Michael Karmon is a California-based composer who dedicates much of his output to the classical guitar. We sat down (virtually) for a little interview about his background, composition process, and new models for commissioning music.
CG.org: Tell us about your musical education and the path that led you to the guitar
MK: I took the usual academic path as a composer, and was trained to write for orchestra, voice, and various chamber ensembles. I didn’t write much guitar music while in school, but once I got my degree I felt drawn back to the instrument. I was very fortunate early on, because I got to work with some terrific players (Joe Hagedorn, Denis Azabagic, Newman/Oltman Duo,) and that set me on the right track. The guitar is a really tough instrument to write for, but I’m continually inspired and energized by the various challenges it poses.
So did you study guitar formally before you commenced your composition studies? or did your interest in the instrument prompt you to learn to play later on?
A bit of both. The extent of my formal training is two years of lessons when I was very young. I picked up the guitar again in high school for the usual reasons. In college I played a lot of jazz both as a soloist and in various ensembles. After school I started playing classical, and this was very much driven by my interest in writing for the instrument. I’m not a good player, but I’m better now than I was when I first started writing for guitar. It definitely helps to be able to play through my own music.
As a composer, what’s your relationship with and attitude towards the “canon” of our repertoire?
I can’t say I share most guitarist’s love for the Spanish repertoire. For me things start to get interesting with the pieces Bream commissioned, especially from Takemitsu, Berkeley, and Walton. I try to play and study pieces from the repertoire as often as I can, and I find many of them inspiring. I’ve certainly learned a lot about writing for guitar through these pieces. Having said that, I do wish guitarists would embrace new music more readily. There really are a lot of worthwhile contemporary pieces out there.
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