When Aussie guitarist Rupert Boyd was growing up in Canberra, he had little idea that one day he’d be a New Yorker with a debut CD on Dorian Sono Luminus about to return to tour his homeland with his partner in life and music, American cellist Laura Metcalf. But life has a way of taking the odd twist and turn. Things have moved on apace from the day Boyd’s brother came home from school one day having signed up to play guitar. Determined not to be outdone, his younger sibling decided to do the same. “I think he gave up two weeks later,” Boyd laughs, “and here I am.”
Laura Metcalf and Rupert Boyd. Photo © Harold Levine
We’re sitting in an Australian coffee shop in Manhattan’s Chelsea – it’s called Citizens and comes highly recommended if you are visiting and need a good flat white! – somewhere between meetings for Boyd, who these days juggles his freelance career with a new baby and organising his enterprising GatherNYC series, a Sunday morning concert program that combines chamber music with artisanal coffee, pastries and a thoughtful dose of the spoken word.
For Boyd, classical guitar was always the thing, despite a couple of years when he fell head over heels in love with Jimi Hendrix and spent a couple of years flirting with electric guitar. “To be honest, I played guitar but I also played cricket, soccer and went and caught yabbies with my friends,” Boyd tells me. As for when it was that someone finally told him that he should consider doing the guitar thing as a career, “I’m still waiting for that,” he laughs, “though looking back on it I must have been pretty good, I guess.”
Aged 18 or so, Boyd was faced with a choice between a passion for astrophysics or classical guitar. Fortunately for him, he’d landed on his feet musically, having managed to attract the attention of Tim Kain, one of Australia’s finest musicians and something of a living legend where guitarists are concerned. “The last two years of high school Tim took me on as one of his students, which I think I only realised later wasn’t common practice,” he explains. “All of his other students were tertiary level, so looking back maybe he was encouraging and fostering me. But it really opened my eyes to the guitar and the music. I also had a music history teacher at the School of Music, a guy named Jim Cotter, who every week would just come in and speak to us about music history. He was a very charismatic person and through that I developed a love for pretty much all classical music.”
Boyd and Metcalf in Sydney
Finishing up his undergraduate years with Kain in Canberra, Boyd was well aware that classical guitar was a bit of a niche within a bit of a niche industry. “If I had my time over again, probably playing the viola would be a really smart choice,” he speculates, ruefully. “If you’re good at viola you’re always in high demand. Classical music is hard enough as it is, but for classical guitarists, there aren’t the jobs. We all have to forge our own career path.”
For Boyd, that meant spending time overseas. “I thought about Paris or London, but for some reason New York really stuck in my mind – so many of my idols had lived there: John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Stanley Kubrick, Bob Dylan,” he explains. “There was a teacher I wanted to study with, David Leisner at the Manhattan School of Music. I auditioned with an old VHS tape and six months later bought a one-way ticket to New York City. I came here with a guitar on my back and a suitcase, didn’t know a single person in North America, and thought I’d be here for one or maybe two or three years of a master’s degree. It’s been 15 years now.”
For all the romance in the tale, Boyd feels lucky to have been able to make it happen in New York. Seven years ago he met his future wife, two years ago they managed to buy an apartment, and a year ago they produced an American son. “When I graduated from Yale it was this sink or swim moment, that I do remember vividly,” he recalls. “I was on tour for a couple of months, got back to New York, kind of looked around and though ‘what do I do now?’ I guess I wanted to make it happen so I have done. I’ve been very proactive in setting up concert tours and concert series, and I’m now coming out with my fifth recording.”
Boyd Meets Girl. Photo © Jiyang Chen
Meeting his life partner was one thing, seeing much of each other what with his solo concerts and her quintet was another. Their duo, the neatly named Boyd Meets Girl, is now five years old, but at first was primarily a means of spending a little more time together. The first hurdle had to be tackled from the start: when it comes to cello and guitar, there’s a bit of a scarcity as far as repertoire is concerned. “Before Segovia, the guitar was an instrument that composers loved but rarely wrote for,” Boyd explains. “It was Chopin who said, ‘what’s better than one guitar? Possibly only two,’ but he wrote nothing for the instrument. Schubert apparently owned a guitar and loved the sound of it but never wrote for it. Berlioz played it but never wrote for it. As for the guitar and cello repertoire, there’s none by any composers up until the 20th century, and even then, it’s not necessarily by the great composers.”
Sitting down to create their own material, they soon realised there was a relatively straightforward solution. “For example, we did Fauré’s Pavane, which is a beautiful melodic line over an accompanying part,” Boyd says. “So, Laura plays mostly the melody and I play the accompaniment. We play some of Bach’s two-part inventions where I literally play the right hand – they’re solo keyboard pieces – and Laura plays the left hand. Works great. We’ve even done a Beyoncé song, though we had to be a little bit more creative in terms of making it work on cello and guitar.”
In addition to the Fauré, the Beyoncé and the Bach, their potential set list for Australia makes for eclectic reading. Falla’s Seven Spanish Songs rub shoulders with a movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. There’s music by Canberra-based composer Marián Budos – a work appropriately entitled A New York Minute – Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, some Piazzolla, and even Satie’s delicious waltz song Je te veux. In other words, plenty of musical food for thought.
As for the future, Boyd is keenest on taking his Soho-based concert series GatherNYC to the next level. “We really thought we’d just get top level classical musicians to play and the crowds would come flocking, but that’s not been quite the case,” he admits. “We’re getting good crowds, but we’re having to work as hard as we can to get the word out there. We would love to have every week a sell-out audience of people who know each other and can mingle and chat. We’re working on the fundraising as we speak – that’s the tough part.”
Meanwhile, Boyd’s Sono Luminus album, simply called The Guitar, is out now. A mix of old and new, it runs the gamut from Sor’s Mozart Variations to Leo Brouwer’s Simple Studies with some Bach, Piazzolla and Jobim thrown in. No spoilers, but the review in the July issue of Limelight, praises, among other things, Boyd’s clean technique, broad tonal palette and fluent, intelligent musicianship. “It’s the style that respects the composer and the music without allowing one’s ego to be subsumed by them,” writes Will Yeoman. “This is what interpretation is all about. And it’s here in spades.”
Rupert Boyd’s The Guitar is out now on Dorian Sono Luminus