Offstage: The Bonfanti Duo
Stefano Bonfanti kindly gave this slightly edited interview with Angela MacTavish before he performed with his brother Marco on Saturday 11th October 2008.
Thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed! Now my first question is : do you feel that because you and Marco are family, you have an empathy - you understand each other very well - when you're playing?
Yes, I think this is a very important thing because historically the most famous duos have always been brothers, or husband and wife, or twins
And you aren't twins?
No, just brothers! ..... because there's a deeper link between the two people; and, in our particular case, right through our lives we've had the same teachers, the same lessons, the same courses, the same experiences and all this has been an important factor in creating the same way of thinking about music.
So do you think it's very unusual that the two of you should choose the guitar as an instrument? - often in a family you find one member chooses one instrument and someone else another. Can you explain that a bit?
Well, actually Marco started playing the guitar four years before me and he chose the guitar because he wanted to form a band with his friends as he had the idea of playing that fantastic instrument the electric guitar, the "modern" guitar! After a year his teachers told him to start playing classical guitar because he'd practised a lot and was already able to play the instrument so well. Over these four years I'd heard a lot about his studies, so I copied him and started playing the classical guitar too. Creating a duo was very simple because our teacher encouraged us to play as a duo right from the start.
Now you seem to have a fascination with the period 1750-1850 approximately.
Actually we don't have a particular period which we like to specialise in. We love all good music but at this particular moment we're particularly drawn to the original instruments so the choice of playing 18th-19th century music was natural. We recorded our CD four years ago with modern instruments and then when we actually bought an original instrument our passion grew. Usually in our concerts we perform the first half on our replica instruments, playing original 18th-19th century music for two guitars; and the second half is contemporary music and music of the 20th century. How do you feel that the old style of instrument enhances your performance?
Well, it is of course easy to play because you can feel the real sound of the music; and once you've played on this kind of instrument it's difficult to come back to playing the same music on modern instruments because the sound doesn't sound real somehow - and also technically you can use different fingering with these instruments because the tension is lower and the frets are smaller.
Are all the instruments you play replicas or do you play some original instruments as well?
Now we're playing on Kresse's copies of an instrument originally made in 1830 by Stauffer- Legnani - but we're looking around to see if we can find two original instruments. The problem is that it's very, very difficult to find two identical original instruments.
Yes, I can imagine. So which item on tonight's programme is the most challenging for you both?
There's no particular piece but the whole programme demands very high concentration and is difficult technically. I think the second half of the programme challenges us more so it's hard in some ways to keep our concentration high right till the end -
Yes, we've started to cooperate with a number of young Italian composers for two important reasons: on the one hand, we'd like to have new works for duos to play in concerts and recitals; and on the other hand we'd like to have compositions and studies for our work as teachers, to enable our young students to come to love contemporary music.......We've published two original compositions, Giorgio Spriano and another by Gerard Drozd; now we're working on other compositions that we're fingering, and we've also published two collections of studies. And how did you first hear about Bognor? We like to do Internet searches on classical guitar festivals, so we knew about your guitar club and then were very happy indeed to be invited here by Sasha Levtov!
Well, thank you very much for sparing the time to be interviewed before the performance.
It's a pleasure!
The Duo's website is www.duobonfanti.com. Bernhard Kresse's Cologne workshop for construction of modern concert guitars and historical guitars is www.Kresse-gitarren.de It is interesting to see that designs of modern guitars like Fender owe their origins to these early guitars. They have the single sided machine heads and the fingerboard bolted onto the body. The angle of the fingerboard can be adjusted by tightening or slackening this bolt-a Legnani innovation. Apparently the guitar plays better with a summer and winter tension on this bolt.