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The Mandolin in Luxembourg : with Juan Carlos Muñoz

Juan Carlos Muñoz started studying the mandolin with Prof. Sylvain Dagosto in Paris. He is a graduate of the conservatoire of Esch /Alzette (Luxembourg) and of the « Hochschule für Music » of Cologne with Prof. Marga Wilden-Husgen. 

At an early age he took up a concert career , putting a premium from the start on a constant and thorough study of baroque mandolin and of early music in general. 
He has to his credit a considerable activity as a soloist.
He has performed several times in Japan and in the USA, France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Latvia, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Iceland.....
In addition to his musical activity, he has initiated a number of projects: creating numerous ensembles (Duo Calace, Luxembourg Mandolin quintet, Duo Muñoz Pavon, Il Forum Musicale, Artemandoline). 
He is co-founder with Mari Fe Pavón of the «Mandolin Stage in Alsace», He is artistic  director of the «First International competition for the mandolin in Luxembourg».

With the « Artemandoline » ensemble that he created in 2001 with Mari Fe Pavón , Juan Carlos Muñoz has endeavored to go back to the original documents in order to restore this unique family of instruments to its former prestige.
He has been instrumental in initiating an effort to bring freshness and riguor in the performance of that music.
If a music composed in the past is not to sound like «early music», the performer must be sufficiently free, spontaneous and ready to marvel at the newness of his own personal creation.

Juan Carlos Muñoz spends his life trying to unearth and resurrect forgotten masterpieces of the music for the mandolin. 
He does not confine himself to exhibiting his findings as if he were some kind of an archeologist of music, but he aims at passing these findings on to the general public through a necessary collaboration between performers, composers and listeners.
He is regularly invited to give master classes in Europe, in the USA, in Japan; he is also a member of the juries of a number of international competitions;He teaches the mandolin and chamber music at the conservatoire of Esch/Alzette (L) and at the » Hochschule für Music » in Saarbrücken.

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How did you come across the mandolin?

I Was 9 when I discovered the mandolin. I wanted to learn how to play the violin, but my brother who played the violin took me along to listen to him and that was when I started to learn the mandolin in the plucked orchestra of Esch/Alzette .I immediately fell in love with that instrument. 

What is your activity as far as the mandolin is concerned?
My activity as a mandolinist is multifaceted.I have been teaching the mandolin at the conservatoire of Esch/Alzette and for a few years now I have also been a teacher at the «Hochshule für music of Saarbrücken» in Germany.
It is a true passion and a kind of way of life for besides my activity as a teacher I devote my time to giving concerts all around the world. 
As a creator of projects, it is with Mari Fe Pavón that I have created many ensembles, orchestras and Stages programmes:
-Il Forum Musicale, an european orchestra of mandolins and guitars
-The Luxembourg mandolin quintet
-The “Stage International” in Alsace (France)
-The Youth Orchestra of Luxembourg
-The International mandolin competition for soloists in Luxembourg
-Artemandoline, an early music ensemble.
Of course, for years now I have been devoting myself a lot to baroque music with
« Artemandoline », my ensemble with which I have managed « to get the mandolin out the microcosm » of the mandolin.

We play in prestigious halls and festivals everywhere in Europe and in the world.I have the opportunity to see my dream coming true in my lifetime.
What pleases me most and I am proud of it, is to see my instrument appear side by side with other instruments on the billboards, in places formerly out of bounds, and to perform with well-known artists. 
I am thrilled. For the world of the mandolin is a small world where everyone knows everyone.What is the use of playing all the time in front at the same audiences where nobody is able to tell the difference between amateurs and professionals. 
This is useless unless we pat ourselves on the back thinking that it’s a wonderful world.

Can you tell us about the mandolin in your country?

The oldest orchestra or ensemble of mandolins in Luxembourg dates back to about a hundred years. In 1920 the plucked ensemble of Esch/ Alzette was created and at the beginning it bore a different name: Edelweiss, a mandolinist society. All the movements within the world of the mandolin is due to Italian or polish emigrants. The mandolinists did play with accordionists and guitarists. The repertoire was essentially composed from overtures of operas and symphonic works.
The country numbered about 7 orchestras, most of them in the south, one in the east and another one in the north near Belgium.

How did the mandolin and its repertoire evolve in your country?

At the very beginning ,towards the end of the 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s, when I started playing in an orchestra the repertoire was composed of original works for plucked ensembles. 
Fackler, Behrend, Erdmann, Baumann, Günter Braun were played, but also a lighter type of music such as compositions by Sylvain Dagosto, Duclos..... For years now the orchestra of Elsch/Alzette has always managed to adapt itself in order to meet new challenges.In the 70’s and the 80’s,Sylvain Dagosto, a French teacher had been invited by the Grand Duc Adolphe Union to give a training course for musicians from orchestras.
At the beginning all the orchestras were present but by the end of the course this teacher had been the object of disparaging comments and the only remaining orchestra was that of Esch/Alzette.
For more than thirty years now this ensemble has never taken anything for granted and has always tried to evolve.When I went to study the mandolin with Prof. Marga Wilden-Hüsgen in Cologne, I changed the way I played the mandolin but even the orchestra of Esch did the same. All the musicians whatever their age registered in the conservatoire and in the music schools in order to learn the new technique of Marga’s. school. And no musician will be admitted unless he has taken classes for at least two years. At that time not only the technique of the orchestra had evolved but also its repertoire.
Only original works written for plucked strings orchestras are played from Italian, German, Spanish, French composers and arrangements like those by Piazzolla.

What is at the moment the place of the mandolin in your country?

The mandolin plays an ever increasing role in our country. As to the teaching of the mandolin, the conservatoire at Esch/Alzette has enjoyed an international reputation since 1992 thanks to its class for the mandolin. Ever since that time we have seen students from all countries: Spain, Russia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, England......That class has become a reference in the matter.
Today apart from the conservatoire there are 6 orchestras in the country and also a few groups of amateurs and professionals.
The mandolin is taught in a conservatoire and in five music schools. Four music schools in the south of the country and one in the east near the German border. Besides its teaching, this instrument is greatly appreciated in our concerts and participates in the development of the cultural image of Luxembourg abroad.Occasionally the ministry of culture or some halls such as the Philarmonie give us a one-time assistance.
With Artemandolin we organise week-long workshops for children almost every year.Generally they also discover tales..... Of course much work lies ahead of us with the press and broadcast media but we are on the right track.
There are still lots of people who do not know the mandolin and consider that it is a folk instrument but they discover a whole new world when the various facets of this instrument are shown to them, whether it is baroque, jazz, bluegrass; folk, celt, contemporary or romantic.

What is the repertoire most often played in your country?

The repertoire most often played in Luxembourg depends on each orchestra. There are ensembles that play South American music, others arrangements or easy-listening original music, others still that play very interesting works of a very high quality.
It must be said and that goes for everyone, that if the mandolin is to be recognized by the directors of conservatoires and concert programmers, it must be presented on a par with violins or guitars for instance, which means that the mandolin has the following characteristics:
-a well established and well thought-out pedagogy that has drawn results
-an original répertoire that ranges from baroque music to contemporary music.
That is essential for the recognition of the mandolin.
It is through contemporary music and original compositions that the mandolin will win over the director of the conservatoire of Esch/Alzette. Without that literature and that pedagogy , it would have been impossible to defend our instrument.
Playing arrangements or transcriptions will not help our instrument to evolve, far from it.
I know what I am talking about.

Where is the mandolin taught?

-Conservatoire of Esch/Alzette
-Music school of Bascharage
-Regional school of Dudelange 
-Music school of Differdange
-Music school of Echternach 
-Music school of Pétange

Mari Fe Pavon
Alla Tolkacheva
David Da Costa Rio 
Stéphanie Junio
Svenja Beuren 
Juan Carlos Muñoz

If you had to choose a word to sum up the mandolin?
Impish and graceful.