Vernon Presley is famous for telling his teenage son, Elvis, that “you should make your mind up to either be a guitar player or an electrician, but I never saw a guitar player that was worth a damn.”
It is a shame, then, that the late Presley’s father couldn’t be in Fort Worth this month. If he were, he would have the chance to hear three guitarists who might make him change his tune.
Coincidentally, three classical concerts featuring six-string virtuosos will be presented by local performing arts organizations in the span of only 10 days:
▪ The Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society will host famed guitarist Pepe Romero in a solo recital at the Kimbell Art Museum on Thursday.
▪ The Fort Worth Symphony will be joined by Pablo Sainz Villegas in its next series of concerts, running Friday through Sunday at Bass Hall, for performances of Joaquin Rodrigo’s masterpiece, the Concierto de Aranjuez.
▪ And Jaume Torrent will be the featured guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth at the Modern Art Museum on Feb. 21.
The three visiting players have two things in common: They all are natives of Spain, and they all make Vernon Presley’s outlook a little shortsighted.
“[The Rodrigo] is a piece all classical guitarists dream of playing because it is such an iconic piece. I have played it so many times that it is part of who I am as a musician,” says the 37-year-old Villegas, who grew up listening to his father’s vinyl recordings of the concerto, which is probably the most commonly performed of all works for guitar and orchestra.
“When it came time for me to learn the piece, I had heard it so many times, I already knew every single note of the concerto,” he says. “The only thing I needed to do was teach it to my hands.”
But just because his hands now know the piece, that does not mean that they will play the work in precisely the same way in every performance.
“This piece has so many layers. Every time I play it, I find more and more subtle details, and new accents and phrasings,” says Villegas, who won the prestigious Parkening International Guitar Competition in Monaco in 2006. “For me, it is like a journey. And the audience, and their emotions, are such an important part of that journey.”
The reason it is so surprising that three top-flight guitarists would be in town so closely together is that, historically in America, the classical guitar has not always been accepted by traditional classical music audiences, who appear to feel that the instrument is appropriate for popular music but not the music of the masters.
However, that attitude is changing across the country, and perhaps even more profoundly in North Texas.
“Our audiences have a much broader appreciation of classical music in general than most of the guitar audiences around the world,” says Christopher McGuire, who founded the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society in 1995 and who is a highly respected player himself. “Many of [those audiences] are guitar-centered. But the Fort Worth audience is music- and arts-centered.”
For Chamber Music Society artistic director Gary Levinson, making the atypical move of presenting a guitarist in a chamber music setting is simply a matter of taking advantage of a good opportunity, he says.
“This concert will be as affordable as any other concert we have planned, but we were able to bring in a European superstar,” says Levinson. “It is a very unusual concert for us, but it is absolutely still in keeping with the mission of the Chamber Music Society.”
Torrent will be featured in all of the pieces on a program that includes works by Niccolo Paganini (the guest artist is a noted expert on that famous violinist, Levinson says), the wild and exciting “Fandango” guitar quintet by Luigi Boccherini and a work composed by Torrent.
This upcoming trio of performances is remarkable not only for the reputation of the players and the proximity of their dates (both Levinson and McGuire say they had no knowledge of the other concerts when they booked their artists), but also because they present the classical guitar in three distinct settings: a solo recital (Romero), with orchestra (Villegas with the Fort Worth Symphony) and in a chamber context (Torrent with the Chamber Music Society).
Villegas was invited to play with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra after performing in Europe with music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya. The guitarist says he feels performances such as these can serve as ambassadors for classical music to fans of the guitar as a popular instrument.
“I think the classical guitar has great potential for inviting a new audience to the [symphony] hall, because it has this popular reputation and it is a very democratic instrument,” Villegas says. “People know the guitar. Everyone has a guitar at home.”
McGuire’s advice to those new to the classic guitar is this: “Don’t listen only to the notes. But to listen to how the artist is crafting the sound and what kind of emotional feeling he or she is trying to convey.
He adds, “And try not to be too impressed with pyrotechnics. Instead, wait for that moment that is so beautiful it makes you laugh or cry.”
That, and don’t listen to anything Vernon Presley said.
Upcoming classical guitar performances
Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society presents Pepe Romero
▪ 7:30 p.m. Thursday
▪ Renzo Piano Pavilion, Kimbell Art Museum
▪ 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth
▪ 817-498-0363; http://guitarsociety.org/.
Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra with Pablo Villegas
▪ 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
▪ Bass Hall, Fort Worth
▪ 817-665-6000; www.fwsymphony.org
Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth with Jaume Torrent
▪ 2 p.m. Feb. 21
▪ Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
▪ 3200 Darnell St.
▪ 817-877-3003; www.chambermusicfw.org