In conversation with Graham Rawlins
Craig Ogden was born in 1967 and began studying the guitar at the age of seven years. At Scarborough Senior High School and at the University of Western Australia (W.A.) he studied with John Casey and in 1988 graduated with a Bachelor of Music with Honours.
During his 4 years at the University of W.A., Craig performed on local and national radio and played in many concerts, festivals and competitions. He also studied percussion from the age of 13 and has played with the W.A. Youth Orchestra, W.A. Youth Concert Band, W.A. Symphony Orchestra and the now disbanded W.A. Arts Orchestra.
He often performed on guitar as a soloist with the W.A. Youth Concert Band and also played the Vivaldi Guitar Concerto in D with the W.A. Arts Orchestra.
In March 1990 Craig travelled to England to undertake a course of private lessons with Gordon Crosskey who is Senior Lecturer in Guitar at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Craig returned to attend the college in October to undertake a Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Studies in Performance. Recently, he was involved in a tour of Melbourne and the Barossa Valley with the Nova Ensemble performing Hans Werner Henze’s contemporary opera, El Cimarron.
Craig has participated in Master Classes with John Mills, Julian Byzantine, Tim Kain, Vladimir Mikulka, Ben Verdery, John Williams and Sir Michael Tippett.
He is very fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a BBC Documentary on Sir Michael Tippett in which he was filmed playing excerpts from The Blue Guitar by Tippett.
Craig’s studies in England were made possible with assistance from the W.A. Department for the Arts, The Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust, The Australian Musical Foundation in London and the Countess of Munster Musical Trust.
I had been intending to write a brief profile on the emerging career of Perth guitarist Craig Ogden ever since I heard him play Sir Michael Tippett’s The Blue Guitar at the Festival of Perth.
Graham Rawlins: So what was it like being in the north of England?
Craig Ogden: Cold! And that wasn’t even winter! Musically, it was less stimulating than Perth. I was in a village outside Bradford and so there was nothing going on at all. A lot of people I spoke to in the village had never even heard the classical guitar, which was a bit of a shock. But, of course, I went there for a reason. I had some contacts there, fantastic people who were really good to stay with and from there I was travelling to Sheffield for lessons with Gordon Crosskey. I never had any more intention than to go there for private lessons and to do a lot of practice, which I did, and then on the l0th International Guitar Festival in Cordoba run by the Paco Pena Flamenco Centre. I had two weeks there with Ben Verdery (Peter Constant has gone on to study with him) and in the second week John Williams came and we did ensemble playing from original parts – I played a Haydn string quartet with three others. It was a fantastic summer school, really friendly and not competitive. There were concerts every night, people like Eliot Fisk, John Williams, Inti Illimani, Leo Kottke, B.B King, John McLaughlin and Leo Brouwer was there conducting one of his concertos – it was so intensive. Paco Pena was there running the flamenco part of the course and there was also Spanish dance as part of the festival.
G.R: Before you left you said that you wanted someone to work you hard. Did that happen?
C.O: I’d been working on my own for a year and a half and I really wanted someone else to tell me what to do for a change; I thought I’d get more out of that. What I did learn instead was brought home to me by Ben Verdery. He spoke to me in a class. We were talking about teachers and right hand exercises or something and he said to work them out for yourself, make up things that are difficult for you, and not to do an exercise just because someone else had made it up for you. He then asked me how many hours I practiced a week – twenty hours or whatever it might be – and how many hours I saw my teacher which would be one hour. He then asked me who my teacher was and of course I said, “me.” It really underlined the point for me that your teacher is there to guide you and he’ll push you if necessary but really how much you achieve comes down to you – how you practice, how you concentrate. How you practice says it all. If you practice with errors then that is how you will perform but if you concentrate on the parts you can’t play you will improve. Gordon pushed me in many ways, like with the need to play a piece professionally at a tempo the work requires. He suggested some speeds that were way beyond what I could do at the time and something I probably wouldn’t have gone for had I been working alone. In that regard he pushed me, but really, it comes out of you. So I had three months of private lessons in all and I got a lot out of it but working it through over a longer period. Studying privately is a very narrow road to take because you don’t get any performance opportunities. To play the guitar for people, which is ultimately what it is all about, I think you have to be practicing and performing all the time. Private lessons meant I was only practicing. Cordoba was good though and we were playing all the time, in class and concerts. That’s why I’m really looking forward to college with lessons, practice, chamber music and performing.
G.R: What did you do after Cordoba?
C.O: I went back to England and was practicing for various things, but no lessons, because Gordon was in Czechoslovakia.
G.R: I know you won a scholarship.
C.O: No, no. Michael Tippett’s manager Bill Bowen rang and asked me to take part in a BBC TV documentary about Tippett. That’s what I was practicing for! I knew I was practicing for something! After Cordoba, I hit The Blue Guitar in a big way. The weekend of the 17th to 19th of August I spent staying at Tippett’s place in Wiltshire. His manager and a pianist from London were there. We filmed on Friday afternoon, the second and third movements which took a couple of hours. The next day I played various parts again for him and we talked about it on film. For the rest of the weekend we were filmed relaxing, drinks outside and that kind of thing, a sort of “Tippett and Young Friends” scenario, but what a great opportunity! It was broadcast in February 1991. Another thing I did before Cordoba, I went for an audition and received some money from the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Award.
G.R: Countess of Munster?
C.O: Yes. On her death she established a trust for young musicians. It’s a Commonwealth based award, a financial award like the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust Award.
G.R: So you got two awards?
C.O: Well, I also got the Australian Musical Foundation in London Award. That was at the end of 1989 and I used the money from that for this private study. And I also got, I promise this is the last one, a study /travel grant from the W .A. Department of the Arts; very important in terms of my overseas study trip. I spent all of 1989 applying for these things and then the earlier part of last year as well because it is so expensive.
G.R: You passed an audition to go to the Royal Academy in 1989. If you had been able to get these awards earlier you would have been able to go. Does that upset you – a missed opportunity?
C.O: No, because I’ve learned so much doing it this way. And, of course, I would have missed being part of the Nova Ensemble and playing El Cimarron at the Festival of Perth. Out of that came performances at the Melbourne International Festival in September and also the Barossa Valley Festival.
G.R: Talking of festivals brings me back to Michael Tippett and The Blue Guitar. Of course you played that for him first during a master-class at the Perth festival and no doubt that put you in the right place to be chosen for the documentary. Did you get anything different from him during the filming of that?
C.O: He didn’t say much about it. You know the kind of things we did find out, how he liked the murmuring effect in the second sections and so on. On the whole he was very complimentary when I did play for him.
G.R: He must be happy with it to have it in his documentary.
C.O: I don’t know whose choice that would have been.
G.R: You were talking about the Barossa Valley Festival. What else did you do there?
C.O: I shared a solo concert with a Swiss guitarist Thomas Jaeger.
G.R: You were also in a guitar competition.
C.O: That was the Australian Guitar Competition in Melbourne.
G.R: I have heard some very impressive comments about your playing but you didn’t win! Again, very complimentary though.
C.O: Great. I was disappointed of course. I don’t know when I will get the chance to enter again and of course I have played in it a number of times.
G.R: What did you play?
C.O: The third movement of Brouwer’s, El Cameron de Negro, the Fugue from Bach’s, Prelude Fugue and Allegro and finally Cordoba by Albeniz.
G.R: Anything else you would like to talk about?
C.O: Well of course the El Cimarron tour was big and that is why I am in Perth at the moment. It paid for itself and brought me back here! In all we did four shows in Melbourne and one in the Barossa Valley.
G.R: So what next?
C.O: I am off to begin a Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Studies in Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. I’ve heard many things about the Royal Northern, many unbiased people have said it is the top of the pile and the happening place at the moment. Gordon Crosskey is good. I’ve seen the other guitarists and it is a really strong department, I mean it’s a really scary department. Even though I am a Post Grad, I will not be at the top or anything like that. I feel I may have more chance to improve this year than in past years. The influences will be there to improve a lot if I put the work in. Then again I could be entirely wrong!
G.R: Are there other overseas students?
C.O: One from New Zealand, one from the continent but the bulk of students are English.
C.O: A single room, a bed-sit kind of thing. It certainly lets you appreciate what we have got here. It isn’t a problem though and it’s not too much trouble going to London for concerts. One thing I would really like to stress is the influence John Casey has had on my whole musical development, especially in terms of my ensemble skills and general musicianship. He has probably been the greatest influence on me over the years. I played percussion at the age of thirteen which helped me in terms of playing with an orchestra and listening to other people and John Casey was my guitar teacher, so obviously he had a big influence on me – on how I play and will continue to play. But over and above that, it is because we got on well and he is so musical. He also ran a combined school guitar ensemble involving about thirty kids! There was plenty of opportunity to play with other people, learn sight reading and other skills so often lacking in guitarists. I recently met a player with a performance diploma and yet he was making basic errors in terms of counting when it came to playing together. This comes from only playing as a soloist and working everything out slowly. Good technique on guitar is not the only thing that counts and neither is being able to have something drilled into you over many weeks. You have to be able to sight read something in order to get the syntax. In terms of my overall education, that ensemble played a big part.