I only met Eliot once, in Salzburg in 1988 when I was in Pepe Romero's master class there and he paid us a visit. Now Eliot is giving that master class himself. I haven't heard much of him in recent years, but as I was looking for a clip of the Britten Nocturnal just now to replace one that disappeared, I noticed a recent performance of Eliot's at the New England Conservatory (where he also teaches) in 2013. Here is that clip:
If you read the comments, you will notice that there is quite a disparity between ones of effusive praise:
This performance is nothing short of historic. The interpretation is so rich, the overarching structure so clear, yet generously spontaneous. Eliot at his very best!
One of the greatest performances in the history of the guitar! Bravo Maestro!And ones that are rather less complimentary:
Fisk is such a bizarre player. Every so often he really makes the guitar talk - like the first movement hear for example, he produces a lovely tone. Then he goes and ruins it by trying to play faster than his technique can handle, and hacking horribly at chords etc. Not a patch on Julian Bream's version!
Yes indeed, quite sloppy. Perhaps he should have slowed down a fraction for the sake of getting at least some clear tones. One basic thing is to try to make the notes you're slurring to be at least as loud as the notes you're slurring from. This is an ugly performance.I expect my commentators to weigh in with their thoughts, but here are mine. The last time I heard a clip of Eliot it was this one:
That's from a few years ago, but the same problems are evident. Let us enumerate them:
- he is beating the guitar to death which is why he is having to adjust the tuning every few measures
- another sign of the excessive pounding on the instrument is the awful tone: nasty, naily and percussive
- his tempos are faster than he is capable of executing cleanly, which is why so many notes are barely heard and so many rhythms are distorted
- this piece is perfect for players who are mindless technical machines as it is pretty much pure virtuosity, so for Eliot it is a good choice, but he simply cannot play it cleanly, so the end result is just bad
This is playing so bad that it is painful and, for me at least, unlistenable. I would not be willingly present at a recital by Eliot Fisk.
The Britten is a rather different situation. This is the musical opposite of the Paganini and requires the greatest sensitivity of musicianship. For the first, slow section, Eliot almost has us convinced he has given up his bad old ways. But no, as soon as the next, fast, section begins, the raucous brutality returns and the sheer sloppiness, missed notes, bad tone and lack of musicality makes it also unlistenable.
Eliot Fisk's career is a mystery to me. If you read the Wikipedia article, he appears to be an artist on a level with Andrés Segovia, if not just slightly higher:
After attending Jamesville-Dewitt High School in Dewitt, New York, Class of 1972, Fisk also studied interpretation under harpsichordists Ralph Kirkpatrick and Albert Fuller at Yale University, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1976. After graduation, he was asked to form the Guitar Department at the Yale School of Music. He won first prize in the International Guitar Competition in Gargnano in 1980 in which jury members included Oscar Ghiglia and Alirio Diaz, and Ruggiero Chiesa. Fisk was the last direct pupil of Andrés Segovia. In the mid 1990s Segovia's widow, Emilia Segovia, Marquesa de Salobreña, asked him to premiere and record original works of Segovia discovered after the Maestro's death in 1987.
But if you listen to him play with objective ears, you will recoil in shock. Of all the famous guitarists who are actually bad musicians, he is the most famous. Eliot Fisk is a bad guitarist and the idea of him teaching students is appalling.He is a professor at the Universität Mozarteum Salzburg in Austria, where he teaches in five different languages, and in Boston at the New England Conservatory. His students have come from many countries, and many have gone on to become important performers and teachers in their own right.Fisk lives in Boston, Salzburg, and Granada, Spain with his wife, Zaira, and their daughter, Raquel. For many years he used a handmade Thomas Humphrey Millennium guitar and now exclusively plays guitars made for him by Stephan Connor of Cape Cod Massachusetts. He received the Grand Cross of Isabel la Cátolica on June 10, 2002, from King Juan Carlos of Spain. Earlier recipients have included Andrés Segovia and Yehudi Menuhin. Fisk earned the award for contributions to Spanish music as an interpreter and teacher.
For the polar opposite to Eliot Fisk, I suggest listening to a bit of Manuel Barrueco: