How Classical is the ‘Classical Guitar’?

As an artist manager and consultant, it is my job to be up to date with guitar market trends in order to find opportunities to further the careers of my clients. However, this can be really challenging when dealing with the ‘classical guitar’. I ponder that the modifier ‘classical’ defines the market in which the instrument is engaged. After all, rock venues present rock guitarists, jazz venues present jazz guitarists, and classical venues present classical guitarists. Or do they?

Upon receiving the latest edition of Soundboard Magazine, I couldn’t help to notice the lack of Core Classical Music Industry (CCMI) content. To make things easier, lets define the CCMI as those institutions and venues most traditionally associated with classical music (concert halls, orchestras, music festivals) and those personalities (composers, conductors, instrumentalists) that populate them. Certainly, if we are to name an instrument ‘Classical Guitar’, the CCMI is where I would expect to find it, right? Far from this, with the notable exceptions of articles about Terry Riley, Australian Chamber Music for guitar, a brief mention of contemporary Spanish composers, and the Aspen Music Festival, the gross of the content in Soundboard came from guitar-centric institutions, events and composers alien to the CCMI. Perhaps the area where we were still the most connected with the CCMI was in CD releases given the presence of Azica Records, Brilliant Classics and Bridge Records (although the latter is owned by classical guitarist David Starobin). Yet, these labels are very small players in the realm of the CCMI.

Is there any classical guitar left in the CCMI? Knowing that some of my artists perform within the CCMI (sometimes, almost exclusively), I know there are other artists developing outstanding careers at the heart of the CCMI. Over the last 12 months, the classical guitar has been represented in the following CCMI institutions: Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutsche Grammophone, Suntory Hall, Naxos, Decca, SONY Classical France, OSESP, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Konzerthaus Wien, Theatre des Champs Elysees, New York Philharmonic, Grand Teton Music Festival, Verbier Festival, and a long list of etcetera’s. However, the guitar community has rarely held these events to the regard that I personally believe they deserve. If anything, most of these events are overlooked or mentioned less prominently than those that come from within the guitar community. Before the expansion of guitar departments in universities and the subsequent guitar festivals and competitions, the likes of Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams based their entire careers in the CCMI, seeking non-guitarist composers to write for the guitar and looking for performance opportunities exclusively within the CCMI. Nowadays, it is clear that guitarists have two ‘ponds’ where to fish for opportunities. This changes the game not only for the artists but also from the CCMI perspective, as we will now see:

The last time a guitarist played a recital in Stern Concert Hall was Andres Segovia, in the early 80's.

The last guitarist to play a recital in Stern Concert Hall was Andres Segovia, in the early 80’s.


Is Flamenco Guitar becoming ‘Classical’?

During his last US tour, the late Paco de Lucia performed in CCMI venues such as the NJPAC center in New Jersey, The Symphony Hall in Chicago and the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Some of these venues had never witnessed a guitar-centric show, nonetheless classical guitar. Perhaps the most vivid example of the place and reference that the CCMI has for our instrument was the designation of Paco de Lucia as the soloist for the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2011 European Concert in Madrid. That occasion marked only the second time the orchestra had played with a guitarist in the last three decades. John Williams was the last classical guitarist to play with the BPO, in 1998. However, this time the Berlin Philharmonic – for most accounts, the most important orchestra in the world, and one of the most important CCMI institutions – chose to play this concerto with a Flamenco Guitarist. Paco de Lucia would later decline the invitation, upon which the orchestra favored yet another Flamenco Guitarist, Juan Manuel Cañizares, upon suggestion of Paco himself. The worldwide repercussion this had in the artistic community – the concert was broadcast Live in the entire European Union and was released on DVD by Euroarts – further established the notion of a flamenco guitarist with orchestra. The CCMI had now adopted and accepted the Flamenco Guitar. As a result, in the last years Cañizares has performed the Aranjuez and the Villa Lobos Concertos in some of the most prominent CCMI festivals such as the Salzburg Festival, Folle Journee Festival in France, Sinfonia Varsovia, Konzerthaus Wien, and the Orchestre National de Toulouse, among others. Some of these venues and ensembles had not presented a guitarist in years.

These considerations are extremely important for aspiring artists trying to develop a musical career, for they seem to point out that they require a wide array of strategies adaptable to different constituents. The data shows that classical guitarists belong to two different and at times mutually exclusive market segments. For example, a core repertoire based on Segovian warhorses like “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”, “Asturias” and other simple pieces is still very much cherished by classical presenters, yet this same repertoire would be inconceivable as a means to establish a reputation within the guitar community. Aspiring artists should be wise to explore the demand characteristics of the market segments they wish to exploit. Finally, if the content of classical guitar publications is any barometer of the ethos of the guitar community as a whole, it is clear that the independent market of the guitar community has a markedly different set of rules, values and standards than those of the CCMI where the likes of Andres Segovia, John Williams and Julian Bream almost exclusively developed their careers. Since the coverage and attention of the gross of the guitar community is mostly centered in its own market, and the CCMI is now adopting Flamenco Guitarists for many of the few opportunities once exclusively destined to classical guitarists, how much ‘classical’ is left in the ‘classical guitar’? As we have seen, there are certainly a number of guitarists still doing careers in the CCMI. However, the answer to this question remains as debatable as ever.

Cañizares Performing with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. May, 2011

Cañizares Performing with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. May, 2011

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1 Response

  1. George says:

    If no-one normal wants to hear the classical guitar, because the players only deliver braindead stale, but highly-polished “perfect” performances; then it’s good that the guitar is not present in what you term “CCMI”.

    Things have a natural way of sorting themselves out. Trying to artificially push the classical guitar is wrong. If the playing is boring crappy rubbish (to a normal person – as opposed to guitar freaks at festivals and conservatory students who get brainwashed by their profs) … then let it die.

    (We don’t need to resuscitate a dying cadaver.)

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