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Sunday
Feb052012

Robert Page Interview

THE FRENCH TOUCH

An interview by Josiane Spinosi with Robert Page from GUITARE CLASSIQUE

As much at ease in using the language of Moliere as he is in front of a stove cooking up delicacies, Robert Page is a lover of France and French culture. This American has visited the most improbable corners of Paris, has met Parisian writers, can quote Colette or Proust almost from memory, can smoke a pipe in record time (that means for a very long time)... But his main activity is the sale of guitars, especially those made in France. We met him while sharing a bottle of 1985 Saint-Estaphe which he had selected. Quite a connoisseur! All around the room the walls are covered with hundreds, no, thousands of records (33 r.p.m.s and CDs). On the first floor a computer stands beside a French dictionary, its pages dog-eared with use, while the spicy odor of a Moroccan tagine floats through the room gently illuminated by the autumn sunlight. We were unable to resist the urge to introduce him to you.

GUITARE CLASSIQUE: How did you discover French guitars?
ROBERT PAGE: It's a long story. I've loved France for a long time, its literature, its musical life, its world of fine art, its food, its wines, and above all the quality of its daily life. Five years ago, Roland Dyens came to Philadelphia to play a concert. We had a good time together during that weekend. He was playing a Fanton-d'Andon guitar, a maker whom I'd never heard of. Once back in France, Roland spoke to Olivier Fanton-d'Andon about me, a small classical guitar dealer with a taste for all things French. Olivier had the nice idea to invite me to spend a little time at his home in Chateaudun. I went to a stringed instrument exposition organized by the regional center at Orleans, in the St.-Pierre-le-Puellier church, to be precise. There were many guitars on display by luthiers from that part of the country, including Olivier and Gerard Audirac. Also plenty of discussions, trying guitars, concerts and meetings...
That moment was a revelation. I suddenly realized that the French had a long and formidable guitar making tradition. A tradition unknown to most Americans (myself included)! Do you realize? After almost 30 years in this profession and at least 20 years of fascination with France! Putting together my two passions, for the guitar and for France, has been like a renaissance for me, both professionally and personally.

GC: So you started your "Tour de France?"
RP: Yes, I went in search of the classical guitar makers. And everywhere I found remarkable luthiers, very talented, having both mastery of the tradition and a strong interest in innovative approaches. And my "tour" is not over yet. I travel regularly back to France to meet new luthiers.

GC: As an American guitar dealer, do you find that French guitars have points in common?
RP: In my humble opinion, despite all their beautiful differences, French guitars share a characteristic clarity of tone. Excuse me for daring to sum up such a vast topic. That is essentially what differentiates them from Spanish, American, Japanese and Mexican guitars, it seems to me. I also sell guitars from those countries.

GC: What luthiers do you represent currently in the U.S.?
RP: I represent as many French luthiers as my budget permits. Today I'm proud to have the instruments of ten French guitar makers in my shop in Philadelphia .Thanks to their talents and their fine sense of esthetics, their reputations are growing in my country through the exposure they get on the Internet and in my store. The names of Delarue, Audirac, Quinson, Castelluccia, Mercier, Fouilleul, Raifort , Lesueur, Bedikian and Dupont are starting to be known here. 

GC: For how long have you been enamored of the guitar?
RP: I bought The Classical Guitar Store in March of 1973. It was a pretty little shop with a devoted clientele. Before that I was an English teacher at the university and I was taking guitar lessons at the store. I love the guitar for several reasons. I started with piano studies when I was young. I played piano. Fine. But because of the regular moving required by my academic job, I found that the guitar was a great substitute. It is portable (laughs), and it has a warm and intimate tone.

GC: Do you still play the guitar?
RP: During the time that I've just been speaking about I played a lot, passionately, like crazy! I had three or four hours of music in my head and in my fingers. Dowland, Frescobaldi, Bach. Sor, Giuliani, Tarrega, Albeniz, Granados, Ponce, Villa-Lobos... Yikes! When I think of it! I played in restaurants, cafes, for private parties, never on stage. The idea of a real recital made me nervous. Today I rarely play since I no longer have time to practice. I play now only to demonstrate a guitar for a customer or to entertain my grandson.

GC: Because of the success of the French guitars? 
RP: They've taken over my life and leave me no time for myself! No, I'm joking. I chose to devote myself to the sale of the musical instrument that I so much love. Because it is always more than just selling...it's also the relations with the customers whether directly in the shop or by telephone or by e-mail. And it's the time taken to examine the guitars and write their descriptions. And it's the chance to detail their specifications, it's the pleasure of hearing them sing...

GC: Do you repair guitars?
RP: Before, yes. But now, with the growth of my business, I don?t have time to do serious repair work. For that I have a very good craftsman who works with me. His workshop is near my store. I send him the guitarists whose instruments are "sick." I still adjust guitars, especially those which I sell.

GC: What music and what musicians do you appreciate?
RP: What a question! I truly love all kinds of music...classical and jazz, above all. In classical guitar I love Bach's lute suites and the transcriptions of his violin sonatas and partitas. What an inexhaustible delight! I love the Spaniards like Albeniz, Granados and de Falla and also the Latin American composers like Villa-Lobos, Lauro, Piazzolla, Brouwer and Ponce. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Among players I love my friends Barrueco, Dyens, Dumond, Barbosa-Lima, Antigoni Goni, and especially the young and superb Ana Vidovic. I like Bream, Williams, Segovia and the neglected Cuban guitarist Rey de la Torre. Among the duo players, I like the Assads who are magical, and I'm very fond of the Duo Spinosi.

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