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A contemporary master of early Baroque
and Renaissance Music: Hopkinson Smith

Blog
A contemporary master of early Baroque and Renaissance Music: Hopkinson Smith

28.12.2017

Text by Yetkin Vural
Illustration by Saydan Akşit

This January, Akbank Sanat’s Guitar Days will bring in plucked string instrument masters from around the globe to stage. American lute master Hopkinson Smith, Hungarian guitarist Zsófia Boros and a young talent, Japanese Kanahi Yamashita will be the guests of this year’s Guitar Days. Before the upcoming performances, we are looking at the highlights from one of the most important names in early music and historical plucked instruments, Hopkinson Smith. 

Hopkinson Smith was born in 1946 in New York. He started his guitar education at an early age and later on in his early 20’s discovered lute, an instrument he learnt how to play by himself. After finishing his musicology degree in Harvard with high honors, Smith moved to Europe to pursue his lute education with a very important name of early music and plucked string instruments, Catalonian pedagogue Emilio Pujol. Later on he continued his education in Switzerland with another lute master, Eugen M. Dombois. Smith says beyond the technical education, what he gained most from these two masters was a respect for high artistic values and the organic unity between the instrument, the performer and the music, which transformed his own understanding of music.

Starting with mid 70’s, Hopkinsopn Smith was a member of various chamber orchestras and ensembles. He was one of the founders of early music ensemble Hespèrion XX, which led a ten year long collaboration with Catalonian composer, music director and viol master Jordi Savall. Smith’s involvement with Savall and his experiences in chamber music shaped his creativity in the later years of his career, where he focused more on solo projects.

By the second half of 80’s Smith delve into the world of early period plucked instruments such as vihuela (a 15th / 16th Century instrument with 5 or 6 double strings), theorbo, Renaissance and Baroque guitars and lutes. His unique, dynamic, accurate and intimate playing style has gained much praise over the years and he is now seen as one of the most important performers of the lute and early period, Baroque and Renaissance music.

“What you try to do, always, is go beyond what you see on the paper to find the real spirit of the music which is behind any particular notation. [...] In the best of moments, I think one should experience no limits at all in a certain instrument or a certain period, but rather find total freedom.  What we’re trying to do is find and communicate this total freedom, and at the same time liberate the spirit that is behind it.”
Hopkinson Smith

With over 20 recordings, Hopkinson Smith has managed trace the history of early plucked instruments in Spain, Italy and French based Baroque and Renaissance period music. Many of his recordings were praised by prestigious classical music magazines and he received awards such as Diapason D'Or, Choc du Monde de la Musique and 10 de Répertoire. Above all, Baroque composer Bach has been a recurring theme for Smith, who has many recordings on Bach’s music. Among those, especially his lute adaptation recording of Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin was appraised by prestigious English classical music magazine Gramophone as “arguably the best you can buy of these works - on any instrument”.

Alongside the performances and recordings, Hopkinson Smith also carries on the pedagogue tradition, which had an important role in his won education, to next generations. Some of his students include names such as Rolf Lislevand, Edin Karamazov, Andreas Martin, Yasunori Imamura and Peter Croton. Hopkinson Smith’s performance of lute pieces from Elisabeth Period for Akbank Sanat Guitar Days will take place on 17th January Wednesday at 20:00. 

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