Young Artist Interview: Jonatan Bougt
Jonatan Bougt is a classical guitar and theorbo performer studying for a Master’s in Historical Performance at the RCM. The winner of multiple awards including the RCM Guitar Competition, Jonatan’s natural musicality and technical brilliance has led to performances at venues including The Queen’s Gallery, Royal Festival Hall, Uppsala Konsert & Kongress in Sweden and Centro Cultural de Justicia Federal, Brazil. His orchestral performances include the UK premiere of Chaya Czernowin’s White Wind Waiting with the RCM Symphony Orchestra.
When did you discover the theorbo?
I first came across the theorbo at a concert in my high school Södra Latin in Stockholm. It was a short performance but I remember it very well as their programme included one of the earlier examples of programme music, Marin Marais Le Tableau de l’óperation de la taille, which describes an 18th century operation to remove a bladder stone.
Is it harder to learn than the guitar?
I believe the solo repertoire for guitar is in many ways more technically challenging than the one for theorbo. This is partly because the repertoire for guitar has been greatly extended by non-guitarists over the last two centuries, expanding guitar techniques. All composers writing solo theorbo music during the baroque period did play the instrument and thus ended up with music that works very well for the instrument. The one technicality that certainly stands out on the theorbo is the right hand thumb which has a difficult task controlling the bass strings.
Who are your musical influences?
It is difficult to answer that one without leaving anyone out. I had a rather varied diet of music when I grew up, from David Bowie songs on full volume in the car to my grandpa’s band Mississippi Seven playing trad jazz. My aunt introduced me to Eric Clapton almost in the same breath as she mentioned Göran Söllscher and because of my parents, I’ve always had a love for folk music. Lately, I have listened a lot to records by Jordi Savall, Julian Bream and of course my professor at the RCM Jakob Lindberg. One young theorbo player that I greatly admire is Jonas Nordberg whose CD with de Visée, Weiss and Dufaut has gone on repeat on Spotify for the last few months.
Which musical era does your soul belong to?
I think my soul likes to travel in time and be a visitor for as long as it takes to understand the music and the social structures around it rather than fixing it to a certain era. However, this year I have been a regular visitor to the baroque era since that’s the period the theorbo belongs to. I have explored baroque dance at the RCM which has been both fun and interesting. I would love to collaborate with dancers in the future to explore more dance music and perhaps incorporate appropriate costumes as well.
What’s your favourite repertoire for the classical guitar?
I have always been very fond of Leo Brouwer and admired his music and idiomatic writing for the instrument. The second movement of his first sonata for guitar Sarabanda de Scriabin always gives me shivers when playing. That said, not everything by him appeals to me as much as it used to. My absolute favourite piece of music to perform is definitely Federico Mompou’s Suite Compostelana; his language has a stillness and seriousness in it which is sometimes interrupted by very childish motifs.
Tell us about a memorable performance
I played my first full solo recital at the Swedish Guitar & Lute Society’s yearly summer course in Arvika, Sweden when I received their Lilla Jörgen Rörby Scholarship. It was a fantastic experience as I only had performed in shared concerts before then. I was of course extremely nervous throughout the first couple of pieces, but this quickly settled down and I could fully enjoy the lovely acoustic and use the adrenaline to my advantage. It gave me a lot of experience and motivated me to do several solo recitals during the year that followed.
How do you handle mistakes on stage?
It depends on the situation. Sometimes a wrong note comes out and I try hiding it, but quite often I try making a feature out of it. I remember playing a wrong note in a run in a piece a few years back and for some reason I decided to play the same wrong note when the passage came back in the same piece. It wasn’t very stylish, but the only one who seemed to notice it was my teacher at the time who just came up to me with a smile afterwards. Generally, I tend to keep playing to try not to disturb the breathing and musical flow.
What do you enjoy most about The Musicians’ Company outreach work?
I have only done one outreach workshop with the company so far, but I look forward to doing more in the future. I have done workshops for kids in the past but they were always with a colleague. As I was a bit nervous, I planned it thoroughly and the kids interacted so well that I really had a lot of fun. I did the outreach on both guitar and theorbo and the latter surely made them pay attention. The high point for me was at the end when I told them that Robert de Visée sometimes played for King Luis XIV when he had trouble sleeping and I got all the kids to lie down on the floor with closed eyes and listen to the sound of a prelude and sarabande being played on the theorbo. It was to me a magical experience.
What are you most looking forward to in 2018?
I have a lot of things to look forward to this year! I am playing in Handel’s Theodora up in Aldeburgh as part of the Britten-Pears Young Artist scheme at the end of this month, in April I’m playing in the London Handel Festival, in May I’m doing a concert with Bougt & Bergek Duo at the Nyköping Guitar Festival and in June I will be in a concert at Cadogan Hall.
You can find out more about Jonatan at www.jonatanbougt.com