Ricardo Gallén (Spain), guitar - Saturday, June 9 at 3:15 p.m.

RICARDO GALLEN (Spain), guitar
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall
Friday, June 9, 2018, at 3:15 p.m.


Jorge Morel (b. 1931)

    Andante espressivo

Antonio Lauro (1917–1986)

La Negra

Agustin Barrios (1885 – 1944)

Vals Op.8, No.3
Vals Op.8, No.4

La Catedral
    Andante religioso
    Allegro solemne


Leo Brouwer (b.1939) 

Danzas Rituales y Festivas (Vol. I-II)
    Danza de los Altos Cerros
    Habanera Trunca
    Guajira (a Ricardo Gallén)
    Danza de los Ancestros
    Glosas Camperas
    Tango Matrero

Ricardo Gallén performs this afternoon's concert on a guitar by Antonio Marin Montero (Spain), courtesy Guitars International.

Please silence all electronic devices, including cellular phones, watches, and pagers. Photography, video or audio recording are not permitted during this concert.


It’s almost axiomatic that to write most effectively for the guitar, one has to be a guitarist. All the music on today’s program was composed by four highly skilled players, and this makes it particularly idiomatic to the instrument. But another element distinguishes these four composers, and it’s something shared by guitarists in general. Unlike their more mainstream colleagues, guitar composers are more apt to embrace popular music. In the four composers featured today, you’ll hear the popular distilled into something durable and sublime.

Born in Buenos Aires, Jorge Morel (b. 1931) moved to New York when barely out of his twenties. It was, at first, intimidating. “I couldn’t speak much English, but people said, ‘just talk with your guitar.’” Soon he became a successful nightclub performer, sharing the stage with such artists as Erroll Garner, Stan Kenton, Herbie Mann. He also found himself hobnobbing with celebrities in his audiences. He tells of a brush with Frank Sinatra at a nightclub in 1961. Sinatra, sitting close to where Morel was playing, interrogated Morel’s wife about his repertoire. He then called out, “Hey, Jorge, can you play Laura?” (Morel’s favorite piece at the time.) Recalls Morel, “I said, ‘Yeah!’ So I played Laura.” Sinatra liked it, and then asked, “Can you play flamenco?” Replied Morel, “Mr. Sinatra, I am sorry. I don’t play flamenco.” Snarled Sinatra: “Fake it.” So Morel did just that, playing every Spanish piece he knew, even throwing in a bit of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. “After I played all of this, they went crazy! Frank said, ‘Oh gorgeous! Beautiful!’” Morel concluded: “This story is lovely to me, because it is the only time I met Sinatra, and I am one of his greatest fans.” Now living in Florida and retired from performing, Morel divides his time between composing and painting. “I am writing a string quartet—no guitar—a guitar quartet, a guitar and flute duo, and a guitar duo. Hopefully, they will be performed soon.”

Morel’s Sonatina is dedicated to guitar virtuoso David Russell. Morel recounts their 1979 meeting in London, “He went through my music and found the Sonatina manuscript. He sight-read the piece and was taken by it. He said, ‘I like it! I want to play it!’ So I put his name on the dedication right away.” Of this piece, Russell writes, “The Sonatina was perhaps his most classical composition up till then, and it served, both for the classical players and also for Jorge, to make a bridge between the more popular music of South America, and the classical repertoire.”

Antonio Lauro (1917-1986) has been called the “Johann Strauss of Venezuela.” The son of an Italian immigrant who was a barber and an amateur musician, he was born in Ciudad Bolívar. He began early guitar lessons with his father, who sadly died when Antonio was five. Left with three children, Lauro’s mother moved her family to Caracas, where the nine year old Antonio began studies in piano and violin at the Academia de Música y Declamación. Still not yet in his teens, Lauro became “official guitarist” of the radio station “Broadcasting Caracas,” where his job was to accompany singers who performed on the radio. In 1932 Lauro heard the legendary guitarist Agustín Barrios. He was so taken by the Paraguayan virtuoso that he abandoned the piano and violin in favor of the guitar. Lauro became a master at composing vivid musical miniatures, beloved by amateurs and virtuosos alike. In a television interview, Lauro was asked why he paid so much attention to the music of the people instead of exploring the latest musical trends. Replied Lauro: “But I am the people! I can only write what I am. I do what I like despite the risk of being labelled as a conservative or old-fashioned.”

In his day, it was tempting to dismiss Paraguayan guitarist Agustín Pío Barrios (1885-1944) as a clown. At the height of his career, under the stage name “Mangoré,” he performed recitals in full native Guarani garb. (The Guarani were the indigenous people of Paraguay.) A newspaper review speculated that he was on drugs. But Barrios was immensely cultured. He spoke Spanish and Guarani fluently, read English, French, German, and immersed himself in philosophy, poetry, and theosophy. Barrios himself asserted, “One cannot be a guitarist who has not bathed in the fountain of culture.” Cosmopolitan for his time, he lived in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Venezuela, Costa Rica and El Salvador. Soon after his death Barrios suffered the disdain of those who considered him a composer of passé trifles. But his reputation slowly improved, especially when championed by concert guitarist John Williams, who in 1977 released a highly regarded all Barrios LP. The renewed interest in his music shed light on a conundrum: his pieces often survive in different versions, leaving current performers to puzzle over which version to play. These alternate versions aren’t surprising, as Barrios was a brilliant improviser. Indeed, he often improvised in his own recitals. Once asked why he played a piece differently from its published score, he replied, “Inspiration overtook me, and I forgot I was giving a concert!” In 2015, Chilean film director Luis R. Vera released “Mangoré,” a feature length movie on the life of Barrios. A quotation from this movie perhaps best summarizes Barrios' creed, “artists are the conscience of society.”

Today renowned among living guitar composers, Cuban Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) had an uphill climb. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother died when he was eleven. “Being in an orphanage made me reflect on the what and the why—especially the why—of the essential things in life. To be useful is something incredible, because you’re at the service of the world. Humans, when they communicate, when they teach, when they show, when they give, they’re doing one of the most beautiful things in life.” Essentially self-taught as a composer, Brouwer as a child listened obsessively to the Cuban classical radio station. He learned to read music by hanging out in Havana music stores. He recounts, “I arrived and showed my clean hands, so I could touch the sheet music. I spent four hours a day standing, studying Stravinsky and Mozart. That’s the world in which I began to compose.” Now at age seventy-nine, Brouwer isn’t slowing down. “It’s a lot harder to compose. Not because I have no ideas, but because I have too many, and I have to be selective.”

Premiered in 2015, Danzas Rituales y Festivas uses Cuban ritual music as a point of departure. Wrote Brouwer, “I always wanted a pure distillation of popular dances. Where do we see the transcendence of the dance? One example is Ravel’s marvelous La Valse. This is my idea with the Danzas Rituales y Festivas, without losing the popular feel so present in the folklore heritage.”

— Tom Poore