Guitarist Carries On Master's Classical Crusade

Eliot Fisk's new recording features works by Andrs Segovia

"It was Segovia's guitar that transfixed me and love for his music that sealed my fate as a guitarist," says internationally renowned guitarist Eliot Fisk. In turn, the late Andrs Segovia, regarded by many as the premier guitarist of this century, believed Fisk was just the musician to carry his mantle into the future.

Segovia wrote in a 1981 letter, "I consider Eliot Fisk as one of the most brilliant, intelligent, and gifted artists of our times, not only among guitarists but in all the general field of instrumentalists."

As a testimonial to Segovia's fondness and admiration for his young colleague, the legendary guitarist's widow recently gave Fisk a virtual treasure chest of 40 of Segovia's unpublished solo works. This sparked Fisk's latest recording project, "Canciones Populares," released Oct. 15 on the MusicMasters label in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Segovia's death.

In addition, Fisk will perform selections from this recording over the course of several concerts in the United States this season, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Dec. 6, Manhattan School of Music on Feb. 13, and San Francisco on Feb. 21.

Segovia's legacy

Fisk says, "This project is not just an opportunity to express my love and admiration for the maestro, but an attempt to remind the world of his legacy. There's nothing being done on the guitar today that can't be related to some seed planted by Segovia: He established the guitar repertoire as stretching back five centuries; he got the philharmonic [non-guitarist] composers to write for the guitar; he even understood the necessity of welding aspects of folk music with the intellectual excellence of the classical tradition."

The manuscripts included a collection of folk tunes from around the world (the "Canciones Populares") as well as 16 studies, many of them dedicated to Segovia's wife. She wrote, "I gave Eliot Fisk these unpublished works of Maestro with great expectations and faith because I consider him to be a great guitarist and a magnificent musician. I consider him a spiritual son of the Maestro."

The Philadelphia-born Fisk graduated from Yale, where he later founded the guitar department. He got his first Segovia recording at age 7 and finally met Segovia in 1974. Though there was never any real formal teacher-student relationship - Segovia had considered Fisk's gift fully formed when they first met - the two began regular meetings, usually in Segovia's New York room at the Westbury, during which Fisk would play for the master.

Segovia became Fisk's mentor, and in effect, Fisk became Segovia's last disciple and heir apparent. "His willingness to take a young person into his life as he did me has always been an inspiration and is one of the reasons I am so passionate about teaching myself," Fisk says.

Fisk is known as a technical phenomenon with a sometimes flamboyant style of interpretation and a tendency to never play a piece the same way twice.

The new recording, which includes a variety of more-standard fare in addition to the recently acquired manuscripts, shows an abundance of style and a remarkable range of coloration and shading, which is a testament to both Segovia's adept arrangements and Fisk's interpretive skill. (Segovia used to describe the classical guitar as an orchestra seen through the wrong end of a telescope, and Fisk brings the concept to vivid life.)

The new folk songs, a charming set of miniatures, range from the reflective to the brilliant, from a softly muted Czech hymn to a bright, lusty anthem from Finland. Fisk allows each to ring with vibrant, individual voices, only occasionally overinterpreting a song's innate simplicity.

Fisk's far-reaching talent

Far more than the isolated virtuoso, Fisk is a genuine crusader, both for the special quality of the guitar as well as for classical music in general. He has made his mark with his own transcriptions and created a large body of new works for guitar by commissioning favored composers.

He frequently performs in a variety of conventional and not-so-conventional chamber-music combinations, and he is a dedicated teacher. He founded the guitar department at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and conducts numerous master classes and residencies throughout the world.

Though Fisk, his German wife, Lydia, and their two adopted children from Somalia recently moved to Spain, he has just joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music, which will bring him to the United States several times a year. At NEC, he hopes to make the idea of social responsibility and outreach performances one of the cornerstones of the guitar program.

"I hope to use my presence there as a beachhead to become involved in the community," he says, "especially in outreach projects to expand the appreciation of the guitar and classical music."

Missionary, zealot, eloquent spokesman - for Eliot Fisk, just being an extraordinary virtuoso will never be enough.

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