[Scene Magazine] Guitar and Orchestra, Find Common Ground
SPANISH-BORN CLASSICAL GUITARIST PABLO SAINZ VILLEGAS RETURNS AFER A SALUTATORY CONCERT WITH THE SANTA BARBARA SYMPHONY LAST MAY
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
In the moving ranks of concerto soloists appearing with the Santa Barbara Symphony, or most any full-service orchestra, a period usually elapses before an encore appearance is arranged. There are exceptions, such as with pianist Alessio Bax's frequent repeat visits as soloist with the sadly now retired Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in recent years. Add to that speedy return list the Spanish-born and internationally acclaimed guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas, featured soloist in this weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony concerts at the Granada Theatre.
The guitarist, whose musical aquaintance was made with the Santa Barbara audience just last May in the previous seaon's finale, returns this weekend. A mutual admiration societal connection was made, as the handsome and gifted guitarist gave a strong performance of a work with a local link--the Guitar concerto of the late, great film and concet composer Elmer Bernstein, who spent many years as a Santa Barbaran.
Mr. Villegas' encore appearance arrives, no less, in the expanisve form of a new concept for the Symphony--as an artist-in-residence, rather than as a one-weekend stand. He also appeared in a special, limited-ticket recital in the historic Presidio Chapel last night, and will return for educational and performance ops in January.
This weekend's guitar-orchestra program is built around the best-known guitar-orchestra score in history, Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, and also a new arrangement of Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz's Souvenirs of Spain. The orchestra itself, led by Maestro Nir Kabaretti, continues the Spanish theme with Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo and jaunts over to France for a bit of Bizet.
Mr. Villegas won the gold medal at the prestigious Christopher Parkening International Guitar Competition in 2006, premiered works including John Williams' "Rounds," and his discography is varied and growing. He has a strong idealistic instinct behind and beyond his musical message, as witnessed in a recent phone interview, and through such grand gestures as his founding of the non-profit organization "Music without Borders Legacy," whose aim is to be "devoted to leveraging the inspirational power of music for the benefit of music."
Mr. Villegas' career continues on its healthy forward and upward course, including a forthcoming record made with the great operatic tenor Placido Domingo, coming out in the spring. "Just working and recording with him was wonderful and inspirational," the guitarist commented. "I can't wait for that to be released."
Meanwhile, his intinerant life on the road and on stages continues. "There are different performances, concert recitals, the life of a musician, traveling with the guitar in one hand, the suitcase in another hand."
News-Press: How did the artist-in-residence situation come togehter?
Pablo Sainz Villegas: Yes, and I'm very proud to be part of it. I have always thought that music belongs to the people and is about the people. When you're invited to be a guest soloist with an orchestra, it's fantastic. You create a beautiful moment in the evening. You are playing with an audience.
But with an artist-in-residence (project), you have the opportunity to really outreach to people and to make or create change in that community, and create a new bond with different people who, perhaps before, never heard of the Santa Barbara Symphony. So I think it's a fantastic idea, to create many other activities aroudn the main symphonic concert, so we cna have a bigger impact in the community.
The idea is to have two symphonic concerts (this weekend), and a recital. In January, we have a very exciting program of outreach activities, where we are going to play a new program, different from the one we play next week. The outreach is going to be a journey by itself, through different parts of the world. We're going to explore different music and rhythms from different parts of the world. I truly believe in outreach to new audiences. This is part of my DNA. In 2006, I started philanthropic project in Tijuana and in San Diego called "Music without Borders Legacy." The aim of that project has been to create bridges between different communities, to bring classical music to young audiences, and then to inspire them through music. That's what we are going to do, in the end. All musicians have this great opportunity to inspire other people through music, and I feel very proud to have that opportunity.
NP: How far back do you and classical guitar go? Was it always classical, or did you enter into that through a side door, so to speak?
PSV: I was always like a good boy (laughs). I was six years old when I started playing the guitar. The guitar was basically bigger than I was. It was a very natural relationshipo. Actually, now, my left hands is a half-inch bigger than my right hand because I always had this huge guitar in my hands.
It was always very natural. It was like my beautiful bubble. It was me with myself, the msuic and the guitar. That was like a cocoon for me when I was a kid, and growing up. It was always very special. The first time I went onstage, I was seven years old. That changed my life, because I had that really deep connection with the audience. I didn't know what it was, but I felt something that was powerful, and more powerful than myself. Basically, that day defined my fate as a musician, looking backwards.
The classical guitar, the Spanish guitar, was always a very, very important thing in my heart. Now that i have grown up, I relate with the guitar in a different way. I try to explore wider horizons of the guitar.
Now, I am more open to do collaborations with other kinds of styles and genres and guitars, because that's, in the end, what will maximize the impact of the guitar--if we are able to unify the six strings with different genres. Guitarists have done that in the past--like Paco de Lucia with Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin. That CD and that collaboration was like the Three Tenors. I'm very excited about exploring that, as a classical guitarist.
Somehow, the classical guitar has always been framed in a veyr defined box, and I want to explore what's inside and what's outside of that, too.
NP: In Santa Barbara, you will be playing Rodrigo's Conciert de Aranjuez, a piece you must played a hundred times by now...
PSV: Yes (laughs)
NP: This piece had a very strong influence and impact on you at a very young age, didn't it?
PSV: Yes, I grew up listening to that piece. I was seven, eight years old and my dad used to play the LP in the house all the time. We had this collection of the best classics. That was one of my favorites. Playing the guitar, I always dreamt of the day when I could learn it, first, and then when I could play it with an orchestra. That's something that I try to share, also, with every person who listens to me. Believe in your dreams and make them happen.
As a kid, I had that dream. Then, it became real. That's magic. That is very much part of who I am as a human being. I feel so identified wiht every single note. I go so deep into the emotions of that piece. It's an expression of Spanish culture and our values. Somehow, being from Spain, it is very natural for me to be part of that and to really become one with the piece. When you become one with the music, when you become one with the piece, when you become one with the composer, when you become one with the audience, everything becomes one. It has the potential to be magical.
As any good piece is, that piece has many different layers. You can always revisit and go back to the piece. It doesn't matter how many times you've played it before. If you are awake enough and if you are looking for more, you will find more and more layerss of music and nuances, that, in the end, make that piece a never-ending journey of expression. The Concierto de Aranjuez--what can I say? It is very popular, because Joaqin Rodrigo was a master in delievering a very powerful, emotional message to the audience through his music.
NP: It is, by far, the most well-known guitar concerto and it became better through Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" and other forms and adaptations. But what can you say about the state of the guitar concerto now? Has the literature grown in recent years?
PSV: Well, having Concierto de Aranjuez in the repertoire has two sides. One is that it really put the guitar in the international scene of the orchestras, probably for the first time in its history--even though Giuliani in the Romantic era had one, but was never representative in the concert season. The guitar is part of the orchestra now, though not as often as the violin or the piano, because they have a much larger repertoire.
I think the guitar, besides the Aranjuez, has few other wonderful guitar concerti, as we listened last year to the Elmer Bernstein concerto. I have in my repertoire around 14 guitar concerti. There are a lot, but somehow, when orchestras think of the guitar, they only think of the Aranjuez. They like it very much, and I think "oh, well then we can play the 'Fantasia for a Noble Man,' also by Rodrigo and also very wonderful and beautiful." But they run out of ideas.
It's always fantastic and I was part of the process that Maestro Kabaretti and myself went through. We thought "what else can we play?" We made an exploration and an experience around the Spanish guitar and around Spain. We decided to include these arrangements by Patrick Russ, an arranger from LA, for guitar and orchestra, of some movements of the Suite Espanola, by Isaac Albeniz. We're playing "Asturias," "Cordoba," and "Zaragosa," three cities from Spain. "Suite Espanola" is basically an homage to three cities from Spain.
Isaac Albeniz only composed for piano, but in many ways, he was trying to imitate the guitar most of the time. It is a repertoire that works so well on the guitar. It's very idiomatic, because of the timbre of the guitar and what he had in mind. The Santa Barbara Symphony and Maestro Kabaretti were very excited about sharing something new.
NP: Will this be a premiere of these arrangements?
PSV: "Cordoba" will be. I played "Asturias" before in Germany and "Zaragosa" was played before.
NP: In terms of the educational outreach aspect of your artist-in-residency, the guitar is such a far-reaching and popular instrument. Is it easier for you, compared to another instrument, to more directly reach young people, who see a guitar and can relate to it?
PSV: Exactly. That's one of the most valuable things that the guitar has to offer to the world. The guitar is one of few instruments that is mainly linked to a country and a culture--my country, Spain. When the guitar arrived in the Americas in the 16th century, it became the musical instrument to transmit the different musical identities of each region.
If we go to Brazil, the sambas use the guitar, you cannot think of the tango without the guitar. If you go tto the United States, there is bluegrass and different genres--pop, rock. There is always a guitar. Somehow that creates a beautiful sensibility. Somehow the guitar is the most democratic instrument. If you ask boys and girls at an early age, at nine or ten, what their favorite instrument is, they will most probably say the guitar.
That's wonderful. The guitar is portable. The guitar has always had this folk side. When the troubadours played the lute in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, they played serenades, but also the lute and the vihuela existed inside the palaces, to play counterpoint. So the guitar has always had this duality of being very close to the people, and also has had this sophisticated side.
For me as a musician, my purpose is really to unify these two styles. Actually, all styles that the guitar represents and use them to inspire people, so people can go to the most sensitive parts of themsevles. They can see reflected in music the best person in themselves. I believe in human beings. That, in the end, is my purpose, to bring the best of human beings out through music.
NP: That's a wonderful concept and philosophy.
PSV: And for me, it's really important, as a musician and an artist, to define very well the purpose. Why do I do what I do? Why do I get up every morning and spend hours with my instrument? That's where everything comes from. Once I defined that, my compass was very clear, the direction in which to go.
In the end, the magic of music is that that message will translate into whatever the listener is ready to recieve. So everyone of the listeners is going to receive their own message. It is not my message anymore. It is not my intention anymore. It is going to be their intention and their message.