The amazing rise of the classical guitar
Late Monday morning on WFCR, we'll play a solo instrumental performance that stuns with its effortless-sounding technical perfection, and delights with its graceful, natural musicality. When I mull it over a little, what also amazes me about this performance is that, while such accomplishment should never be overlooked, it has also come to be the norm among the many top current players of its instrument, the classical guitar.
'Twas not ever thus. When I started in the classical radio biz a generation ago, one could count the number of classical guitarists of similar capability on the fingers of both hands — okay, maybe including a toe or two. Sure, we had our favorites, be they Julian Bream, John Williams, Narciso Yepes or, of course, the venerable pioneer of the instrument, Andrés Segovia (above left). Beyond them? Not so much. And when was the last time you compared old recordings by your erstwhile guitar hero against the best of the current crop? If you do so now, and do so with utter honesty and open ears, be prepared to have your world shaken a little. Yes, great musicianship is a joy forever. I especially still love Bream's recordings for his rainbow of tonal colors and extreme sensitivity of touch. But otherwise, it's like putting last generation's Olympic sprinters or high jumpers against this summer's competitors: No contest.
Of course, the bar gets continually raised for all instruments and ensembles. It's especially noticeable, however, for those with relatively youthful histories as prominent players on the classical scene, such as the solo cello, the solo viola, the string quartet, wind quintet and brass quintet. Even still, the rise of the guitar has been sudden, rapid, dramatic and heartening, for reasons I'll speculate about in my next blog post. For now, enjoy Bosnian guitarist Denis Azabagic (above right) just before noon Monday, performing one of the many guitar classics composed for Segovia, the Sonatina by Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba. Azabagic performs the Guitar Concerto by the late American composer Alan Hovhaness this Saturday evening with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra; we'll preview this and other exciting upcoming guitar performances through the week on WFCR.