Gilbert Biberian is a Turkish born classical guitarist who now resides in England. As a young boy in Istanbul, Gilbert was exposed to a wide variety of music and decided he would like to play the guitar. After receiving a guitar from his father, he started teaching himself how to play. It wasn't until they moved to England that he started making serious progress on the instrument. Gilbert enrolled in the prestigious Trinity College of Music and received instruction from world class musicians such as Elisabeth Lutyens and Hans Keller. He received a grant to study in France with classical guitar greats Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya. Gilbert hit the ground running after college with a performance at the world renowned Wigmore Hall. This led his to work with Pierre Boulez and The London Sinfonietta, The BBC Orchestra and many others. The Omega Players is a guitar ensemble of ten guitarists that Gilbert had created. This is a first of its kind and was kindly accepted by the music community. With all the knowledge that Gilbert has amassed, he composes guitar music that pushes the limits of the instrument. He has performed his craft in countries all over the world. Gilbert has issued a book called "Liber" - The book of the guitar. The right hand. Volume 1. He is working on others in the series. He has worked or recorded with a diverse line up of musicians such as Mick Jagger, Henry Mancini, Luciano Berio, Paul McCartney and more. I recently caught up with Gilbert.
R.V.B. - Hello Mr. Biberian?
G.B. - Aaaaahh, hello how are you?
R.V.B - I'm doing pretty good. This is Robert von Bernewitz from New York USA, How are you today?
G.B. - Hello Robert, hello Robert. So nice to hear you.
R.V.B. - How's things on the other side of the pond?
G.B. - Wonderful, absolutely gorgeous.
R.V.B. - You're having a nice evening over there?
G.B. - It's been a beautiful day.
R.V.B. - Well it's a wonderful day for me now that I have a chance to talk with you and I'm honored and congratulations on your career up to this point.
G.B. - Thank you Robert, you're very, very kind... very sweet.
R.V.B. - I have to say, right off the bat... the sonata No. 3 song... I absolutely, thoroughly enjoyed it. How long did it take you to come up with something like that?
G.B. - Actually, I did that in about a week.
R.V.B. - Did you have melodies and counter melodies in mind when you were writing that?
G.B. - I had very strong ideas about the structure of the piece. I wanted to create a sonata movement that was very, very... extremely complex. Whereas No. 2 was very strolling? No. 3 was very complex. As it happened, No 4 was also a very strolling piece. These are very interesting pieces to me regarding structure in general and sonata form in particular. That's the basis on which to regard the compositions of mine, ha?
R.V.B. - How did you get interested in the guitar in the first place and what kind of music were you exposed to as a young child?
G.B. - Well I was exposed to everything. I was born in Istanbul Turkey and I was exposed to a great deal of variety. classical music, folk music, ethnic music, dance music, song music and all kinds of things. It was a very rich affair and a very rich input into my musicology. My father came home one day when I was thirteen with a guitar and says "Here... you've been asking for an instrument... here it is... play". I took it in my bedroom and a couple of hours, I came out and played. Hahahah.
R,V.B. - What did you tackle first? Did you go right into classical, right from the start?
G.B. - Yes, I did classical right from the beginning.
R.V.B. - Now when you were given that guitar... were you given formal lessons also at thirteen?
G.B. - No... unfortunately no. I wish I had but instead I struggled around on my own. My father, bless him... he bought me a tutor. The method by Ferdinando Carulicci and I worked from that I always regarded him ever since then as my teacher. Carulicci was an 18th century Italian guitarist who wrote a wonderful method.
R.V.B. - That's a good way to start.
G.B. - I learned with that until I got to England. We moved to England in 1959. Then I began to get some kind of formal training.
R.V.B. - I see that when you moved to England, you went the Trinity College of Music.
G.B. - Yes.
R.V.B. Now before that... in High School... Did you play with the school band?
G.B. - No... nothing. I did it on my own. I played as much as possible on my own. I had a teacher. He tried to help me but most people didn't know anything about the classical guitar. They knew they loved it but they didn't know how to play it. It was not possible to learn from these people.
R.V.B. - Well over in England, wasn't "skiffle" groups big at the time?
G.B. - There was "skiffle" groups, yes, but there were people like Julian Bream and John Williams who were great classical guitarists. John Williams is still going and since then he has become a friend of mine as well. Those people at the time were very young embarking on their career. Well John was embarking on his career back in 1959. He was really busy with playing concerts, you see... so he didn't have time to teach people. He taught very little but eventually I went to Trinity College of Music and had lessons from Hector Quine. who was a great help.
G.B. - I loved it... it was totally in my element. I was the happiest man alive because I knew this was the right career for me. It was the right choice and I was in the right place. There was nothing like it. When you know you are on the right path... you're in the right place and you're doing the right thing for yourself. It was a blessing.
R.V.B. - Did you meet any friends there that you still keep in contact with?
G.B. - Yes, yes... lots of people. Some people I not only stayed friends with but also reconnected on the professional platform to make music together and play professional engagements together.
R.V.B. - Did you have to do a major recital on the guitar as part of the college curriculum?
G.B. - I did... after my college days I had to do a major launching concert... what they call a debut. I did that in 1969 and then after that my career progressed to better and higher and more things.
R.V.B. - Now I see that you went to France to study.
G.B. - Yes, I studied with Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya. They came to play in London in 1964 and I was totally inspired by what they did. In 1965, Lagoya obtained a French government bursary for me which enabled me to go and spend a month with him and Ida Presti in the south of France.
R.V.B. - That must have been a very good learning experience for you.
G.B. - Oh my, you can imagine. This was a dream situation for me. Here I am with my idol teachers. They were very great players and great musicians.
R.V.B. - It's a shame how it turned out with Ida. It happened over here... right in my own state. (She passed away suddenly on tour)
G.B. - Yes, of course in New York.
G.B. - What a loss but what a great inspiration to me and to everybody who came in touch with her and the both of them. She's left a huge legacy. She has yet to be appreciated fully... internationally.
R.V.B. - Right... now I see that you also studied composition with Elizabeth Lutyens and Hans Keller. Was Hans a little on the avant garde side?
G.B. - No not really. Hans Keller was one of the great minds of the age. He was a great philosopher, a great musician and a great teacher of music. I was very lucky and very fortunate to cross paths with him and to become his student at the time. He was an enormous help to me. It was he that made me become the mature composer that I became.
R.V.B. - That's a very good thing. I see that after graduating you set out to form a guitar ensemble.
G.B. - Yes, orchestra... a guitar ensemble, yes.
R.V.B. - Now apparently there was ten members in it?
R.V.B. - Were there ten people playing simultaneous guitars or did some of the guitar players switch off and do percussion and other things.
G.B. - That's exactly what happened. They all played guitars and sometimes they would switch and play other instruments and then return to their guitars. It was a phenomenal spectacle.
R.V.B. - How did you go about deciding which guy would play which part?
G.B. - Well I knew all of them very well... each of them was personally known to me so I knew what each person could do. It was therefore easy for me to apportion and assign parts to each of them.
R.V.B. - So that was called "The Omega Players"... was that your coming out concert?
G.B. - No that was after... I did The Omega Players afterwards. That was an innovation... I started the guitar ensemble in England around 1969/70. Since then the movement has grown very big.
R.V.B. - It's a great innovation and it's very interesting to have that many guitar players. You played at the Wigmore Hall with this ensemble right?
G.B. - Yes.
R.V.B. - Was there times when all ten guitar players were playing at the same time?
G.B. - Oh yes, yes... many, many times. There was a lot of pieces that employed the guitars simultaneously. It was an amazing noise... wonderful.
R.V.B. - How did the public take to it?
G.B. - The public loved it. It was the right time for this ensemble to come out. They said "What is Gilbert doing now? He's crazy... you have ten guitars?" but when they heard us play, it was very impressive.
G.B. - Yes, Carnegie recital hall really sticks out in my mind. It had beautiful acoustics and was a lovely space. Then there was the University of Miami. That was a lovely place... very modern but it had a fabulous sound. We have wonderful concert halls in England here of course. There's one in Oxford that I always love playing in. The Hollywell Room where Haydn also conducted his Oxford symphonies back then. There are so many wonderful spaces around the world where I've played and I love.
R.V.B. - I see you went back home and played in Turkey a few times.
G.B. - I did, I did... that was a great jolly.
R.V.B. - Were the people proud of you?
G.B. - Very proud... hahahaha. I was given gifts and sculptures and ceramics and certificates and flowers. It was wonderful.
R.V.B. - That's great, that's great... You have worked with some contemporary people and I'm trying to figure out how a classical guitar player like yourself can work with someone like Mick Jagger?
G.B. - Well what happened was that one of his songs was included in an arrangement of songs. A friend of mine arranged the guitar parts for me and the London Symphony orchestra. So I recorded the guitar part with the orchestra and then Mick Jagger came and sang his part on top of it.
R.V.B. - That's an interesting union. You also did something similar with Sir. Paul McCartney?
G.B. - What happened with Paul McCartney was he was a producer of a record with Marianne Faithful.
R.V.B - Oh I see. So when you go about writing a piece is there any particular place that you work on your pieces of work?
G.B. - I write at my house in my studio.
R.V.B. - What is your studio like?
R.V.B. - What kind of paintings do you have? What kind of art do you like?
G.B. - I paint. Last month I did an exhibition of my paintings and did a concert at the same time of my own works
R.V.B. - Oh wow.... what do you like to paint? Landscapes, portraits?
G.B. - I love landscapes. I paint around here in my countryside... Gloucestershire... it's very beautiful
R.V.B. - It sounds beautiful. So what's on tap these days? Are you still touring?
G.B. - I'm not touring... I'm busy writing books. I've written a big book called "Liber" which is on touch and articulation of the right hand of the guitar. I'm writing another book which focuses on the left hand of the guitar. I'm now finishing four books of etudes for the guitar. It's about 150 pieces. Then I want to write an opera and a musical.
R.V.B. - That sounds like a big undertaking
G.B. - Nothing small you know. hahahaha
R.V.B. - You always go for the gusto huh?
G.B. - Yes of course... how else could you live this life?
R.V.B. - So I understand you celebrated a big birthday landmark.
G.B. - I did. They informed me I was seventy.
R.V.B. - Did you have a big party?
G.B. - I had a huge party... I'm still having a party. Hahaha
R.V.B. - Did you do anything special? Did you go out to dinner with your family?
G.B. - Yes, I got together with sixty of my family and friends and we had lunch and then we played music. It was fun.
R.V.B. - Very nice. Are you going to be doing anymore art exhibits in the future?
R.V.B. - Very good. Thank you very much for talking with me. Keep up the good work on your career and I hope that you write more songs like sonata #3 again.
G.B. - I don't know if you're aware that four out of my first five sonatas have been recorded and are out for purchase. If you go on line to Brilliant Classics website and put my name in, you will see it.
R.V.B. - Awesome, I will look for it. Again thank you for speaking with me as I consider it an honor.
G.B. - Thanks very much and I hope we meet one day. All the best.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part of form
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