When I was first starting out, I thought that every instrument was valued equally. I firmly believed that there was no place for discrimination in music. I was convinced that if someone had jaw-dropping skills, they would be appreciated regardless of their instrument. But as I started to learn more about various guitars and attitudes towards them, I discovered that some of the types are underrated. Classical guitars are rarely raved about, unless you meet someone who’s enthusiastic about them. You might say that I’m wrong but I’m not – even a simple and superficial research will prove my point. Though they aren’t valued as much as they deserve, classical guitars have inspired many virtuosos and have helped them express their inner character via these nylon-string treats. Since I’m passionate about these guitars, I decided to compile a list of 10 amazing classical guitar performances and show you just how amazing this instrument can be. Let’s see!
Andrés Segovia – Ponce, Sor, Villa Lobos, Torroba (1961)
If you’re into classical guitars and music, in general, you’ll probably know who Andrés Segovia is. But if you don’t, then I’ll tell you that he is one of the most prominent guitarists. His skills and techniques have changed everything we know about classical music. He has taught many renowned guitarists and shared his legacy with them, and as a result, his works have become immortal. The performance I have chosen is significant, because it displays his techniques perfectly. Segovia uses his nails to pluck the strings, because it allows him to produce louder and richer sound. Instead of playing in front of the soundhole, he chooses to play a bit right, closer to the bridge. His performances are sometimes considered old-fashioned by modern listeners, but to me, his legacy is priceless. His playing evokes romantic and nostalgic feelings and motivates guitarists to work harder to achieve the level of craftsmanship he had.
Ana Vidovic – Verano Porteno, Milonga del Angel, La Muerte del Angel by Astor Piazzolla
Even though we appreciate and respect guitarists who have a lot of experience, it’s always fascinating to see young virtuosos. They captivate audiences immediately with their skills and techniques and continue to mesmerize the listeners with every performance. Ana Vidovic is probably one of the most notable classical guitarists of the modern era. It’s not just about her skills – we all know she’s perfect. But there’s something in her character that seems to transfer to the music. The result is a touching piece, emotional and moving sound that surrounds you from the very first moment. In one of the concerts she plays several masterpieces by Piazzolla and as you watch her play, you see how she submerges herself into music. For me, classical music is all about the emotions and that’s one of the reasons why I love Vidovic so much.
John Williams – Asturias by Isaac Albéniz
I couldn’t have compiled this list without including John Williams in it. Man, this guy is the god himself, I’m telling you. Listen to him performing Asturias by Isaac Albeniz and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The only regret I have is that I don’t have the chance to listen to his playing in real life, but that’s probably for the best since I’d have a heart attack from the excitement and all those emotions. He courts his guitar, hugs it and somehow manages to emit those beautiful tones. His performance sometimes makes me feel like I’ll never be able to come even close to his skills (which is true, by the way), yet it always stops me from giving up. After all, Williams is the reason why I took up classical guitar.
Julian Bream – Granada by Isaac Albéniz
As you have probably noticed already, I pay a lot of attention to the emotions – probably just as much as to the skills. Though it’s really hard to acquire the techniques of legendary classical guitarists, it’s still possible. But it’s much harder to understand music and its story as well as they do. Granada performed by Julian Bream is not only one of the best classical guitar pieces, but also one of the best pieces in music, in general. Even though he has British origins, he understands the Spanish background of Granada so well that it’s easy to think that he’s devoting this performance to his homeland. Bream tells the story of the whole country with his playing and passes to the listeners the passion that is always present in Spanish music.
Liona Boyd – Malaguena
It’s not surprising that Liona Boyd is one of the best classical guitarists, as she was taught by Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia, Eli Kassner, Narciso Yepes and Alirio Díaz. In other words, she learnt to play guitar from the best of the best. Her work is characterized with unworldly rhythm parts that can’t be kept up with even with ears, not to mention with hands. Her Malaguena is steeped with touching parts, unbelievable transitions from slow to fast plucking, as well as expressiveness. You can feel her devotion to the instrument just by looking at her hands. After listening to this performance, you won’t question why she’s called the “the First Lady of Guitar”. She’s a legendary guitarist who turns her classical guitar into a real beast.
Xuefei Yang – A Moonlit Evening on the Spring River
I always like to say that there’s no such thing as a talent – we’re all born with a potential to develop various skills. But once I listen to virtuosos such as Xuefei Yang, it’s hard to neglect the fact that she was inclined towards classical guitar from the very birth. She started playing when she was 7 and has since turned into one of the most legendary classical guitarists. She has countless fascinating performances, but I decided to include her duet with Weiliang Zhang. It expresses Chinese culture and is very different from the classical music we are used to hearing. Her guitar becomes even more expressive with the Chinese flute. You can clearly feel the character of both instruments, yet they still have one body and soul. With this performance, Xuefei Yang proves that classical guitar has unlimited potential and it can be used the way your heart desires.
Manuel Barrueco – Invocacion y Danza by Joaquín Rodrigo
Manuel Barrueco has dedicated his career to turning classical guitar into a more prominent instrument. He has played with orchestras around the world and his technique is absolute. Even if you did your best to find flaws in his playing, you’d certainly fail. He is definitely a living legend – his jaw-dropping performances are the example of the greatness of classical music and guitar. His interpretation of Invocacion y Danza by Joaquín Rodrigo is impeccable as he plays this sophisticated piece as if it were a piece of cake. By listening to this piece, you’ll understand what makes Barrueco so distinctive and respectable.
Pepe Romero – Opening Performance (1950s)
As a son of a prominent classical guitarist, Pepe Romero was introduced to the guitar at a young age. He was already a professional player in his teens, as proven by his opening performance in Santa Barbara on Mission Steps in the 1950s. Unfortunately, it’s available to listen to the audio only, but that can be a great thing as well – by not being able to watch him playing, we can let our ears be the judges. You can hear his accurate and precise performance, you can feel his passion and dedication to his music. Even without watching you can see his eyes sparkling with enthusiasm and devotion. It’s really hard to articulate just how amazing this performance is, but I think I don’t really need to tell you a lot – you’ll understand everything yourself by listening.
Sean Shibe – Nocturnal after John Dowland by Benjamin Britten
We appreciated the older generation of classical guitarists for their skills and techniques, while younger generation seems to be more innovative. Many legends used to play guitar interpretations of the pieces that were written for pianos, but nowadays skilled virtuosos can play any music on their classical guitars. One of those is Sean Shibe, who is one of the most talented musicians of the modern world. He is renowned with his interesting and queer interpretations, as he is capable of turning any music into a suitable one for guitar. His new album softLOUD is one of the most intriguing creations, but today I decided to let you see how talented he is by including his classical guitar performance. Here he plays Nocturnal after John Dowland by Benjamin Britten. You’ll be surprised by his acute mind, brilliant movements, and softness that stems from harshness.
David Russell – Carezza by Granados
Even though I have singled out Carezza performed by David Russell, it doesn’t really matter what he plays – it’s definitely going to be amazing. This legendary guitar virtuoso has been applauded even by the strictest critics. His work is accurate and musically pure regardless of the composer he chooses to play. But this particular performance is distinctive, since it shows his techniques beautifully. You’ll be submerged in his talent from the very first moments and you’ll start admiring him as a musician right away. Carezza is a piano waltz and Russell provides us with its classical guitar interpretation, which makes this music even more dimensional and beautiful.
Don’t be too harsh on me. I know, you might not find your favorite classical guitar performances here, but this list is my personal preference. I hope you enjoyed it and discovered pieces that you hadn’t heard before. This list was my attempt to prove that classical guitar is a versatile and interesting instrument, and that it will never lose its value.