Why classical guitar is cool
On my last blog post, I focused on the rapid rise of the classical guitar over the past generation, which just so happens to coincide with my career in classical radio. Coincidence? Hmmm...
While the instrument enjoyed earlier heydays, and can celebrate such historic figures as Fernando Sor, Mauro Giuliani, Johann Kaspar Mertz and Francisco Tárrega, the current history of the classical guitar dates back to the emergence of Andrés Segovia as a major player about a century ago. That's still not long enough for some listeners to accept the guitar into the classical fold. Over the years, there has been a slow but steady trickle of complaints from, shall I say, experienced music lovers about what they regard as the excessive amount of guitar music broadcast on WFCR. That amount, in case you're counting, usually consists of one or two selections, totalling usually ten minutes or less, over the seven-hour span of our weekday classical shows. So, it's hardly excessive in context. But isn't it often the way in music, food, politics or whatever field, that the thing you like the least tends to loom the largest?
Now, it doesn't take a fancy classical broadcaster or blogger to shock you with the astonishing insight that the rapid recent rise of the classical guitar is due largely to the instrument's enormous prominence in rock and pop music. D'ya think? Indeed, it would be hard to find a middle-aged or younger classical guitarist nowadays who didn't start by emulating a favorite rock guitar god, or by strumming in the local folk or pop style. And here is where the guitar is different from other classical instruments — it usually gets picked up and played for fun before it gets studied seriously, if ever. You can't say that for the bassoon, can you? And you can't really say it so much for the piano any more, since few households will invest in a piano unless they're also going to spring for lessons for little Wolfgang or Nannerl.
The classical guitar's folk and pop roots show in a couple of very enjoyable ways. One is its natural affinity for musical vernaculars from all over. The guitar has made its way into just about every corner of the globe, its ubiquity reflected in exciting new classical repertoire springing from myriad cultures and indigenous styles. Another is the prominence on guitar of something that was once the norm in classical music, but is now a rarity: the composer-performer. It must be the improvisational element of the folk/pop styles they start out with that leads guitarists to want to figure out their own music. Hence Leo Brouwer, Carlo Domeniconi, Roland Dyens, Sérgio Assad, Andrew York, Johannes Möller — the list of composer-guitarists goes on, and includes some of the most compelling musical personalities of our day.
So, put all this together, and you get a musical scene that's up-to-date, vibrant, rooted, burgeoning, diverse, and lots of fun. Now do you know why I think the classical guitar is cool?
P.S. We'll preview three exciting upcoming guitar performances this week on WFCR. On Friday night the 9th, Peter Blanchette (above left), the Segovia of the archguitar, performs his Fifth Annual Bach Birthday Celebration Concert in Northampton. (Disclosure: I'm volunteering as emcee. Maybe they'll buy me a nice glass of wine at intermission as compensation.) On Saturday night the 10th, Denis Azabagic performs Alan Hovhaness's Guitar Concerto with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. And also on Saturday night, the Connecticut Guitar Society presents Odair Assad (above right) in solo recital in West Hartford.