Tuesday, March 31, 2009


While on the ship, I had some time to put a few pics together with original music. This piece is a S. American-style acoustic guitar thing, all instruments and arranging by me. Most of the soloing is improvised, played on a Takamine LTD-92. Muchas gracias to Charo Vargas for the inspiration!

Monday, March 30, 2009

York Art Association

I did a demo for the York Art Association in York, Pennsylvania yesterday. We had a full house, and a very nice group of people it was - I hope to return to do a workshop! Thanks to Debi Watson for organizing it (though it's nerve-wracking having someone that good watching!).

There is a 3-day workshop in Lewes, Delaware, April 8-10. I think it is sold out, but contact Sonia Hunt for details. 302-644-2973

Check out the new slideshow on the Art Escapes Vancouver website with paintings by Joseph Zbukvic and myself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


We stopped in Tampa on the way home and visited Dean Guitars headquarters, where Larissa came away with her first real guitar, and Olga almost drove away on the Dean custom chopper.

We spent last night as guests at Roebling Manor in Belleair. That would be a fantastic place to spend some time painting, with spectacular views of Clearwater Bay. Thank you to Pam and Elliott (check out theTommy Bolin shirt!).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Still Toughin' It Out

Larissa is an old pro at Adventure Ocean, especially enjoys the Pirate Night where all the kids dress up and take over the ship. I have some good video of that, maybe I can get it posted. Here's a shot of her with remnants of the makeup, she was pretty scary... Arrrrr!

Denys has been showing us a good time, and we have the run of the place. More fun, more friends, lots of Russkies to hang out with, not to mention more food and drink. Trying to keep off the pounds with a couple of sessions in the gym each day, and dancing to a good latin band at night. It's gonna be hard going home!

Got a cool shot of the pool the other night, it really looked like that.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sun & Fun

We're on a cruise ship for a couple of weeks in the islands, having a blast. Reunited with Olga's brother, Denys, who is First Officer with Royal Caribbean. (see posts from February 2008) I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Nassau, first decent internet access I've had in days.

Check out the video of Larissa kicking Olga off the dance floor - she doesn't like competition! Another week of this torture, and then seeing lots of friends in Florida. I'll try to maintain radio contact...over and out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Manuel Barrueco

After the most recent airing of my segment on Maryland Public Television's Artworks This Week (see this post), I received an email that really astonished and touched me from Manuel Barrueco - the man regarded by many as the greatest classical guitarist of the modern era. Or, as so eloquently stated by Odair Assad about the evolution of the instrument: "We can say that, at one point, it’s before Manuel and after Manuel Barrueco."

It was as a teenager during my first master class in New Orleans that I learned about him. Back in Iowa, I didn’t know much beyond Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream, and several others such as Michael Lorimer, who was teaching the class held at Tulane University. In preparation for that I was taking lessons with Segovia honor student Elias Barriero, head of the Tulane guitar department, at his shop on South Carrollton. Among the instruments and stacks of sheet music, Elias also sold records, and everyone was buying up the debut recording of a new guy featuring the Villa-Lobos etudes and Suite Breslienne. The photo of the artist sort of looked like a wild Cuban version of Jimi Hendrix, and his name was Manuel Barrueco. I asked Elias about him, and he told me he had actually been of some influence on the young virtuoso in Santiago, but was quick not to take credit for his brilliance, saying it "wouldn't have mattered," as Manuel’s destiny had already been decided. When I got home and listened to the record I understood within a few seconds what Elias and everybody else was talking about.

Like so many others at that time, my life was instantly changed, the benchmark of what was possible on the instrument dramatically shifted, and even with my limited experience, I realized the new apostle of the classical guitar had arrived. It was beyond an issue of technique; there was a musicality, an artistry, a depth of feeling, a tone, that practically burst the bounds of the medium.

My first master class with Manuel was in New York at the Manhattan Institute of Classical Guitar. There were guitarists from all over the place, and I showed up with my $200 Pimentel. I performed Capricho Arabe, and played it pretty well considering the difficulty and who was sitting a few feet from me. I’m sure I was terrified! He was very kind, changed some fingerings, and managed to find just the right complimentary words to say. Whew! A couple of young German guys who played as a duo were there, and they were fantastic. One of them also played the Prelude from the 1st Lute Suite (BWV 996), and aced it, even the presto section. That was the moment I knew that although I adored this music, I loved improvising and playing other styles too much; to play at the highest levels of classical guitar, you really have to do that to the exclusion of everything else. It was good to realize that then. Another guy in the class had the wits to ask Manuel for his fingering of the Villa-Lobos Etude #2 (see #43), one of those pieces he electrified the guitar world with on that first record. I woodshedded that knucklebuster for 20 years!

....................Manuel Barrueco and Nick - New Orleans

I did another master class with Manuel at Tulane, organized by Elias. I played the Folk Song from John Duarte's English Suite, and, incredibly, had the nerve to play about half of the 1st movement from Paganini’s Grand Sonata. What was I thinking??! A very funny moment occurred in front of the class when Manuel asked to see the fingernails on my right hand. While he inspected them, I realized we appeared precisely as that TV commercial, and I blurted out "Madge! Dishwashing liquid?!" Everyone was laughing so hard, I’m not sure whether he managed the rejoinder, "Relax, it’s Palmolive." Manuel helped me select a new guitar that week, and while playing it honored me with a request: the Gigue from the 1st Lute Suite. The last session of the class, pictures were taken, and then followed a houseboat party on Lake Pontchartrain. It was a beautiful summer night, and I recall being alone with Manuel on the top deck. Someone had given him a Cuban cigar, and I smoked a home-rolled variety! He talked to me, like a regular person, like a friend, an equal. I never forgot that.

Over the years these experiences replayed in my mind a thousand times as I followed Manuel’s spectacular international performing career, and the string of recordings that consistently set new standards for the classical guitar. I remember well when the Albeniz/Granados album was released and being floored by his dynamic performance of the Minuetto (#79), not to mention his transcription (previously thought to be impossible on the guitar) of Cataluna (#107). I always considered Alicia de Larrocha as the premiere interpreter of Spanish piano music, but when you hear Manuel play pieces such as Granada (#3), it’s difficult not to believe that those composers were really thinking about the guitar. After that, the stupefying recording of Paganini’s Sonata in A (#115) on the Scarlatti album; his perfect interpretations of Bach; the groundbreaking transcriptions and arrangements drawn from a huge spectrum of composers: deFalla, Ponce, Rodrigo, di Visee, Brouwer, Turina, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, Lennon & McCartney, Barrios, Lauro, Piazzolla, and many composers whose music had either been largely overlooked or simply not attempted on the guitar. His collaborations with people such as Placido Domingo, The King’s Singers, Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Al DiMeola and Steve Morse, among others, has broadened the instrument’s scope and attracted new audiences. His famous appearance on commercial television, burning through Leyenda (the linked clip shows a former student of Manuel's, the amazing and beautiful Ana Vidovic) in the back seat of a speeding Lexus, brought some much-needed guitar publicity to the attention of millions. Contemporary composers such as Roberto Sierra, Arvo Pärt, Michael Daugherty (from my hometown!), Gabriela Lena Frank, Steven Stucky, and Toru Takemitsu have been inspired by Manuel to write new solo and ensemble works for guitar, greatly expanding the modern repertoire. Not surprisingly, I'd love to see him collaborate with Pat Metheny.

Besides the unmatched tone and interpretation, Manuel took technique to a startling new level. He is able to hold on to the notes and chords just a little longer, and get to the next note or chord just a little faster, smoother, and more securely than everybody else, thereby conquering the fiendish technical problem of this instrument: producing a sustained, legato sound. Playing his records over and over, a curious phenomenon became apparent: when I would go into another part of the house, and the timbre of the instrument became obscured, I could swear I was listening to a pianist. A really killer pianist. I have proven this a number of times to the amazement of others.

Naturally, the 1000+ guitarists I taught received a crash course in Barrueco 101 (along with Pat Metheny and Tommy Bolin).

As another testament to Manuel’s kindness, in the early 90s I was suffering from tendonitis, and it threatened to shut down my guitar career, which by that time was providing me a very good living, and sponsorship from some major companies such as Ibanez, Laney, Roland, D'Addario, etc. My father happened to see Manuel at a meet & greet event in Baltimore, and told him about my malady. Not long afterwards, while cooking spaghetti in my Florida apartment, the telephone rang. That phone rang about 100x/day, and I let the answering machine take care of it. This time I heard the name "Manuel Barrueco" coming through the tiny speaker, and almost fainted. He gave me some very good advice, and happily that affliction eventually disappeared. How’s that for a person who cares?!

Michael Lawrence’s brilliant documentary film A Gift and a Life, is a wonderful behind-the-scenes glimpse of Manuel in public and private, with a particularly moving account of his early life in Cuba and emigration to America. And the incredible camerawork provides a rare opportunity to see the magic happen up close, where fingers meet strings. It is highly recommended! Mr. Lawrence is also producing an ambitious new film devoted to the music of Bach, and Manuel is featured in that with an amazing array of famous musicians.

An artist’s greatest legacy, besides their body of work, is their willingness to "pass the baton" to future generations. The most promising young guitarists in the world make the pilgrimage to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore for the opportunity to study with Manuel Barrueco.

Finally, that he reached out from the cobwebbed past to reconnect is a tremendous thrill for me. We are planning on meeting soon, and I can’t wait. Querido amigo...un abrazo!

Youtube clips from A Gift and a Life:
1 (trailer)
2 (slightly different from #1)
3 (party at Manuel's house, check this out!)
4 (with Placido Domingo)
5 (with Andy Summers and Al Di Meola)
6 (with Aaron Shearer)
7 (from new Bach film)

P.S. Guess who....playing a fabulously bastardized Valse Criollo, complete with digital reverb....sorry, Manuel! : )

Monday, March 2, 2009

What's Up With That?

I'm noticing a trend among some people of not bothering to answer posts on their blog. We all understand the various reasons a person might not post on other blogs, but who the heck ignores people that take the time to post on one's own blog??? I have always tried to be very conscientious about that here and in the forums. A quaint notion, perhaps, but it seems common courtesy to me....and it's part of what makes the whole thing work. (insert scratching head emoticon here)