Fort Worth — The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra concludes its 2018-19 subscription season this weekend at Bass Performance Hall with a program of Shostakovich’s explosive Symphony No. 5, Kodály’s Dances of Galánta and Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un gentilhombre. The concert, conducted by Maestro Miguel Harth-Bedoya, features Pablo Sáinz Villegas as soloist on the Fantasía. The internationally acclaimed Spanish guitarist took time out from his preparations at Bass Hall to talk about Rodrigo, following in the footsteps of Segovia and the cultural significance of his beloved instrument.
TheaterJones: Welcome back to North Texas.
Pablo Sáinz Villegas: Thank you. Yes, I have performed here before three years ago with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. At that time, I performed Rodrigo’s other great work for the guitar, Concierto de Arenjuez. It is good to be back.
What can you tell us about the piece you will be performing in these concerts?
I have an interesting anecdote about the Fantasía para un gentilhombre. Joaquín Rodrigo composed Arenjuez for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza, who was a competitor of the great Andrés Segovia. Segovia was so angry about the dedication that he refused to play the piece ever. Even though it is one of the great works of Spanish guitar, Segovia never played it. To make it up to him, Rodrigo composed the Fantasía and dedicated it to Segovia. It became his signature piece.
The work explores the nature of the baroque guitar in the 17th century. In that time period, the guitar and its predecessors such as the vihuela were used as counterpoint and rhythm. As the baroque period progressed it was used also for more elaborate dances. The Fantasía explores all of these roles with each movement having a different sound and function. It is a beautiful way to go back to that time of the early music. But because Rodrigo was a very modern composer [1901-1999], he brings many modern aspects into the piece as well.
Where do we see the modern part of the composition?
First, we see it in the orchestration. The idea of a symphonic orchestra is a very “modern” construct — it began with Haydn many years after the Renaissance. Rodrigo kept a Renaissance sound in the woodwinds, but of course the instruments and the tuning are all modern. Also, we see the modern in Rodrigo’s use of dissonance. He has these moments that are very subtle and very elegant, but they form a tension in the music which creates a deeper emotion. It makes the Fantasía feel like a bigger piece, a true concertante with the guitar at its center.
Have you ever played any of the early types of guitar?
I have not, but I have a great love and respect for the music. You know that those early instruments were so central to the music of Spain and the Spanish world. For many years, guitar and its forbearers were the main instrument in court and even in some church settings. But the modern instrument that I play is much different. The tension of the strings is much higher now. There is a different position for playing. With the early guitars you did not use nails, as we do in classical Spanish performance. I could play the notes and chords on a vihuela or a guittara, but I could not play the early instruments with the purity that the true professionals can. It is like the piano and the harpsicord.
What is it like to play a piece that is so closely associated with one of the most famous performers on your instrument, Andrés Segovia? Do his performances influence yours?
Segovia was a great personality and it is always there in his performances. He had a very distinctive sound in his use of vibrato and colors. He is the direct product of the Post-Romantic era. He learned his craft near the turn of the [last] century and so had a different approach to the music. He wrote all of his fingerings in his scores, so they are there to study and to know his ideas. I admire him and he is a true legend. He was a great champion for bringing music to the people and in these things he is a big inspiration.
But I have been very careful to approach this music without being influenced by his fingerings. I have started with a fresh score and have explored what the composer himself wants to say. I approach the artistic process in a very personal way, being true to myself, while also being loyal and respectful to the composer. So Segovia’s playing of the piece has not been an influence on my performance.
I think the most exciting process in music is when you see a score for the first time. You clean your mind and start to explore, putting the performance together like a puzzle.
How much attention do you give to how the composer lived — the time period and what was going on in the world?
I think it is very important to know the environment of the composer. When you play the piece, you must be a part of his emotional creation. The more you know about his life and the concerns that he had, the more clues you have of what he wanted to say. That gives you the foundation for the rest of the process of creating the performance. Then you add your message and emotion, always in coherence with the composer’s.
The third leg of the table is the audience response. The guitar is a very intimate instrument. It invites people in to listen and be a part of the experience. Ultimately, music belongs to the people. It is so beautiful to have the opportunity to listen and feel how the people are responding as you play so that you can create a synergy.
Does the intimacy of the guitar cause problems when you play it in a symphonic setting?
PSV: It requires adjustments from the orchestra to be sure. The guitar invites people to get closer and can be played very softly, but it is also capable of wonderful fortes. It expands the space of creation [in the music]. Not only do I try for very quiet passages but I try to explore and push the forte as much as possible. I know some orchestras try different orchestrations that may not overpower the guitar, such as having fewer violins. But I prefer to keep the orchestration full and to invite the orchestra to explore their own limits, going down to three or four p’s [ppp or pppp] in dynamic. This widens the space that they can create in as well. It is such a wonderful dramatic and emotional experience.
The guitar is a wonderful instrument because it is so versatile. Audiences recognize it in every type of music. In Spanish heritage, it was the guitar which became central to the tradition of each region, whether in Flamenco or Mariachi. It can play courtly music. It can play folk and dance. It can play pop. And in every one of these settings the beauty of the instrument and its emotion are recognizable. It is truly the instrument of the people.
If people who love folk or pop come to hear Rodrigo’s Fantasía, I think the guitar will pull them into the symphonic world. And the process can work in the other way as well. The guitar is the key to open hearts. Its music is the universal language. And though there are differences in historical eras and styles, it is that difference that defines the human condition.