating with an audience through music, and when that happens, that's my ideal place. Where I then happen to be physically is not as important, although certain aspects help—good music, ample acoustics or amplification and a receptive audience. I have fantastic memories from my last visit to Sun Valley—Susan Spelius Dunning and Steve Gannon are doing an amazing job of running their Sun Valley Winter Artist Series with an enthusiasm that is so genuine and contagious that they can't help but have great successes. And the audience blew me away, how attentively they listened and understood the music—it was incredible to me. Needless to say, I'm excited to come back. 

Q) Is your music akin to telling a story, writing a poem or painting a picture?

A) Absolutely! It is all of the above. For me, music is a language, with immediate similarities to words and how they function. The similarities to painting and color are very strong for me as well, and I often have direct associations between them.

Q) Have you any big plans in 2012?

A) Something that has me very excited—a recording coming out in June on the AVIE label. The music featured is a selection that I feel makes up a large part of who I am as a musician and is a sum of my musical upbringing. The main focus is on Francisco Tárrega, including his transcriptions from composers that inspired him, like Frédéric Chopin and Joaquín Malats. This selection also paints a portrait of Barcelona, in the Catalan region of Spain, as well as the remarkable tradition of guitar playing it has nurtured ever since Tárrega. In the Sun Valley recital, I will also include a piece by Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, who was a pupil of Miguel Llobet and of another Tárrega pupil, Daniel Fortea, and who was my first teacher Erik Möllerström's teacher, in Barcelona. It was Sainz de la Maza who secured a guitar for my teacher by the luthier Ignacio Fleta that now has been passed on to me, and I'm particularly excited to be recording and performing this repertoire with that very guitar. 

Q) Do you prefer solo work?

A) I love to collaborate with others and have done so in a wide variety of ways—everything from conductors and orchestras to drama and dance productions to string quartets and other ensembles to individual singers and instrumentalists. The energy one can receive and give back from one's collaborators is incredible and a true inspiration.

Q) How do you measure success?

A) If my performance has reached someone, I have succeeded.

In concert:

Who: Classical guitar with Mattias Jacobson

When: Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m.

Where: Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum

Tickets: $35 and $10. Available at Chapter One Bookstore and Iconoclast Books in Ketchum, or visit

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