I’m from a musical family. My great-grandmother, a concert pianist, accompanied Joseph Joachim on several occasions in Berlin. We still own the ‘Joachim Vase’, a beautiful piece given to her by Joachim. Her Blüthner concert grand, which we couldn’t house due to space restrictions, is now owned by the Spanish composer and conductor Oscar Colomina i Bosch – a tremendous musician and long-standing friend. My father was the musicologist, writer & critic Knut Franke – dubbed in 1980s Germany ‘der Klavier-Franke’. A larger-than-life character, he lived and breathed 19th century music – all genres, though the virtuoso piano repertoire was closest to his heart. In addition to presenting radio programmes on the major German radio stations (BR, MDR, SWF, WDR), he wrote sleeve notes and booklet notes for hundreds of recordings, for both major and independent labels. Bernstein liked my father’s writing. So, music was all around me and, perhaps unusually for a guitarist, by the time I was ten years old I’d heard much of the standard piano and symphonic repertory in addition to piano works by Albéniz, Alkan, Busoni, Draeseke, Godowsky, Gottschalk, Kirchner, Hiller and Litolff. Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Liszt were the household gods.
Aged nine, I fell in love with the shape and feel of the guitar – I remember seeing one illustrated in a book, then touching one in a music shop (I still have it!). I remember the excitement I felt when I picked it up and stuck my nose into the sound hole. The smell of wood, glue and factory – I imagined a dusty workshop in Spain. Perhaps a girl with secret earrings. I wasn’t sure. But where was Spain, I wondered? It all seemed so exotic, different and, most importantly, far away. Fast forward to being eighteen, I auditioned at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, was offered a place, completed my undergrad, was offered a scholarship to stay on for a postgrad and did so. There I was taught by Robert Brightmore, a wonderful and generous guitarist and teacher who still makes the most glorious sound on the instrument. Rich, powerful, rounded – never outwardly virtuosic. Watching his fingers – right hand in particular – I used to wonder how he did it. I also fell in love with chamber music. I played as much as I could – song accompaniments, Guitar Quintets (Boccherini, Leo Brouwer, Castelnuovo-Tedesco), all the Vivaldi lute & mandolin concerti and, most of all, guitar duets with my duo partner Jørgen Skogmo. As students we formed the Diabelli Duo. We’re still going strong. Playing chamber music is closest to my heart. It’s about combining friendships with music-making and the experience of seeing what others think and say and how they see music and how they play. It also allows me to keep growing as a musician, to keep defining my own ideas, both guitar-specific and in a wider artistic way.
Guitar heros? Julian Bream, Stefano Grondona, Narcisco Yepes. Those who have shaped my music-making? My father, Robert Brightmore, Oscar Colomina i Bosch, Ateş Orga.
When I’m not practising, you can find me chasing my niece and nephews around the park. Family is important to me. Or perhaps I’m working on my old car (which I love). I have wide artistic interests (visual, spoken), and go to concerts regularly – to support friends and colleagues, to keep widening my horizons. And I’m happiest in my old hometown, Coburg … a summer’s evening, sitting outside, drinking beer. Perhaps I’ll be thinking of a guitar factory in Spain, a girl with secret earrings.
From left to right: Jens, Oscar Colomina i Bosch, Marta González Bordonaba.
Image: Ximo Clemente Riera.