“I would say the relationship with my Guitar is the same as a samurai feels about his sword”, Petar Jankovic says and he means it. Hardly a day goes by without Jankovic performing live and whenever he’s not on stage, he devotes time to his duties as a faculty member of Jacobs School of Music. It may even be that this philosophical stance towards performance and his restless creativity have kept him from recording more albums. For seven years, he focussed on nothing but establishing an outwardly relentless rhythm of touring. Now, however, he is back with new full-length “leyenda” and already plans for a follow-up in the forseable future. Here, Jankovic presents himself as a classical Guitarist with a serious, thoughtful and yet romantic voice, captured perfectly in the nostalgic production of Peter Nichols. Without a single doubt, “leyenda” sticks out, if only for its program, which eschews the downtrodden paths and makes a point of investigating the sidealleys and backyards of the canon, exploring the music of Jose Luis Merlin, Alexandre Tansman and Roland Dyens, among others, while keeping an eye on the grand masters by including Villa-Lobos, Granados and Albeniz. It is a meditative and minimal world he is delineating, but worth every penny investigated in it, inviting listeners to spend their lonely nights and many pensive moments in it. There’s no a gram of excess fat on this album, though which Jankovic’ Guitar cuts like a samurai sword, flying straight towards the heart of the music.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Very well, thank you. I am currently in Europe (Belgrade, Serbia). This is where I usually spend my summer months when I am relaxing.
What’s on your schedule right now?
I have a full season schedule ahead of me. I will be playing throughout the United States. Around 50 concerts from September through May. Even though I just released my new CD in April, I am already working on my next album, which I intend to record sometime late next year.
Can you still remember the first time you heard a piece of classical music?
Yes, it was a soundtrack to a movie. It was a documentary about animals. I cannot remember the title, But the soundtrack at one point was Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz. I was very young, maybe 5 or so, and I remember when the melody developed I sang out so loud that the public in the movie started to clap and laugh. My mother, who took me to the moves, said she was embarrassed and proud at the same time.
What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
When I was 15, I was reading Arc de Triomphe by E. M. Remarque, and I was so inspired with the atmosphere in that book that the choice to become the artist was the only one at that time. I had been studying the classical guitar for about 8 years by then and it was the time to decide if I was going to pursue engineering, or music academy. This book, and several others in the same genre, were very decisive factors.
What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
I do not see many hard parts about being musician. Maybe travelling, and being often away from the loved ones? That’s probably the hardest part for me. But, the best part is the opportunity to express and share deep emotions on stage with the audience. I really cherish every moment I have the opportunity to do this. It’s a blessing!
Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?
Absolutely! Maybe the best way is to expose them to it. But, with some education, and at the same time to show them the attractive and fun part attached to it. For example, in addition to an evening performance an all-important aspect of my presentation is establishing an open dialogue with your community, especially kids; therefore, I usually offer some type of a lecture-demonstration for kids in local schools. I believe that this type of interaction enhances their understanding and appreciation of the artist’s work and hence builds a stronger relationship with the artist and classical music.
How would you rate the importance of the internet and new media for classical music?
As important as it is for any other type of music! Of course, the big problem with classical music and young generations is that classical music is not presented to them early enough, but also it is not presented to them in the same fashion as other styles. For example, teenagers do not sing classical melodies when showering, or walking, or playing. But they should! No reason why not. The melodies are very pretty. What I want to say, is this: Classical music has this distant- high class -noble veil around it. And that is not particularly appealing to the teenagers. It should be demystified and simplified for the young. I think they would appreciate it much more that way. Therefore, the internet and electronic media can play a big role in it.
With so many different recordings of a particular piece available – how do you keep yours fresh and different?
I do not really try intentionally to make it fresh or different. What happens is that I internalize every piece I play. I try to live through it; attaching my emotions and thoughts to it. Through this kind of very deep and personal filtering, the interpretation of a piece reflects my personality and my emotions. So, it becomes fresh and different by the virtue of this process: of becoming one with a piece of music.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
In my opinion a good live performance requires intense and expressive communication with the audience through the music. An audience should feel inspired after the concert. To achieve this, I invest my entire energy and a whole palette of deepest emotions on stage, and I share them openly with the public. They feel it and they react. They become attentive even to the smallest nuances that I iclude in the music in a performance like this. That’s my approach.
What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
For me, it means internalization of a given composition. When the artist become one with the piece of music, then he interprets it in the most honest way. Actually he uses the composition as a vehicle to deliver his way of thinking and feeling.
How do you balance the need to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
Intentions of the composer, or we can also say “proper style of playing” for a particular composition is a set framework within which I operate. It’s like giving a title and very basic guidelines to the writer, and then ask him to write a story. He has to follow the title and guidelines, but he uses his imagination, experience and emotions to write a very unique and personal story. I feel like this writer.
What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and classical music?
I believe musical education should be applied only through classical music. I feel they should be very much interlaced.
You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
This a difficult question that requires a longer answer. It poses the same dilemma when I choose my own program. To try to answer it shortly: I would certainly first analyze and study the community, and see what they want to hear. Then, I would see what I think they should hear, and then I would balance it, so it has both parts well related and well paced throughout the season. Putting a successful program, or a season is a difficult task. It requires a lot of trying, testing, and studying. What you need to do is to combine what people expect to hear with the new and progressive (in my opinion as the artist or director) compositions that change the taste and direction of the public in the proper way (again in my opinion).
How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
Very intense. My guitar (Fleta) inspires me to become a better artist. It’s almost like a living being. I would even go as far to say that the relationship is the same as a samurai feels about his sword. It’s very philosophical.
Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Not really. I was always focused on a classical guitar. I started as a kid (at age of 7). I played a little bit in a local garage band (electric base), but that was only a short flint with rock.