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Lecture - Jonathan Leathwood, Stanley Yates, and Steve Goss

Improvisation as a Way of Knowing: Towards a new pedagogy of notated repertoire

Jonathan Leathwood, Stanley Yates, and Steve Goss



Conventional approaches to understanding, performing, and teaching composed art music are often restricted to a narrow path that depends entirely on the notated score. This path subjects the music to a dissection, post mortem, whose materials are the given facts of the work, and whose tools are our ability to discover and label therein a series of rational objects.

While such an approach is not without its benefits, we will propose a more organic tool that can help us move beyond the purely analytical and put student creativity at the heart of musical understanding: improvisation.

Improvisation as a concept goes far beyond “soloing” over a chord progression. Current research into musical cognition suggests that improvisation is best defined as a “way of knowing.” On this view, performing memorized music and improvising constitute different ways of interacting with an instrument and manipulating musical knowledge. By switching flexibly among various ways of knowing we arrive at a deeper understanding of composed pieces.

In this presentation we will demonstrate a series of practical approaches, from the 18th century to the present day. We will show how musicians in the baroque and classical periods trained with complete formal units, and how improvisation can inform present-day preoccupations, from memorizing pieces in autonomous atonal languages to collaborating with composers on new works.



Jonathan Leathwood teaches guitar, music analysis and the Alexander Technique at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, where he is Associate Teaching Professor and chair of the guitar program. 

As a recitalist, Jonathan has recently appeared at the Leo Brouwer Festival in Brazil, the Wigmore Hall, the Cheltenham Festival, the D-Marin Festival in Turkey, and many other venues in Europe and both American continents. The Musical Times of London has written of his "remarkable talent and singular artistry"; Fabio Zanon wrote in Violão Intercambio that "he has to be seen to be believed," while Classical Guitar has called him "a genius." Equally known as a collaborator with both performers and composers, Jonathan Leathwood has recorded two albums with the legendary flutist William Bennett, and recorded and broadcast with cellists Rohan de Saram and Steven Isserlis. His commissions from composers such as Param Vir, Stephen Goss, Robert Keeley and Chris Malloy have pushed the boundaries of both six- and ten-string guitars. His recordings of Goss, Dodgson, Malloy and Keeley are available on the Cadenza and NMC labels.


Stanley Yates is a British guitarist now a resident citizen of the United States. A past prize-winner in several international guitar competitions, he has performed extensively in Europe and North America, along with periodic trips to South America, Asia, and Australia. He has been the dedicatee of compositions by such notable guitarist-composers as John Duarte, Angelo Gilardino, Stepan Rak, Atanas Ourkouzounov, Mark Delpriora, and Mark Houghton. His guitar-related scholarly articles dealing with such topics as Bach interpretation and Villa-Lobos manuscript sources have been published in ten languages. He is Professor of Music and Director of Guitar Studies at Austin Peay State University.









“Stephen Goss draws on a variety of sources for his eminently listenable music. Despite the eclectic nature of his influences, Goss’s musical language comes across as brilliantly integrated.”

- International Record Review

Stephen Goss’s music receives hundreds of performances worldwide each year and has been recorded on over 70 CDs by more than a dozen record labels, including EMI, Decca, Telarc, Virgin Classics, Naxos, and Deutsche Grammophon. His varied output includes orchestral and choral works, chamber music, and solo pieces. 

Recent work includes several projects with the guitarist John Williams, who has recorded and toured Steve’s Guitar Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Steve’s music has been performed by many of the world’s leading orchestras including: The Russian National Orchestra (under Mikhail Pletnev), The China National Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, The State Symphony Orchestra ‘New Russia’, The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.  


Commissions have come from guitarists David Russell, Miloš Karadaglić and Xuefei Yang (including chamber works with cellist Natalie Clein and tenor Ian Bostridge). Steve has also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alt-J, and Avi Avital. As a guitarist, he has worked with Takemitsu, Henze, Peter Maxwell Davies and Elliott Carter, and toured and recorded extensively with the Tetra Guitar Quartet, various other ensembles, and as a soloist.

Stephen Goss is Chair of Composition at the University of Surrey, UK, Director of the International Guitar Research Centre, and a Professor of Guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

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