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Guitarist Dragoș Ilie, this week's guest on Perpetuum mobile, in dialogue with Gabriel Marica

Monday, 18 December 2023 , ora 12.02

My guest tonight is guitarist Dragoș Ilie, PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin, and winner of the "Heirs of Musical Romania" scholarship - a project of Radio România Muzical and Rotary Club Pipera.

Welcome home, Dragoș!

Welcome back! Thanks for the invitation.

We'd like to think that you have renewed your musical connection with Romania thanks to that scholarship mentioned earlier. Is that right?

Absolutely. Without exaggeration, I can say that the "Heirs of Musical Romania" Scholarship opened the doors to my return home, to play at home, to come to the Radio Hall, here, for the third time. It's the third time I've come back to the Radio Hall. It has been a totally extraordinary experience, not only in terms of the concerts, but also in the fact that it has helped me fulfil a dream of recording an album - my debut album.

You had several meetings with the Romanian audience not only at the Radio Hall, but also in Cluj, Brasov; you toured with Alexandru Tomescu. How were you received? What impression did the audience leave on you? I know that you left before you debuted on our stages, you left school.

I left school... I left young, so to speak. I'd played around the country, but I didn't get to play that often. I was somewhat disconnected from the Romanian scene. With the scholarship came the first concert, with Concierto de Aranjuez, at Sala Radio, in December 2021. That was my debut concert, my real debut - and mine with an orchestra, mine with the Radio Orchestra. Then that facilitated my meeting with Maestro Alexandru Tomescu, with whom we played together in the Stradivarius Paganini Magic Tour. We played Paganini's works for violin and guitar. Not many people know that Paganini loved the guitar as much as the violin. He actually wrote more for guitar than violin. But that aside... we played 17 concerts in cities and concert halls, more unconventional venues. We've got Caraiman hut, Jelna cellars, beautiful churches I didn't even know about. It's been a totally extraordinary experience. It made me fall in love with Romania all over again and want to connect with audiences here as much as possible.

Wednesday you'll be back at the Radio Hall. I want you to tell us a bit about what you'll be playing in front of an audience for this third time on December 13th.

Sure, a lucky day, I hope. I'll be playing a concert very dear to me. I'll be playing, in fact, the first guitar concerto written in the 20th century. We all now know the Concerto de Aranjuez as the king of guitar concertos...

...an evergreen.

Yes, exactly. A Led Zeppelin, if you will, or Metallica... an absolute standard. But it was actually Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's first concert written this century, written for the illustrious Andres Segovia. It's a very characterful concert, full of joy, but it also has emotional elements that I identify with, namely homesickness. This is, in fact, the very last piece Tedesco wrote while still in Italy. Tedesco had to leave his country because of the fascist regime; he emigrated to the United States and wrote this concerto (he finished it in winter, December-January) in three movements. The first is very playful, it captures the Italian character of Luigi Boccherini (a composer who himself loved the guitar; he was a lover of the guitar, wrote many works for guitar and string quartets, for example). The second movement is Tedesco's farewell to the hills of Tuscany. And the third movement... as I said, this concert being dedicated to Andres Segovia, he couldn't help but write something in Spanish character. And we have a third movement in the very honourable chivalric spirit of Maestro Andres Segovia, with a Spanish twist. Tedesco himself said that his intention was to bring to mind the old Spanish baleas. So we have a neoclassical, neo-romantic concert. I hope you like it. I like it enormously!

Tedesco, is a prolific composer. And in America, I don't know if many people know, he was the teacher of a great film music composer, namely John Williams.

And not just John Williams... enormously many names that I don't really know because I'm not really a fan of '50s-'60s films, but Tedesco s written enormously much film music. He, when he moved, initially Jascha Heifetz helped him emigrate to the United States; he stayed in New York for a little while, then moved to California, Beverly Hills, and worked for the famous MGM company, the most famous company in the film industry, a legend. And he taught many, many film music composers. Much of John Williams' thematic material can be found in pieces written by Tedesco. For those who really want to find those connections, this is a work written for guitar... Tedesco wrote 100-200 pieces for guitar, he loved the instrument very much. And a very interesting set, Well-Tempered Guitars, inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's famous preludes and fugues in all keys for guitar... one of which even features the theme from Star Wars. And the resemblance is so strong, it's almost impossible to separate the two, especially when you consider that John Williams was also his student.

You have a concert on Wednesday with Richard Strauss, Tedesco and Bizet. How do you see this combination?

I love non-conformist programs! The guitar... I always see it as that strange cousin at the table that we invite over every once in a while, but we look at it so strangely... And so, I love the combinations of repertoire that isn't played that often, because it's valuable music and I think audiences would enjoy a sonic refresh. Not to say anything bad about masterpieces or established composers, but there is so much beautiful music written that is not known about. And neither did I, to be honest. So it sounds like an interesting project to me. I'll have to think, in this concert, what encore piece would fit? I don't know. We'll see. First let's see if the audience will like the guitar concerto.

Oh, and do you pick the encore then, depending on the reaction?

Yeah, I haven't decided yet, I have no idea. I certainly shouldn't say that live... we'll see. We see the moment, we see the state. I'm not saying anything else, I'm giving myself away.

You have to say more because I want to talk a little about your album, which also comes from the "Heirs of Musical Romania" scholarship, recorded here in our studios. And we're also linking it to the concert on Wednesday December 13th, because you'll also have a book signing session in the central foyer of the Radio Hall - autographs on this album. It can be found at the "Casa Radio" Publishing House Stand in the foyer of the Radio Hall and it would be a shame not to come in front of Dragoș Ilie with such a record. Please tell us about this album of yours!

It's a personal project, a soul project. I started from the idea of home, especially homesickness, me living in America for almost 8 years. And it all started spontaneously, with an improvisation. I started playing Ciprian Porumbescu's Ballade on guitar, the theme, and I realized that it sounds really good on guitar, it fits, and not just because I'm a guitar player. And then I said, okay, how can I take this project forward? I already had in mind a desire of mine, to promote the Romanian repertoire for guitar - both arrangements and original works, to combine it somehow with the international repertoire and all these ideas came together in the project that became my debut CD "Guitar Delights". It starts from the idea of home... the album begins with Porumbescu's Ballad and ends with another ballad, a ballad written by my teacher Andrew Zohn. And around these two ballads I built the "architecture" of homesickness. A very much folklore-inspired vein with an Eastern European twist because that's where we come from - that's how I think, that's how I identify home. It's a personal project, I hope you like it! To those who listen to this CD, I hope it takes them home, wherever they are and wherever their home is.

How much has the "Heirs of Musical Romania" Scholarship helped you? I'm asking because, look, there's another selection session coming up for this scholarship and I'm asking you, would you recommend young musicians to enter this competition!?

Absolutely! 100%. It's probably the most important scholarship in Romania that I've had. And it wasn't just the quality of the award, it was the fact that it introduced me, put me in touch with musical contacts, brought me on stage in the country. I had made somewhat of a name for myself in the international guitar world, but I wasn't that well known at home.

I would say almost not at all.

Almost none. I was very intrigued by the "Heirs of Musical Romania" Fellowship because it gives you the freedom to think up your own project. My project was to make a CD and connect with the musical world back home. That also led to meeting Maestro Tomescu and all the great things that happened afterwards. But it was, in a way, also my idea, my project to make a CD.

I encourage young musicians in the country to come up with their projects, whatever they are - whether they want to play as orchestras or to promote new repertoire they love, or whatever project, multimedia, whatever they have in mind... I would strongly encourage them not to miss such an opportunity! A project, a very versatile scholarship, made to help you in an individual way.

You talked about the connection with the Romanian scenes and I would like to talk about what will happen after December 13th. I mean, exactly where else can people see you on stage, not only here at Sala Radio?

In Romania, you can, if you want, come to a castle. I have a concert on January 13th that I'm very excited about, a concert that I've also named after Guitar Delights, a concert in a more intimate atmosphere. The castle is called Zabola, Zabola Estates. I hope to see you there. It's going to be a very different atmosphere from the Radio Hall, for sure!

Dragos, thank you for being in the studio, I hope people will come to the concert. Anyway, we, Radio România Muzical, will broadcast the concert live on Wednesday; at 7 pm. Listeners who are not from Bucharest can listen to Dragoș Ilie on Radio România Muzical. Good luck and I hope you will come to the Radio România Muzical studio to share with us more successes from your future career!

Absolutely. Thank you very much for the invitation and for being so warm and friendly. You really make me feel at home.

We are Radio România Muzical, we cannot be otherwise!

I suggest we end with a moment from the Guitar Delights album. We have chosen Walk Dance by Miroslav Tadic. Can you tell us a few words about this moment?

I have so many words! I'll try to say it really quickly. Walk Dance is one of my favourite songs; I've been playing it for a long time. The composer in the score though gives you the option to add an improvisation, right in the middle of the song if you want, and it was a challenge I avoided for a long time until it was time to record the album. So in the recording you're going to hear, in the middle of the song, there's an improvisation right there.

An improvisation that you did then, on the spot, in the recording studio...

On the spot, spontaneous, unplanned. How it came out... we'll see.

And if you ever play this song again, will you be able to reproduce that improvisation or will you do another one?

It'll be completely different.

So it's unique. You'll find it on these record, dear listeners!

Interview by Gabriel Marica
Translated by Andreea Iulia Udroiu,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu