Yeoman Interview – Nelly von Alven

Nelly von Alven is a multi-award winning guitarist studying for a Master of Performance at the RCM under the tutelage of Gary Ryan and Chris Stell. A regular performer at international festivals and in ensembles, Nelly is also a Musicians’ Company Yeoman and scholarship holder of the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation Live Music Now scheme.

Where and when did you first pick up the guitar?
I started learning the guitar at the age of eight in a music school in Germany. I was very lucky to have had a very ambitious teacher who supported me a lot from an early stage.

How are your current studies shaping your musicianship?
I really enjoy studying at the RCM because I get many great ideas and perspectives about my repertoire and my interpretation. I also take Masterclasses from time to time which are a fantastic add to my regular lessons.

What are the inspirations behind your recent debut album?
Many of the pieces that I recorded have a scarcity value and are quite unknown because they either have not been played very often or even recorded before. All pieces were written in the twenty or twenty-first century and have a slightly melancholic but nevertheless strong and energetic mood. The title “Canto spirituoso” is also the name of the first piece on the CD. It is one of my favourite pieces, composed by a Bulgarian composer named Rossen Balkanski. The piece includes everything: a beautiful melody, an exciting and very rhythmical middle part and a very atmospheric ending with a tremolo. I recorded some other pieces from the Balkan as well. Besides this, you will also find a composition by myself called “Three Memories”.

Tell us about your involvement with the NOVA Guitar Duo?
My duo partner is Luiz Mantovani, a great guitarist from Brazil who is currently studying for his PhD at the RCM. We founded the duo in 2016 and already have many concerts, projects and plans for the upcoming future. The special feature about our duo is the combination of the normal 6-string and Luiz’s 8-string guitar, also known as “Brahms guitar”. It allows us to explore both the extensive repertoire for guitar duo but also our own transcriptions and arrangements of music, originally written for other instruments and ensembles. We played some of our arrangements at the London International Guitar Festival in 2016 and recently recorded a promotional video about our duo with Fibonacci Records, a recording label from Hamburg. You can find the video on YouTube and our websites. We are planning to record a CD just with our own arrangements in the near future as well.

Who is your favourite guitarist, and what would you ask them given a chance?
There are many guitarists who I admire, but I am a big fan of Zoran Dukic, a guitarist from Croatia. I love his way of interpreting the music and the mixture of energy and sensibility in his playing. I would ask him if there ever was another occupation he thought of doing and furthermore, if his motivation and perception of playing concerts has changed over the years.

I also want to mention Julian Bream and Andrés Segovia, two very important protagonists of the classical guitar. They revolutionised the instrument immensely and plenty of pieces were dedicated to and written for them, which enriched the guitar world and repertoire a lot.

You’ve undertaken quite a bit of outreach work. Is this something you enjoy?
Yes, I totally enjoy doing outreaches. Kids are usually great listeners who can immediately show their enthusiasm and respond straight away. There is always lots of interaction and the children seem very interested and usually ask many questions during and after the sessions.

What was the most amazing thing to happen in 2016?
I think there were several highlights in 2016. For example, winning the RCM Guitar Competition, performing at the London International Guitar Festival at Kings Place and receiving an invitation to perform the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo with an orchestra from Germany.

What are you up to this year?
In March, I will perform the “Concierto de Aranjuez” with an orchestra as well as the UK premiere of Germaine Tailleferre’s “Concerto for Two Guitars” which I will play together with Luiz Mantovani and an orchestra from the RCM on the 8 March. Further concerts for the NOVA Guitar Duo will include performances at Wigmore Hall and Buxton Festival.

You can find out more about Nelly at www.nellyvonalven.de.