Although it happens just every two years, the Southwest Guitar Festival is one of San Antonio's most important and anticipated musical events, gathering the world's finest classical guitarists in one place. In a confluence of Old and New World styles, the performers bring virtuousity, class, and style to the genre; some, such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, have taken huge steps into blending world, classical, and popular music.

The LAGQ performance at this year's festival will be an example of the interwoven legacy of classical and Spanish guitar, and more. While the members of LAGQ are masters of classical guitar, the quartet has made its name by being one of the world's most innovative and creative guitar ensembles. In the process of recording 10 critically acclaimed albums, they have taken on styles ranging from Baroque to bolero, Segovia to Sting, and Villa-Lobos to Led Zeppelin.

"LAGQ are innovative, but what they are doing is right down the middle of the tradition of guitar," notes Matt Dunne, the festival's organizer. "The guitar has been blurring the line between classical and popular music for a very long time."

From Scotland, David Russell has recorded seven albums, and is considered to be one of the world's foremost classical guitarists. "I've rarely seen people react to music the way they do at a David Russell concert,"says Dunne. "He has a special gift."

click to enlarge music_david_russell_330jpg
David Russell

Russell is also respected for his teaching. The driving force behind the first SWGF in 1991 was the desire to provide guitar students with the opportunity to study with performing artists from around the world. As a result, Russell is offering four master classes during this year's festival.

In addition to reknowned performers, festival organizers also wanted to feature acclaimed new guitarists who are not yet well-known in the U.S. This year's up-and-comers are Judicáel Perroy of Paris and Juan Carlos Laguna of Mexico City. Perroy has been winning guitar competitions since he was 11 years old, and graduated first in his class at the Paris National Conservatory of Music. Laguna, an honors graduate and now a faculty member of Escuela Nacional de Música in Mexico City, has performed with orchestras in Latin America and Europe, and has recorded as a soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Dunne's personal goal included fostering collaboration among the guitar communities in the United States and Mexico. "My experience of teaching, traveling, and performing in Mexico made me realize that right now there is very little interaction between these two worlds, and I'm trying to change that," he explains. As part of that transformation, the U.S./Mexico Guitar Orchestra was formed for the 2000 festival. The orchestra is now an ongoing part of the festival, made up of 12 highly rated college guitar students, six from each country, with a mission of showing how the guitar can overcome differences of language and culture.

The guitar's cultural home is Spain. The Moors and Arabs invaded Spain in 711. The Moors brought with them the stringed instruments that eventually inspired the creation of the guitar. In 1492, the last of the Moorish kingdoms in Spain had been conquered, but by that time the mix of Arabic and European cultures had left a permanent impression on the music of the Iberian peninsula, giving rise to musical styles such as flamenco.

Eventually, guitar playing in Spain took two paths: one toward the artistic values of classical music, and the other toward the emotional and driving styles of popular regional Spanish music. While there were often strong animosities between the different styles, many Spanish guitarists crossed over to play both classical and popular music. "The guitar has straddled the art world and the popular world throughout most of its existence," says Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member William Kanengiser. "I like to think that at our core we are still classical musicians, but we are classical musicians who respond to what's going on around us in the musical world."

Latin, LAGQ's latest album, has earned them a Grammy nomination, appropriately in the "Classical-Crossover" category. "In some ways the term 'crossover' got a bad rap," says Kanengiser, "because some of the music was market-driven."

Whether used in classical music, country, rock, or jazz, the guitar's cross-cultural appeal and versatility allows it to stretch its boundaries from ornate embellishments of Baroque to the graceful dance style of the tango. "The guitar has a central role in many kinds of music," notes Dunne. "The guitar is a very personal instrument and has a great appeal in that regard." •


Robert Guthrie and Adam Holzman, 7:30pm at UTSA's 1604 campus

THURSDAY, JANUARY 30 Elliot Frank, 4pm, at UTSA's 1604 campus; Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, 7:30pm, UTSA's 1604 campus

FRIDAY, JANUARY 31 Juan Carlos Laguna, 4pm, Travis Park Methodist Church, 230 E. Travis David Russell, 8pm, Travis Park Methodist Church

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1 U.S./Mexico Orchestra and Jaime Arturo Soria, 4pm, Instituto de México in HemisFair Park Judicaél Perroy, 8pm, Travis Park Methodist Church

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2 Sergio and Odair Assad with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, 3pm, Travis Park United Methodist Church

Tickets are available by phone using a credit card: 458-4355, 458-4354, 458-4357, and 458-5685. Same-day tickets must be purchased at the door; no credit cards can be used for those purchases.

More info: http://music.utsa.edu/guitar

Complete concert package, $100; evening concert package, $80; afternoon concert package, $25.
Individual concerts: Elliot Frank, U.S./Mexico Orchestra, Juan Carlos Laguna, $10 each
Robert Guthrie/Adam Holzman, David Russell, $15 each Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Sergio and Odair Assad/Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, $25 each

More by Dennis Scoville



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