Virtuosos such as Andrés Segovia dominated the world of Spanish guitar for decades. But a new generation of talents has arisen to stake its claim, and few are higher on that list than guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas.
“As a Spaniard, that’s a beautiful responsibility that I assume, having the guitar so much linked to my culture and my country, so ingrained in the traditions and in the essence of what Spain is,” said Sáinz-Villegas, 45, in demand as a soloist with the Boston Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, National Orchestra of Spain and New York Philharmonic. With the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he will perform Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D Major, RV 93, and the fandango from Boccherini's Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major in concerts March 30, April 1 and April 4 (and March 31 at Wheaton College). “It is a privilege and an opportunity to keep to not only keep that beautiful tradition alive that comes from centuries ago but also to expand it into new repertory and expressive ways to present the guitar.”
Born in La Rioja in northern Spain, the guitarist pursued the instrument at the local conservatory and continued at the Royal Superior Conservatory of Music in Madrid with José Luis Rodrigo. From 1997 to 2001, he studied with at Germany’s Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar, earning a postgraduate diploma in 2004 with David Starobin at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Sáinz-Villegas has won honors in more than a dozen international competitions, including first prize at the 2003 International Guitar Competition Francisco Tárrega.
Although various stringed antecedents of the guitar can be traced back several thousand years, the instrument evolved in Spain in the Middle Ages, descending from the lute and oud. The six-string Spanish vihuela, a guitar-like instrument of the 15th and 16th centuries, strongly influenced the development of the baroque guitar and its successors. “The guitar is one of the few instruments that is fully linked to a culture and a country, which is Spain,” he said.
At the same time that composers were writing court music for the instrument, it also was used in folk music, drawing influences from multiple sources, including flamenco and Jewish traditions. The guitar was in turn exported to the New World, where it played an integral role in the rise of Spanish-influenced styles such as tango, bossa nova and mariachi. In later eras, the instrument became integral to jazz, blues, rock and pop music, and it has gained universal popularity.
“That’s the value of the guitar,” Sáinz-Villegas said. “It’s the instrument of the people, and nowadays even though its image is still linked to Spain, the instrument belongs to the world. In the end, we are all unified by the soul of the six strings.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Sounds and Stories, the predecessor site of Experience CSO.